Due to the pandemic, working from home is becoming a common theme for many employees — a trend that will likely continue into the foreseeable future. And while remote work can give some workers a better work-life balance, it still comes with a set of challenges — particularly for small business owners who haven’t been used to managing a remote workforce. Here are some of the common obstacles small businesses face in the work-from-home era and how to work around them.
1. Managing Employees’ Schedules
Having the flexibility to work when convenient for you is probably pretty appealing. Although, many people are used to having set hours that provide a sense of structure. There were specific times for work and then for play. Without that routine, many employees may find themselves procrastinating throughout the day.
Instead of waking up early, they may sleep later or take extended breaks. This causes work to be pushed back to later in the evening. And, unlike larger corporations, many small businesses don’t have the funds for the extensive time-tracking software that larger companies utilize to monitor efficiency when employees are working away from the office.
How to Manage Employees’ Time Efficiently
One way to solve this problem is to advise your employees to create a schedule and stick to it. They should even plan when to take breaks during the day and for how long. Also, they may want to write down this schedule along with the assignments for each day. You might even review their schedule with them and work together to plan a solid routine.
Also, it’s important that teammates have good time management skills. This will help your employees be more efficient throughout their workday. Provide them with resources to learn this skill. Since they can’t do everything all at once, have them prioritize the most critical tasks first. Consider things like deadlines and the amount of time needed to complete the project.
Here are some other time management best practices for your employees to follow:
● Create a to-do list
● Add breaks to your schedule
● Delegate tasks
● Break up projects into manageable parts
● Set weekly and monthly goals
2. Communicating Effectively
It’s hard to communicate and work with people when you’re all in different locations. Teammates may work at different times of day if they aren’t held accountable to specific work hours. Meetings are now held over video conferencing platforms like Zoom, making it harder to get everyone on the same page. Plus, technology issues can lead to miscommunication.
With all virtual communication, having a good internet connection is critical. However, three-quarters of remote workers don’t have their company pay for home internet, and economically disadvantaged employees could have less access to costly technology like high-speed internet.
How to Bridge the WFH Communication Gap
As technology advances, multiple software collaboration tools have begun to pop up. This allows team members to share essential information and documents. Consider using these tools to help your business run smoother.
It’s also important to schedule ongoing virtual calls with your employees. During this time, you should confirm tasks and set new goals. Also, it’s a good idea to get updates on the progress of current assignments.
Finally, consider paying for some of your employees’ internet bills or tech purchases to ensure they can complete tasks and interact with the rest of the team. Because you are likely using less internet at your business’s physical location, you might reallocate some of your technology budgets from your office to your employees’ WFH setup.
3. Setting Boundaries Between Professional and Personal Life
When you have an office space, it creates a feeling of productivity. Then when you leave work at the end of the day, you can mentally leave behind any stress. Once at home, you start to feel more relaxed, surrounded by your cozy decor. When working from home, however, you lose that mental divide. It can also be hard to turn off your brain’s “work mode” if your computer is sitting right next to you. It’s probably tempting to check one last email or work past traditional office hours.
Plus, since childcare options are currently limited due to the pandemic, employees may feel like they’re switching gears between work life and home life throughout the day. Since most small businesses don’t have the budget to help these employees find childcare through stipends or work-sponsored programs, how can a small business owner help?
How to Help Employees Balance Work and Personal Life
As a cost-effective way to help prevent the blurring of lines, suggest your workers create a designated space secluded from the rest of their house. This can be a spare bedroom or their basement. However, they shouldn’t work in the bedroom they sleep in. They’ll also want a space with a door that locks, or they can put up a divider. This helps to both physically and mentally separate your work area from rooms you relax in.
You can particularly help workers with children to care for by allowing them to create a more flexible schedule for themselves temporarily. Work with them to determine a consistent set of work hours that account for their needs as a parent. Then, ensure you are clearly communicating guidelines and expectations as an ongoing dialogue between you and your employee. By checking in with them every so often, you can confirm this temporary arrangement is still meeting their needs and they have everything they need to stay productive.
Also, once your employees are done for the day, advise them to leave their computers in their office space. This way, they’re not tempted to work later in the evening. Another tip to share with them is to do something they enjoy after work. It can act as a transitional activity to get their mind off any stressful projects. Without your evening commute, you don’t have the time to wind down.
4. Overcoming Employees’ Distractions
Without a boss to look over your shoulder, it may be tempting to procrastinate throughout the day. Working remotely makes it easier to look through your social media or catch up on the news. Also, it can be hard to resist tending to daily responsibilities like laundry or dishes during work hours.
Besides devices and chores, people in your household can become a distraction. A simple conversation could eat into valuable work time.
How to Help Employees Stay on Track
One of the first things your employees should try is removing their electronic devices from their workspace. This can reduce the number of times they check their phone throughout the day. They can then allow themselves to catch up on any missed texts or calls during their lunch break.
Noise-canceling headphones are a great tool to tune out outside noises. Consider providing your remote employees with these — the benefits of giving distraction-reducing tech to your employees could far outweigh the costs. Also, suggest they set boundaries with their family. Have them ask their family not to disturb them during regular business hours.
Also, to help employees focus better, they may want to implement a self-care morning routine. Exercising is a great way to stay healthy and energize your mind for the day.
5. Eliminating Social Isolation
Being at home all day can take a toll on your mental health. All of us need some form of human interaction throughout the day. While Zoom meetings can provide some communication, it’s still not face-to-face interaction.
Going into the office can create multiple chances for conversations. Without this interaction, many remote workers can feel isolated from other team members. And while many large companies have started getting together for elaborate virtual events, small business owners may struggle to find options that fit their tighter schedules and budgets.
How to Plan Social Events
Since your employees may not receive much social interaction at work, advise them to remain social outside of office hours. Have them reach out to friends and coworkers to set up lunch dates or phone calls during the week. Putting together a “buddy system” for employees to get to know one another during a virtual lunch break or adding something on their calendar for each week can boost their morale and fill that social void.
You might suggest your employees work outside their homes at least once during the week. Consider investing in a co-working space to promote engagement. Also, consider hosting company-wide events or creating clubs to help teammates connect.
Although you may not have a large party-planning budget as a small business, even small social gatherings — whether in-person or virtual — can go a long way. Whether you and your workers grab a beer together at a Zoom happy hour or meet up for a socially distanced potluck, there are plenty of options for social events that won’t break the bank.
The Challenges of Remote Work
As the workforce continues to shift, telecommuting is becoming a new trend. This comes with a set of obstacles for remote employers — particularly smaller ones — to face. Although, during the pandemic, many businesses learned to adapt to these changes. So, with the growth of remote work, people will continue to experience new challenges. Along with these problems come creative solutions.