Four lessons to take from working at home to improve the workplace

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things for people who worked at home, but there are some valuable lessons to take from this unique experience that can make the work environment a better one.

By Ken Crabiel and Michelle Rotherham June 22, 2020

We all received some form of this guidance from our respective company leadership a month back. And, incredibly, the workforce pivoted dramatically just as quickly as we were asked to do so. Sure, there have been singular technology snafus, kids interrupting video calls, more dogs barking. Still, we are being efficient, moving projects forward, and being reminded just how much these interruptions (children, pets, etc.) can be pleasant and make us smile.

The dramatic transition has no doubt been eye opening for companies. Even those already encouraging work from home weren’t planning this scale of remote operations. Organizations are learning a great deal about how they can nourish company culture, what they need in their tech ecosystems, flexible scheduling policies, how we measure productivity and more.

At some point, restrictions will be lifted and companies will begin to welcome staff back to the workplace. When we do so, let’s be sure to apply some of what we’ve learned, and keep some of those things that make us smile part of our daily routines. 

Here are four ways companies can make that happen: 

1. Amplify empathy with your co-workers

Most organizations recognize the extreme pressures workers are under right now. There’s isolation, fear, and increased mental health concerns nationwide. Working parents are juggling conference calls, lunchtime, and teaching in unprecedented fashion. Others are worried about elderly parents and how to safely buy groceriesEveryone is dealing with new personal challenges. 

While these challenges may not be as readily visible when our work lives are normalized, they’re always there in some shape, form or measure. In fact, these pressures will likely increase when we head back to work as we’ll all be naturally apprehensive about social distancing and our personal health. 

The key moving forward is to maintain the increased empathy companies are exhibiting right now for their people and communities. This can mean: 

  • Communicate like your company depends on it: As we’ve lost our water coolers over the past month, regular communication has become even more crucial. At CannonDesign, our leaders have sent daily updates rooted in compassion, information sharing, transparency and clarity around what the future holds. No doubt, other organizations are taking similar approaches. This level of communications should be maintained. People feel valued and find comfort in hearing from leaders about what’s happening on a regular basis. Through e-mail updates, webinars, virtual social hours and recognition programs – communicating  frequently and transparently is always a good strategy.
  • Increase access to wellness resources: Recognizing that our collective physical and mental wellbeing is being tested during the current crisis, companies have worked to increase wellness offerings. They’re highlighting existing benefits some may have overlooked, investing in new programs, and communicating consistently about them. Helping staff to live a healthy lifestyle is always a wise investment. This elevated investment in wellness resources can help as we transition back to our regular routines and beyond.
  • Flexibility is life: We are all human beings trying to do inspired work, be there for loved ones, get outside and live healthy…. video conferences just made that more visible.Once we’re back in our offices, let’s not lose sight of our humanity. The flexibility organizations are providing their people to manage life right now should embed itself in our next normal. Showing empathy, and allowing people to work unique hours, dial in remotely, and go for an occasional walk outside might just unleash their full potential.

2. You can manage what you can’t see

One of the loudest arguments against work from home policies and flexible schedules has been possible challenges it creates for team management. People wonder aloud, “How do I know they are working if I can’t see them?

The answer is simple: results. Effort and ability don’t magically turn on when someone walks in the workplace. They can echo loudly from someone’s home, at a coffee shop, or even sitting outside at a park with WiFi. 

Let’s remember this even once we do start to see each other again. “Butts in seats” as the expression goes, does not equate to productivity. Organizations and their managers should push themselves to redesign staff expectations, performance measurement, and policies to encourage people to do their best work from anywhere. It’s also important to think through which work activities are best suited for in-person time. Let’s do all we can to be more intentional with face-to-face time when it occurs and clearly define expectations. 

3. Help people step outside comfort zones to innovate

Look at the innovation happening right now – due in part to necessity. Companies are interviewing for work virtually, teams are developing entire new workflows and processes, partnerships are being embraced across industry boundaries and colleagues are celebrating birthdays with beer delivery and drive-by parades. We are capable of so much in the face of crisis. 

Companies should think hard about how they empower teams to ideate and discover new ways to work once our next normal begins. It’s easy to get lost in our routines and forget to pick our heads up to hear new ideas. But, this shock to our social system, has lain bare just how much innovation is possible. Maybe it’s time for businesses to do less to “formalize innovation” and more to creatively put people and teams outside their comfort zones.  

4. Keep 20/20 vision on your community

Moments of crisis shouldn’t be the only time organizations help their communities thrive. Over the past month, we’ve seen all different types of entities step up to contribute resources, create protective equipment for health workers, deliver food to those stuck at home and so much more. It’s moving and inspiring! 

This elevated corporate citizenship is a great silver lining of our current moment. Let’s do all we can to make it part of our day-to-day DNA moving forward. The more that businesses can do to take an active role in helping our most vulnerable, addressing inequality, and doing more to enrich society – the better we’ll all be.

We look forward to seeing all of our colleagues, partners and the business community again. It may not seem like it right now, but there will be a day we grab coffee, debate local sports, and talk about how good it is to be back to normal. That all sounds great, let’s just make sure it’s a Next Normal – one fueled by the best outcomes we’re realizing today. 

This article originally appeared on CannonDesign’s websiteCannonDesign is a CFE Media content partner.

Author Bio: Ken Crabiel and Michelle Rotherham, CannonDesign