Remote Working During COVID-19: Four Lessons Learned

New Zealand, along with many other countries, was sent into lockdown at 48 hours’ notice in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For many, that 48 hours was spent supermarket shopping, purchasing board games to keep the kids entertained, and running last minute errands.

As a result, preparing to work from home fell low on the priority list.

All non-essential workers were required to remain home for seven weeks. Those who can perform their roles from home did so. As Team Facteon balanced childcare, eldercare and other commitments during those seven weeks, we reflect on the lessons learned from remote working and how these have shaped our business following our return to the office.

These lessons speak to the commonality of our working from home experience. These are the key takeaways if we were to work from home in the future.

While Team Facteon spends its time on the factory floor, our technical teams are supported by office-bound workers who enable our experts to deliver for our customers. While some of the Facteon team were not able to work remotely, those that were had to adapt quickly.  

Upon reflection, these are the most important, yet rather obvious, lessons learned while working from home.

Lesson One: Communicate fast & first

With All Hands updates and Friday drinks off the cards, employers were forced to find new ways to keep their teams informed and engaged. Simple changes to your internal communications strategy can have a significant and positive impact on employee morale.

Facteon had success with a weekly email from our Group General Manager, John. The power of demonstrating the humanity of senior management should never be underestimated.

Leaders can be perceived as too busy or above communicating directly with staff at all levels. Management taking this opportunity to communicate on mass can have a profound effect on employee morale and confidence in the senior leadership team.

The use of personal anecdotes can be a powerful tool to create a connection with your team, helping to warm the sterility of email. However, this must be underpinned by an ability to tackle complex issues head-on, through communicating fast and first. 

Employees look to their leaders for reassurance, particularly in the uncertain times of a global pandemic. Communicating with your team before rumours swirl and false truths disperse is essential.

The inability to get your team together in the flesh to give a candid update also makes it more challenging. A potential solution is gathering a test group of employees from across your organisation via video call.

Ask these employees:
  • How are you feeling?
  • What is the mood among your colleagues?
  • Ask me anything – what do you need to know?

Communicating fast and first, potentially when you do not have all information on hand, is critical to retaining employee trust. An understanding of your team will guide the how and what of your communications.

On another note, effective communication must run both ways. Managers must maintain open lines of communication by regularly checking in with their direct reports. The objective is to provide employees with numerous and genuine opportunities to communicate openly with their managers regarding their work from home situation.

After several weeks of working from home, the daily check in can become more procedure, than genuine.

As a manager, show your employees that you understand their work from home situation, rather than a “how are you?”, ask “how is home schooling the kids going?” and “how are you finding working from home?”.

Facilitate an organic and open conversation regarding the realities of working from home by asking meaningful questions that require a response beyond the generic and stoic, “I’m good, thanks”.

Lesson Two: Your neck will thank you for an ergonomic work station

We all understand the importance of an ergonomic work station for health reasons. In the chaos of transitioning from our offices to home, this likely was not a priority. An important learning is the need to treat working from home as a “new normal”, not as a temporary situation. Your perspective on working from home will influence the extent to which you prepare.

For many in New Zealand, the initial four weeks of working from home was extended to seven as we moved between COVID-19 Alert Levels. For some, the extension meant more time in our ill-equipped home offices, or at our dining tables turned work stations.

Here are three questions to ask yourself to ensure an ergonomic work set up:

1. How do your neck and wrists feel when you work?

Having an adjustable chair and a desk at the appropriate height should help you to maintain an upright position.

As a general rule, your chin should be at a 90-degree angle with your neck. Your elbows should be at  a 90-degree angle with your desk when using your keyboard.

2. How is your screen positioned?

You should be able to easily read text on your computer screen while maintaining an upright sitting position. Check that you are not hunched forward or straining your eyes.

If using a laptop, raise it to the appropriate height with books or a laptop stand. It is best practice to utilise a separate keyboard also.

3. Is there sufficient light in your workspace for tasks to be complete without causing eye strain?

Some people experience headaches or migraines triggered by bright light emitted from a computer screen. To minimise eye strain, use a suitable pair of shaded glasses or desk lamp*.

Lesson Three: Work-life balance

Achieving work-life balance is a challenge under normal circumstances. As our work and home lives became increasingly intertwined, it was inevitable that the ever-elusive work-life balance would be difficult to achieve.

To avoid burnout, create a dedicated workspace and schedule. If you do not have a home office, take over the spare room or camp out at the dining table.

It is challenging to remain on top form throughout the day with other commitments within the home. For that reason, create a To-Do list of essential tasks each day. By focusing on achieving select tasks, you can stay on top of your workload, while still meeting the expectations of your home life.

Above all, communicate with your manager regarding your home situation. Through open communication, you can manage expectations surrounding work hours, productivity levels and formulate a plan to complete key priority tasks to schedule.

For employers, the key message is to take employee safety as seriously as you do when your team is in their usual work environment.

For employees, consider work from home to be your new normal. You are working during a pandemic. So, do not be too hard on yourself if you have fallen short on achieving the ever-illusive work-life balance.

Lesson Four: Workforce connectivity

Whether you are tech-savvy or a tech-novice, you likely learned how to use a new tool in your time working from home. Zoom’s active daily user count skyrocketed globally as employees settled into working from home. This speaks to our increasing dependence on technologies within the home. It also speaks to our ability to adapt to ensure that, both as humans and professionals, we stay connected.

The skills we learned while using new technology within the home should be taken back to the office. We have found success by adopting more agile work tools, such as Microsoft Teams and creating an Intranet within SharePoint to keep our people virtually connected. 

As workforce connectivity is important to Team Facteon, it is equally important to the manufacturers we support. For manufacturers experiencing a surge in demand, increasing production within the constraints of PPE and social distancing was challenging. Factory maintenance is also compromised with pressure to limit the number of staff on-site at any one time.

Facteon offers a suite of Industrial IoT (IIoT) products that cater to the modern manufacturer. Remote monitoring of factories via a secure Cloud connection is now essential. Using IIoT technologies, it is possible to meet demand with limited people working at your facility. For example, your Maintenance Manager can deploy service teams as and when required to complete specific maintenance tasks following an automatic alert generated by IIoT software.

The return to the office

When the time comes for employees across Auckland, New Zealand and the world to return, it is essential to provide a supportive and flexible work environment.

For the moment, Facteon is operating differently to keep our communities safe. Click here to learn more. 

*Source - Ergonomic work set up advice: Ergonomics Health