The COVID-19 quarantine has shone a spotlight on the skills employees need to successfully work from home. Communication and productivity issues top the list, and Metasys has addressed these challenges in previous posts, but we have found several other psychological, professional, and collaboration hurdles remote workers need to overcome in order to avoid burnout and maintain their careers – and their sanity – during the pandemic.
Humans sometimes tend not to view remote work as “real” work. Whether it’s a friend’s mid-morning call to catch them up on the latest gossip, a supervisor who’s suspicious that they’re shirking their duties, or coworkers feeling they’re not pulling their weight, work from homers must prove their worth more than their in-office colleagues. To them, a delay in returning an email is a sure sign the home worker has popped out to run a personal errand, see a movie, or do some other non-work task. It is important to chronicle your activities and production while working from home. Keep track of and write down time spent on each task and each milestone achieved. Only weak, insecure leaders would ask you to account for every minute of your time, but having it for your records will remind you to take credit for your work and inform your team and your boss that you are just as active and productive as ever while working away from the office.
Even productive remote workers can begin to doubt whether they are contributing enough to team projects or individual duties. Though studies have shown that freelancers and contractors are more efficient and productive than on-site employees, home workers tend to be perfectionists, hard driven to get more done. Neophyte home workers may not be able to recognize this tendency. They may fall victim to “imposter syndrome,” a condition that causes them to view themselves as outsiders, not really part of the team at all. Sufferers view themselves as less than qualified for their role. This doubt drives them to work harder and longer. They may be reticent to take initiative on projects or make suggestions in team meetings, afraid their ideas are not worthy of seeing the light of day and that they will be exposed as frauds.
Obtaining and improving skills
Many businesses are slowing down during COVID-19, leaving time for employees to work on long-term initiatives and acquire new skills. This is the perfect time for upskilling and reskilling to make yourself a more valuable worker today and when the quarantine ends. If you work with international teams or clients, you could learn a language. If you will be managing projects, you might become conversant on productivity software. If you’re a writer, it would be helpful to learn basic graphic design skills. The pandemic has the potential to transform how we work, now is the time to project your role into the digital age. The quarantine is certain to depress the economy, so it is paramount to hit the ground running when the pandemic subsides. The more quickly the world can ramp up productivity during and after the crisis, the faster the recovery will be. Take it upon yourself to meet the challenge head-on, with a positive attitude and a willingness to help your company succeed.
With less hands-on management, remote work requires employees to manage their time efficiently through self-directed activities. Often in these situations, each contributor’s next assignment depends on delivery of inputs and iterations from coworkers. You do not want to be the cause of bottlenecks. Tasks may take priority for a variety of reasons. Depending on your work style and preference, you may wish to get the hardest or most unpleasant activities out of the way first. It can be a huge relief to get those chores off your to-do list. On the other hand, you may prefer to take care of niggling details that are holding up lots of small, but important, projects. Completing four mini projects may give you a greater sense of accomplishment than moving from step three to step six on a major one. The little successes can inspire you to greater things. Whichever your preferred method, be sure to align your workflow with the company’s mission and help move your team toward completion of its most critical objectives.
Working remotely robs workers of the non-verbal cues that can inform business decisions, engender teamwork, and build a shared sense of purpose among colleagues. These subtleties cannot effectively be conveyed through email or even videoconferences, and that can be cause for misunderstanding and even resentment. A joke could be easily interpreted as such in a face-to-face encounter, where tone of voice, facial expressions, etc. establish the spirit in which the comment is made. Without these visual and contextual clues, however, an innocent offhand remark could be taken the wrong way and cause offense. To compensate, remote workers must work extra hard to ensure the true meaning of their words and actions come across to coworkers, supervisors, and customers. Emoticons, where appropriate, can help. Striving to give communicators the benefit of the doubt can have the same effect.
One reason development and implementation teams work well is that they bring together people whose talents, viewpoints, and personalities complement one another. The social aspect creates a synergy that drives progress. Physical interaction, brainstorming, and iteration flow when teammates are at ease with each other. COVID-19 has isolated workers, however, adding sensory deprivation to the worry and financial constraints everyone is facing. Loneliness and boredom are real concerns at times like these. Thankfully, when the pandemic ends, remote workers will have more opportunities to combat the cabin fever they are forced to endure. They will be able to work from virtually anywhere – the beach, a coffee shop, or a coworking space – replacing the banter and background noise that often inspires creativity. Until that time however, home workers should strive to overcommunicate and make themselves available to their colleagues. The contact will do wonders for their psyche and might even be a springboard to a few great ideas.
Acknowledging these threats to productivity and contentment during the COVID-19 outbreak is the first step toward overcoming them. Remote workers face enough challenges even in the best of times; what would be considered minor aggravations during normal times may escalate into significant barriers when we are cooped up for weeks on end. Metasys urges you to take steps to protect your emotional and physical health, while also staying busy and keeping projects on track. Here are some tips to keep you from going stir crazy during the pandemic. Download the free whitepaper here