Building an Effective Work From Home Culture

In the face of self-isolation during the global pandemic, work at the office is now taking place from home. Working from home is by no means a new trend, many industries or business functions have been working from home for a long time. However, for many people working from home in the GCC comes as a surprise, especially given the fact that “the UAE had one of the lowest remote work participation rates in the world. Ten percent of workers in the country reported working from home one to two days per week, compared to a global average of 62 percent” (The National, 2020). Naturally, this will come as a shock to the system that needs some time to adjust. It is better that we adapt quicker in anticipation of this trend continuing as the “the Dubai Future Foundation predicts that remote working will be “the new norm” in the UAE in the long-term and that company policies will adapt to reflect the change” (The National, 2020).

Although it is not all bad news, working from home brings some attractive benefits along with the new set up. Time flexibility, clothing flexibility, lower organizational costs, no commute time resulting in more free time. A significantly positive impact on the environment. We will be able to establish a more culturally diverse set of metrics to truly understand if working from is more productive than working in the office.

The Greenroom Group, a consultancy with experience in remote hiring for change initiatives in the region has teamed up with React, a digital marketing consultancy operating on a SaaS model with teams spread over the globe working from home. The two companies have come together to provide some useful tips on how managers can make the most out of their workforce. And how employees can stay productive, positive, come out of this experience more robust, and better equipped for any substantial work culture shifts in the future.

Companies that have a centralised management structure and teams that are led by autocratic leadership are likely to face some challenges in their efforts to transition to remote working. These companies need to develop a centralised technology framework for online participation immediately, especially teams in a cross-functional capacity to ensure no dysfunction or communication overhead. We would recommend onboarding staff to a Microsoft Teams platform. You can view this as your online office. This platform will allow management to assign work, establish timelines, edit, review, and comment on work as well as create group and private communication channels. The administration needs to deploy this platform today. Direct managers should become familiar with the platform before onboarding the employees. Following on from management familiarisation, begin to onboard the staff one by one with a briefing via Zoom. Online resources should be sent to enable better onboarding of the staff, which can be provided by Microsoft Teams, online forums, and blogs. Management needs to vet the legitimacy and credibility before passing resources on to the team. If there are expectations for screen sharing, education resources should be sent to allow the staff to familiarise themselves before engaging in the exercise.

Once the staff is onboard, interacting with each other and work has commenced in the new virtual office. The direct managers will need to adapt or adjust to a more dynamic style of leadership to navigate around the new remote working challenges, left unchecked working from home can bring a unique array of mental problems that differ from those in an office environment. The challenges we see most often are outlined below.

  1. Decreased productivity, due to decrease in accountability and reporting structures.
  2. Decreased efficiency, due difficulty in managing time on a daily and a weekly basis.
  3. Decreased engagement, due to a gap in communication because of the reduction of interactions.
  4. Interrupted work flows, due to distractions in new forms.
  5. Loneliness and reduced motivation, due to lack of socialising with peers that naturally occurs in the office.

By having experience with these challenges first hand, we are able to weigh in on these topics with actionable insights on how to help mitigate these concerns in the face of COVID-19. Please see below our recommendations.

1. Decreased productivity, due to a decrease in accountability and reporting structures.

Due to the business climate, it is essential to structure performance reporting and requirements in a weekly, if not a daily format for accountability. Quarterly, KPIs should take the backseat due to the ongoing inconsistency and sporadic challenges.

It is very important for the performance reporting session to be done in a 1-on-1 setting with face time. Including a face to face, interaction makes a significant difference to engagement. Because these meetings are virtual, it is not an excuse to be permanently rearranging at the drop of a hat. Set a consistent time each week for each team member and stick to it, commit face time meetings, and overcome technology challenges that spring up rather than only resorting to a telephonic option. During these 1-on-1, when allocating workstreams and objectives, attach progress trackers and check-ins to provide clarity and ownership of the exercise.

2. Decreased efficiency, due difficulty in managing time on a daily and a weekly basis.

Whether working from the office or at home, to be truly effective first requires some self-education. There are several credible resources that will teach amazing tools and processes in order to best manage your time.

Ultimately, having a clear and positive mindset coupled with well-defined goals (both personal and professional) are key to maintaining high levels of personal accountability. One of the most credible authors in this space is Tony Robbins, and his book ‘Awaken the Giant Within’ – this book has helped thousands of people globally to improve their lives.

