A new book on working from home looks to build on the experiences of 2020 and embed best practice
The switch to mass flexible working was hurried and unexpected in the spring.
Now it looks like it’ll be the new normal for some time to come. Working dads in particular have reported many positives about working from home. And when offices do reopen again HR departments are braced for an influx of flexible working requests from dads.
So while many made do and muddled through the switch to working from home the next challenge is embedding and learning best practice. That’s where a new book comes in.
Karen Mangia is Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce and has been working from home since 2002. In her book ‘Working From Home; making the new normal work for you’, she emphasises that work is a thing you do, not a place you go. However, she also outlines how you cannot just replicate what you do in the office at home. A shift or reinvention is required to make the most of remote working.
She starts by talking about getting your work environment right. It should be comfortable, but not to the extent that you are hanging around in your pyjamas all day, she says. She stresses the importance, however small your home is, of making a dedicated space for work. For video calls, she says lighting is key. Don’t work with light behind you or spooky shadows. Consider your background and use headphones to get the best audio possible and cut out excess noise. You could also consider upgrading your camera and microphone.
For those new to homeworking, Mangia says it is vital to establish routines and rituals – from start the day routines to winding down cues. Rest periods are also important. She suggests being ruthless about video meetings so you don’t become a “Zoombie” – constantly online with no break. Ask yourself if a call needs to be on video, for instance. Preparation for meetings is also important, she says. Don’t arrive one minute beforehand, flustered. Keep messages simple, covering less content, but providing more context.
For those running meetings, Mangia counsels keeping things shorter than when you are physically present. Collaboration – using the many online tools available, delegation and listening are watchwords. Interactive elements such as polls and quizzes can help break up the meeting, as can breakout groups, and they ensure people stay engaged. She also suggests trialling micro meetings which focus the mind when it comes to collaboration. Another handy tip is to set all meetings to start at either five minutes past the hour or 35 minutes. That gives people time to go to the toilet or make a cup of tea before you start.
There’s a chapter on homeschooling where Mangia talks about the importance of communicating what you need and negotiating with partners, bosses and teachers. She talks again about getting into a routine – with the kids knowing, if they are not too little, that when the door is shut there is a reason for it. And she says it’s a good idea to expect more from your children than you think they can deliver. They may surprise you, she states. She also suggests collaborating with other parents to share teaching responsibilities remotely, something familiar to parents who’ve chose to homeschool for years.
Another chapter focuses on the vital role that middle managers play in remote working. Mangia writes: “The real crux of the work-from-home culture falls on the shoulders of those who are caught in the middle – those who are asked to monitor and supervise a workforce that they can’t see, while managing up to a leadership team who might not really understand.”
Middle managers, she says, have to keep tabs on how everyone is really feeling, how they are adapting and what they can realistically achieve. Those managers embody the company culture. They must set aside more time for check-ins than they need, give people their undivided attention and ask for the support and training they need, says Mangia. That includes the kind of time management that ensures they don’t burn out. She also underlines that organisations need to work out how they measure, recognise and reward the contribution of middle managers managing remote teams during the pandemic.
There is also a section on career progression while working remotely. How do you reach out to others or stand out in an increasingly competitive labour market? The answer includes focusing on how you solve an employer’s problems, honing which employers you concentrate on, creating your own work-related community and how, when you reach out to people in your network, you need to offer to return the favour.
When everything is uncertain, says Mangia, you have to focus on the day to day and take small steps forward. Being positive and cheering people on is important. But the current context needs to be acknowledged. She states: “When encouragement comes from a place of truth and authenticity, it’s much more meaningful than some motivational shouting or well-intentioned applause.”