Seven things we learned from homeworking over the pandemic.

At Voxxify we help companies keep their finger on their IT pulse. Here are some things we and our clients learned about the initial response to CIH (Covid-induced homeworking!)

1. There’s no going back

If disruption and uncertainty have been the hallmark of 2020, here’s a given: the way we work just ain’t going to be the same again. ‘Working from home’ used to be a euphemism for taking an unofficial day off – how many times have you seen a colleague pull out “air quotes” when talking about someone who was at home for the day? But not any more as fears of a Covid productivity slump have been largely unfounded. One recent study by Deloitte found that 55% of UK workers thought their colleagues were more productive now than before lockdown, while an Upwork study in the USA showed that 32.2% of hiring managers believed productivity has increased since homeworking began, compared to 22.5% who found that it decreased. That same study expects the growth of full-time remote work to more than double – from 30% to 65% – over the next five years. With so many desks sitting empty, few companies are going to want expensive real estate taking up a huge chunk of their budget, so there are huge cost savings to be had from downscaling the office environment. The challenge for us as IT execs then is a simple one. Find the things that worked when we first locked down and expand them, identify those that didn’t – and find better solutions that work in this new era.

2. A lot of people are new to new technology – and they need training

The Deloitte study showed that a huge 75% of office workers have used not one, but two types of new technology for work since the crisis started. That’s great for those of us working for software and hardware companies – but more of a challenge for the head of an IT department looking to get their team to put those products into practice. Pre-Covid, a CIO’s in-house team would be on hand to help out … or in the worst case scenario, people could lean across a desk and ask a colleague. A survey we did for one of our clients found staff felt they didn’t have enough online support – not in the way of access to an immediate helpline, but in the way of simple online training videos that would help them better learn how to use their new kit. The result? Training videos employed, support lines unclogged, staff happier and more productive (Perhaps they were the ones surveyed in point one… Who knows?)

3. Educate your team on the right tools

One recent client had some of their staff run rampant when it came to new tech. In the first days of Lockdown, people were bouncing around between Skype, Teams, Zoom, WebEx, texts, email – some of their staff even did a couple of Snapchat calls for business! A mix and match approach to third party tech might have been fine – even a bit of fun – early on but now it’s time to pick one or two tools and get all the company’s employees using the same systems. We don’t recommend specific solutions, but obviously look for ease of use, ease of access, cost, security levels and how easy it is to train people to use it properly (see above) – not necessarily in that order. 

4.Retain an element of separation

Oh, how we laughed on those first lockdown Zoom calls when the office joker found they could change their background to make it look as though they were in the Caribbean. Oh, how we cringed when they were still doing it a month later. Despite the stale gag, there is an element of using backgrounds that we’ve found useful: not only can you hide the laundry drying in the background, you can make it look like you’re actually in the office. (Better still, you can really make that office look kick-ass… you really should check out our ‘loft’!). It might be a small thing, but it can help people retain a sense of professionalism on a call – getting them in the right headspace for work and making them more productive. We mentioned it to one of our clients, who now insists that conference calls at least look as though people are back at HQ, even if they’re not. 

5. Set up the home like the office

With past clients, we found that people who spent most of their time in the office were productive. We found people who worked exclusively from home were also productive. The ones who struggled most were those who worked at home on some days and in the office on others. The reason? The two environments were so different. An easy way to eradicate this is to get your team to help staff set up home offices that resemble their work one as much as possible. Get your team to make sure those working from home have their tables at the right height, their monitors at the correct height and sitting in a chair with decent neck support – not only will they be more productive but HR will thank you for it when people stop complaining about neck and shoulder pain. Another idea is to have two monitors at home. Get staff to use their laptop for video meetings and their larger monitor for screen sharing. That way, they can maintain their presence in the meeting while presenting. 

6. Home broadband stinks

OK, maybe I went for the provocative headline here. If the bulk of your staff live in a big city and can download a 4k movie in seconds on their home broadband, the occasional Zoom call won’t touch the sides. If they don’t, a business call can end up being more like a seance with a ouija board, complete with a soundtrack of ‘is there anybody there?’ and ‘can you hear me?’ as images flicker in and out. One team we surveyed said that sticky conference calls were the biggest challenge when working from home. A solution is to educate the team on cell phone hotspots and how to quickly tether a laptop to a cell, so they can mix and match their online access depending on which is giving them the most stable connection.

7. Support tickets aren’t everything

Staff working from home are unlikely to raise a ticket for daily annoyances … the little niggles that raise the hackles and cause bad feeling. Get some honest water cooler feedback on what’s really bothering by getting your IT team to proactively check in with people to see what issues they are having – then ensure you act on those issues or get back to the person concerned. No one likes to be left hanging…

What have you learned from working at home during the pandemic? Let us know.