Coronavirus or COVID-19 is everywhere. The media has made their number 1 topic and it’s become a regular topic of conversation. As a preventive measurement, the Ministry of Education pulled the Spring Break forward and schools and universities are closed for students until 4 April 2020. Parents are worried how online teaching will work for their children – and their work schedule. This is where you as the employer can show your true support.

Flexible working hours

While 59% of organisations offer flexible working hours according to Mercer’s TRS. Yet, working from home is not a common practice in the Middle East. Most organisations still require their employees to be physically present in the office every work day. Work requirements for shop assistants or production workers may mandate this presence. But for office-based employees or key account managers?

Flexible working from home

Allowing employees to work one day at home has become a common practice in the Western world. The home office can give that uninterrupted thinking time, helping employees to advance on their projects in an efficient manner. In November 2019, Prof. Justin Thomas argued productivity could rise even more if employees could work from home two days a week.

Working from home during a crisis

The UAE government announced that certain federal departments have started working remotely. It’s a phased pilot with the intent to have all employees of these selected departments to be working from home by 17 March 2020. The British government could also offer working for home for 3 months to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.

As you are reviewing the impact of COVID-19 on your business operations, who could work from home? All employees or specific departments? Do they have the equipment they need to work from home? If they don’t, how quickly can it be provided? How can it be maintained in the employee’s home?

Tips for working from home

Managers often resist employees working from home as they can’t see their employees or what they are working on. These concerns can easily be removed by setting expectations and laying down some ground rules.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Unless your organisation has a well established working from home practice, it’s new territory for all of you. You can use this time to communicate with your employees more frequently. Have a clear communication plan for your employees and stakeholders in place. Answer their questions and concerns. If you don’t know the answer, be honest and say so.

Evaluate how your team members are getting on and offer them individual support. Coaching individuals to handle the new working arrangements can provide them with a certain level of comfort and increase their confidence to approach work remotely.

Provide mental health support to your teams and employees. Media reports can be confusing and possibly are creating panics. Help your employees to reduce anxiety through your wellbeing programmes.

Create a dedicated work area.

Employees should have a separate work space at home. This area should be clutter-free and allow them to focus on their activities.

If family members are in the house, it may cause distractions. They may want to spend time with the employee. Children may not understand that their parents need to work. Employees will need to explain when they are working and when they can play with their children.

Not everyone will have a home office where they can close the door at the end of the day. Placing a room divider in front of the work space can give a similar feeling to finishing the work day and leaving the office.

Get dressed.

This may surprise many. Working in PJs from the bed does not change the mind that they are working. Putting on regular clothes will trigger your brain that it’ll need to shift gears and work on your company’s activities.

Work the regular working hours.

By sticking to the normal working hours, a sense of normality is maintained. Especially in times of uncertainty, this gives comfort to individuals and ensures continuation of business operations.

Did you know that you can also work shift hours from home? Yes, that’s right. there’s nothing stopping you from continuing shift operations and providing your customers with continuous support.

Invest in reliable systems.

Ideally, your company already has an IT infrastructure that is mobile and accommodates for remote work. Dropbox and OwnCloud may be cost-effective file sharing systems for SMEs. Google Docs allows multiple individuals to work on the same file at the same time. Office 365 Business allows online access to the MS Suite for at least 300 users.

Check your home internet connection, too. With schools and universities moving to online teaching, can your internet connection handle your needs plus those of your spouse and children? If you need to upgrade your package, who will cover the costs?

Set goals.

As business continues no matter where employees are working, ensure everyone understands their daily, weekly and/or monthly goals. These don’t change just because they’re not in the office. What are employees working on that helps them to achieve these goals? Help them to prioritise, if and as needed.

Have regular conversations with the team.

Just because employees are not in the office, that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to them. Phone calls may be the most direct way of speaking with someone. Other tools like Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams allow chat and video functioning. Both options provide immediate feedback while emails may only be read at certain times and are more suitable for longer messages or to document requirements. Slack or What’s App groups may be beneficial as long as they are managed effectively and don’t become another distractions due to their constant notifications.

Take a break.

Similar to working in the office, we can’t be constantly switched on. We need a break. This may be a short tea break to relax the eyes in the morning, a regular lunch break and an afternoon break. Make yourself a cuppa and meet another colleague on a virtual coffee break.

Employees who have their family at home at the same time may wish to take a longer lunch break and spend that time with their children. They may take more breaks during the day and continue working late. As each employee is different, you’ll see over the first few days already what works and what needs to be tweaked.

While we do not know how long COVID-19 will dominate our lives, companies can use it as an opportunity. It will show how prepared your organisation is for a crisis. If you see areas of improvement, work on them now or possibly in a prioritised order. Identify new ways of working, preparing your company for the future and the changing demands.

The future is now. Contact us today and learn how we can help you streamline your HR operations so your business can thrive during these uncertain times.