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Coping with the New Normal - Covid-19 and after

Home Office: the present and the future

By Magdalena Furs, service & delivery director, Gi Group
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Home office as a phenomenon had already become a popular trend both globally and in Poland. Job candidates would ask about it; home office featured on lists of employee benefits for several years now. But the Covid-19 pandemic has turned it into the professional standard. Will home office remain with us for good?

According to a study conducted by CBRE and Grafton Recruitment in late 2019, as many as 86% of Polish employees wished to work from home at least one day a week. Employers tended to introduce home-office solutions very carefully, however, treating it as one of attractive benefits.

Meanwhile, life has written its own story. Since mid-March 2020, most of us had to undergo a fast-track intensive course on how to work from home. Forced into it by Covid-19, the mass shift to home office posed a significant challenge for employers and employees alike.

Has the whole process been successful?

Out-of-office but efficient

According to a study conducted by Gi Group and Grafton Recruitment in the second quarter of 2020 – with the pandemic outbreak under way – most organisations in Poland continue to operate remotely several months after its start. Their employees declare their willingness to continue to work from home also in the future.

Almost 60% of employees would prefer to work from home one or two days per week, and the biggest group of respondents (31%) favours the two-day option. According to many specialists, it is the optimum number of days with respect to home office as it helps preserve the balance between teamwork and individual approach to allocated tasks.

Full-scale home office is not the right solution for everyone. Not everyone is well suited to working from home, not only because of requirements connected with respective positions but also because of individual predispositions. To work from home efficiently, one has to possess numerous skills, such as time management, independence, focus on goal completion, and perfect familiarity with teleworking tools. Other important individual features include punctuality, precision, discipline, communication skills, and openness (including to feedback).

It seems, however, that needs must: over 65% of employees working from home now feel they are more or at least as efficient as when working at the office. And six out of ten respondents claim they know how to work remotely. Employees have even been noting an increase in their efficiency (over 20%) and the correct functioning of relevant processes within their organisations (54%). It is a natural ‘mobilisation effect’: everyone is trying to perform their professional tasks as best they can and feels responsible for the organisation they work for.

What is missing when working from home

Not everyone working from home is happy with this state of affairs, however. We asked employers about their experience with the ‘pandemic home office’. What are the main obstacles for them? What do they miss the most?
Initially, the challenges generally consisted in technical and organisational problems, such as slow internet connection at home, no experience in using telework tools, no access to company drives with documents and databases, and the need to learn the operation of platforms such as Dropbox or Google Drive.

Planning task execution and reconciling professional and family obligations still poses a lot of problems to one-fourth of the respondents. As it is, it is difficult to separate private life from professional activity. Many employees also encounter issues with self-discipline and work planning, with 18% of respondents claiming they have no space to work and 12% without appropriate equipment. What people miss most is contact with their colleagues (mentioned by 50% of respondents) and the exchange of information, opinions and discussions which drive their daily professional activity. Limited possibilities of teamwork, including consulting respective tasks, is one of the biggest impediments to home office.

It is becoming obvious we like spending time in areas dedicated to work as they naturally boost our efficiency and creativity. The main advantages of working at the office are: interacting with other employees (64% of respondents), interpersonal contacts (56%), and the possibility to exchange ideas (42%).
This is why regular online meetings are so important for the team also when working from home as they not only help maintain the rhythm of work, establish priorities, and allocate tasks, but also form an opportunity to brainstorm and maintain team spirit.
Meanwhile, what are the advantages of home office? All respondents have stressed they are not wasting time on commuting. And they can be more flexible and independent in organising their work.

Taking care of the office at home, qualifications and welfare

After the initial pioneer period, we have already become home-office veterans. Dedicated IT teams have been established within organisations to solve technical problems encountered by telecommuters as they arise. Some organisations have equipped their employees not only with company laptops, screens, and headsets, but have also allowed them to take the company chairs.

Online courses enjoy a great deal of popularity in this period of isolation and telework. The Polish Chamber of Training Companies has observed that training in work-time management was ranked among the most popular recently, while managers favoured courses in managing virtual teams.
Various studies (including those conducted by Gi Group and Grafton) show that isolation is the biggest issue for employees. They miss contacts with their friends, family, and the world outside. This is why many employers promote the wellbeing of their employees working from home by offering online trainings (such as managing energy during home office or positive thinking) as well as yoga and meditation classes.

The fact that employers are managing well with communicating the situation we are all in to their employees is an optimistic sign. Internal communication when working from home is a crucial element of organisational culture. Employees need information about the condition of their organisation and the planned changes. They also need to feel their employer is being honest with them. When the situation comes back to normal, this open and transparent attitude may even suggest in a rise in trust towards the organisation.

How to make home office efficient: Tips for employees:

  • Make lists of tasks and establish priorities; regularly summarise and check off your tasks

  • Take regular breaks from work, if only to check your messages or take a short walk

  • Explain to your family that even if you do not go to the office, it does not mean you are not working. Plan appropriate time for your partner and children

  • Introduce fixed rules, such as waking up at the same time, set up a separate place for work (if possible), wear business clothing and your favourite perfume, and remember about coffee breaks and a call to friends from work

  • Communicate with your team, colleagues, and clients on a regular basis.  Write emails and use messaging apps. Avoid small talk, however; it only wastes time

  • Do not snack; instead, introduce fixed meal times

  • Be reasonable: do not mix your private life with your professional activity; do not procrastinate, putting tasks off until later or tomorrow; but do not work too long either. Get the balance right.

Home office: challenges for managers

  • Organisation. For the team to work from home efficiently, the whole organisation and the team’s direct superior must prepare appropriate tools for communication and project execution, ensure access to databases and catalogues, draft schedules, and establish clear rules of operation while working from home.  

  • Communication. Honest, open, and regular. The employees want to know the organisation’s situation on a current basis. A manager should avoid the temptation of micromanagement: frequent phone calls, urging e-mails, and text messages “just to see how things are going” will bring effects contrary to what you expect.

  • Support. Managers who know their teams well are perfectly aware who might need some organisational support and who would be in need of a psychological helping hand. They also know who requires more independence and room, and who needs help in preparing a task schedule and a regular progress review.

  • Plan of action. It is always best to discuss the action plan with the team. Virtual status meetings (once or twice a week) are a good solution: the whole team devotes 30-60 minutes to discussing current issues and determining next steps.

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