Secondly, you need to determine essential activities that contribute to the accomplishment of your objectives, versus activities that keep you busy, but don’t actually create real, tangible results (for those that catch themselves staring at their empty inbox will know what I am referring to).

‘The 4-Hour Workweek’ by Tim Ferris is a brilliant read that shares incredible, down-to-earth logic and processes for a very productive life. Another powerful book that helps you understand what is truly important in life is ‘Essentialism’ by Greg McKeown. If you are a person that habitually takes on more work than they should, and naturally struggles to say no to others, this is the book for you.

And finally, there comes a point when you just need to get organised, bite the bullet and work. For many, the pain of tackling a challenging task leads to continuous procrastination that serves only to increase your stress levels as an impending deadline gets closer and closer. ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen will teach you a simple system to get organised, reduce stress, and power through your list of tasks. When coupled with ‘The Pomodoro Technique’ by Francesco Cirillo, you’ll be an unstoppable force.

With all this new knowledge, you’ll see a tremendous change in your personal state-of-mind and productivity, and will be able to rely on these powerful new skills whether you are working remotely from home, or within an office.

3. Decreased engagement, due to a gap in communication because of the reduction of interactions.

Right from the start, establish formal and informal communication channels, receiving the most creative and the most offensive gifs in your workstreams does not help with productivity. Daily team huddles lasting 15 minuets to set the tone for the day, weekly team meetings with hangouts bolted on, and direct 1-on-1 performance reporting each week are the minimum structure companies should look to adopt in these times to ensure the team is still engaged in a group and individual communication. Ideally, you would want to add a personalized company relevant social event or educational event. 

4. Interrupted work flows, due to distractions in new forms.

The distractions in the office are very different from those at home. You may have a partner luring you into unnecessary breaks, your kids may be screaming. Whatever is, we are sure there will be something. We recommend separating your workspace form your relaxing space and ask your fellow inhabitants to be respectful of your work space when you are there, this can be as simple as when looking at a laptop, or it can be converting a room into an office. We recommend allocating work time zones each day and sticking to them so that you don’t let the time slip away. Managers and clients are also to be forgiving and patient with video interactions at home – of course, the standard etiquette of a silent phone is still in practice, but there may be unexpected noise or interruption that is simply unavoidable in family life.

5. Loneliness and reduced motivation, due to lack of socialising with peers that naturally occurs in the office.

Isolation can foster decreased motivation. Setting staff, in groups a goal to engage in one educational experience concerning their goals and structuring feedback on the learnings is a fantastic engagement tool, this can be as easy as a 1 hour 16-minute video on “communication with confidence” in the LinkedIn learning hub (please see references section for a link). You can add in a weekly mentorship/ check-in session with someone senior in a separate vertical so that the employee is confident their emotional challenges will not get back to his/ her direct colleagues, this way, you will also cultivate cross-function engagement and strengthen employee experiences.

Interactions in the elevator, on lunch breaks, and on coffee breaks will no longer be a part of normal life, whether that be short term or long term. Attaching a 15 minute “hang out” window either side of a team meeting can be useful for general catch-ups before or after engaging in sessions.

Adding an optional team call the day after an education day to review each other’s opinions on the course can help to have staff engage in a social context. Socialization in a learning environment allows employees a chance to grow and learn from each other. This will translate into higher performance.

Direct managers having lunch paid for by the office one day per week can be a helpful interaction too. Managers can decide that at 1 pm on a Monday, he/ she is ordering food from Deliveroo as an ongoing policy to each team member’s residence, the cuisine will be a surprise. Monday madness each week! Staff will begin to engage with each other about how great, or how disgusting the selection was – either way, they are engaging.

In summary, many challenges come along with a drastic change in your work environment. If we can stay committed, pull together, be forgiving, and share experiences, we can get through this. Employees can start a private group to share tips and tricks for working at home. 


References

Speaking With Confidence (July 2019) LinkedIn Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/learning/communicating-with-confidence/speaking-with-confidence?trk=bl-po_skills-that-will-matter-most-to-future-recruiters (Accessed 5 April 2020)

Working from home will be the ‘new norm’, Dubai Future Foundation predicts (April 2020) The National Available at: https://www.thenational.ae/uae/working-from-home-will-be-the-new-norm-dubai-future-foundation-predicts-1.1001727 (Accessed 5 April 2020)