Is this boom in remote work only a remedial response? Or is working from home the future?

Never before have workers been asked to work remotely on such a broad scale. Millions of people are trying to work from home — if they can, of course.

It's vital for employers to iron out communication protocols right away in order to ensure productivity levels are not affected long term. 

Here at Arbeit, we've been perfecting "dispersed communication" for years. With half of our team located in Brazil and the other half in Buffalo, N.Y., we've learned a lot along the way. Now, we want to share the tools and tips that have made our team consistently cohesive and productive. (Also happy.)

What You'll Need to Work from Home

Make sure you have the right communication software in place. Lots of remote workers are leaning heavily on Slack, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Zoom or GoToMeeting. Iron out what your team is planning to use ASAP. Because of the global circumstances, many SaaS providers are offering free usage of their products. 

There is a free version of Slack, a collaboration software, that can help to unify communication across businesses. 

Microsoft has started offering a free trial of the premium plan for its Teams chat app, according to Business Insider. That trial will allow users to record meetings and take advantage of 1TB of storage, neither of which are available on the normal free version. Microsoft is making the extended premium trial available for six months.

Google will allow free access to the enterprise version of Hangouts Meet to all G Suite and G Suite for Education users. That plan includes up to 250 users per call, the ability to record meetings, and livestream capabilities for up to 100,000 viewers until July 1, 2020.

Cisco is offering the free version of its Webex service with no time restrictions. In addition, it will allow up to 100 meeting participants and has added toll-free dial-in features with a  90-day license for businesses that are not already customers.

Of course, you'll want to make sure all your technology actually works from home. Do you need a secure line? Are those applications accessible from your home Wi-Fi? Do you need a security key to log in? On that note, lets talk about the logistical side of working from home.

Reliable hardware and software

The software installments we mentioned earlier - Slack, Google Drive, etc. will allow you access to all your files and communicate with immediacy. But the ability to get in touch with your team is also critical.

We use Discord, an application that allows teams to communicate in voice channels . For us, the ability to pop in a voice channel and speak to a department or individual simulates what it's like to walk into an office or visit a department like you would in an office setting. 

Another must-have is a VoIP phone system that has mobile integration. You''ll presumably be hopping from home, to a coffee shop, to your office. When you use VoIP, your "extension" is your phone. As long as you have your mobile phone, you'll have access to your office at all times.

Plus, with the chance that you may be in a different time zone or even hemisphere, the ability to conference globally is vital. Most VoIP providers include this. 

 There are several affordable options. Arbeit Voice allows for unlimited minutes starting at $19.99 per "extension." Their system is powered by top tier carriers, and another added benefit is 24/7 access to support located inside their Buffalo, N.Y. office. 

Self-motivation

You might not realize how much you rely on a shared co-working space until you are forced to motivate yourself, by yourself.

Telecommuting 4

"Without the fear that your boss could walk in on you playing Candy Crush, your motivation can get foggy when you work from home. So while you might be tempted to throw a load of laundry in the washing machine or start working later than you’re scheduled to, you’ll need to keep yourself motivated," writes Jennifer Parris for The Muse.

It definitely takes a certain kind of person to actually get out of bed if they don’t have anyone waiting for them. It can also be tempting to put things off, even with deadlines in place.

You will need the ability to push yourself, have a lot of drive, and become very intentional in your productivity habits.

Sharpened communication skills

This one is especially true if you are reporting to someone. Rather than being able to collaborate and brainstorm in a room together, all too often communication takes place over apps like Slack, Google Drive or e-mail.

As a result, you will need to learn how to communicate just as effectively and present information just as effectively as you would if you were sitting in front of your team and not in front of your computer screen.

"Since almost everything is done via email (and there are no facial or body clues to read), you’ll need to make sure that you mean what you, um, type. I’ve found that shorter, more succinct sentences go a lot farther than long-winded soliloquies," Parris advises.

Focused and Organized

It’s important to know yourself when you decide to work from home.

How do you stay organized? What work environment helps you stay most focused?

"Without face-to-face communication, it’s easy to let things slip through the cracks, so you’ll need to find ways to be as organized as possible. You might find that you like to write things down in a notebook, or perhaps you prefer calendar notifications. Find what works best for you to keep you organized and on task," Parris says.

You will need to put your own code of conduct in place so that you can still perform efficiently without supervision.

"Act like your home office is in the center of an actual office. That means, yes, taking a shower, getting dressed, and being presentable for your workday," Parris recommends. She suggests that going through the motions helps to keep you in work mode.

Conclusion

So that's everything for the aspiring telecommuter. But what about those who fall into the second group? If you are an employer who is considering if this is the right strategy to implement into your culture, this next portion is for you!

Tips for Leadership

In an article for Inc.com, Scott Mautz shares the results of a study conducted by Stanford University. Professor Nicholas Bloom designed a test whereby 500 subjects were divided into two groups. One was a control group who worked in an office, the other was telecommuters.

Over the course of two years, the study revealed an astounding productivity boost among the employees who worked at home. With fewer interruptions, breaks, sick days and vacation hours, the employees who worked at home showed the same, and often better numbers than employees who stayed in the office.

The study did show, however, that those who volunteered to perform in the telecommuters group asked to return to the office, reporting feelings of isolation and loneliness.

This has unexpectedly become an underlying theme.

So what does this mean for you? There are so many pros for you as an employer:

  1. Lower overhead cost (think fewer computers, fewer desks, less strain on utilities)
  2. Reduced unscheduled absences
  3. Cuts down on time in unnecessary meetings
  4. Reduced turnover
  5. Improved morale

Professor Nicholas Bloom says to Dive in to remote work, or you will quickly fall behind on finding and retaining top talent. But keep an eye toward maintaining face to face contact and cohesion.

Pros of Working from Home

Apart from what is obvious (convenience and comfort), there are proven reasons that telecommuting is a better option for some work personalities. 

What we are all searching for in our work life, in many ways, is autonomy - to feel like we have agency over own our lives and decisions. A lack of autonomy is often what causes anxiety. If your routine is to wake up, sit in traffic, go to work, sit in traffic again, maybe go to the gym or watch television, go to bed, wake up, and do it all over again, it's very possible you'll can feel stuck or out of control.

Flexibility 

In an article for Platform Magazine, Darsey Norton explains that smartphones and laptops have made staying in contact effortless, and for companies that use programs like Slack, Google Drive, Trello, Monday, and other project management software, teams can easily work seamlessly as they would in an office.

She also explains that millennials are perceived to be a "migrant" population. As employers look for ways to attract top talent, they simultaneously seek to offer competitive benefits. For many, a flexible work schedule is a great way to attract and retain the best employees.

In Norton's article, she spoke with two young professionals who worked remotely for a Public Relations agency.

“I can literally work from anywhere — not just from home," one of the interview subjects explained. “I travel much more now that I’m telecommuting because I don’t have to take a vacation day when I’m not physically in the office. I’ll take a redeye to Orlando or New York or wherever, land in time to work my normal hours, and then I have the evening and weekends to spend exploring.”

What telecommuters are perceived to have is the ability to create their own schedule, as well as possess the complete and total trust of their superior. This trust and autonomy naturally gives them flexibility - they can wake up when they choose, work when and where they choose. For some, this is incredibly appealing. But, as one of the interview subjects stated, it's a privilege that comes with responsibility.

"The more you show that you can handle tasks on your own and earn the trust of your supervisor, the more likely they’ll allow more flexibility with your work’s pace," she said.

Concentration/Fewer Interruptions

Some people prefer to work alone, work better alone, or like to avoid the interruptions that naturally come with a coworking space - some welcome, some unwelcome.

In an article for Forbes, Christine Carter explains this phenomenon:

"With unpredictable interruptions, office politics and frequent idle chatting, a remote location tends to distract employees less than a traditional office environment. Happy employees hit their stride in a comfortable work environment, and only 7 percent of workers say they are most productive in an office," she writes.

Interruptions have almost become expected in a typical workday. It would be unusual to go through an entire workday without speaking to anyone - we are used to the office visits from colleagues, lunch breaks, coffee breaks, watercooler conversation. It’s part of our daily routines. Without these, how much more work could we be getting done?

It’s assumed that the employees working from home, because they are not experiencing these typical interruptions, are able to enter into a work flow that is only broken when they decide. This interruption-free work mode should not be taken lightly: Mark Murphy explains for Forbes how much time these "small" interruptions actually cost:

"Let’s imagine that it takes 10 minutes to really get your mind engaged on writing that report; collecting your thoughts, clearing your head, etc. And then, let’s say that you’re only able to write for 10 minutes before you get interrupted by an employee. So you stand up, deal with the issue, and then sit back down to start work again. Because you’ve lost your creative train-of-thought, you now have to go through that 10 minute ‘start-up’ time before you can return to your writing."

He goes on to explain the benefit of telecommuting in this instance:

"Before you know it, a measly three interruptions per hour could cost you half-an-hour in wasted time. So instead of your report taking one hour to write at a coffee shop, it’s now going to consume at least two hours of your time in the office."

Creating Your Ideal Work Environment

Some people work best when they can look out a window. Others know that sitting beside a window, they will become easily distracted. Some people prefer lots of light, others prefer only natural light. Some prefer to sit, others to stand. The list of individual preferences goes on and on, and an office manager or boss knows s/he cannot please everyone. S/He can only do his best to create what s/he thinks will be the best environment overall, for everyone.

Those working from home can arrange their workspace however they wish. Depending on what environment suits them, telecommuters can set up shop at the kitchen table, in their bed, at a coffee shop, on the beach - anywhere they feel most inspired and motivated.

In an article for Emplo, eight features of an ideal working environment are listed. Among others, two listed are:

  1. Culture of creativity
  2. Work-life balance

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