Discussions about working from home have been growing louder among many business circles within and outside the AV industry and have crescendoed during recent months. The need to stay at home, coupled with the availability and benefits of technology, have made working from home a more desirable reality for a greater percentage of the workforce both young and old.
For my organization, it started with trying to solve a hiring problem and the inability to find local talent that fit our team. The initial results were far from seamless and borderline unsuccessful. However, the shift to an agile, mostly virtual team geared to work from home has proven to be an asset, especially during the pandemic of COVID-19. While many consider working from home to be an occasional change of pace, break in routine, or opportunity to have an easy day, it is becoming an important and effective way of life for more and more professionals and businesses.
In order for it to be sustainable, working from home should not be considered a perk or a novelty. It should be looked at as a business strategy to maximize effectiveness and productivity and serve as an added employee benefit. Working from home isn’t as simple as eliminating office space and allowing everyone to stay home while maintaining business as usual. Working from home is a shift in mindset to building a virtual team that requires a clear change in the makeup of an organization, including how it is run. While it may not be apparent from the onset, significant thought, consideration, effort, and willingness to change needs to go into a successful work-from-home arrangement. Everything from the hiring process, organizational structure, working relationship between team members, and the manner of conducting business needs to be adjusted.
For a majority of organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic has been an unexpected and likely abrupt trial of a work-from-home arrangement. While some find working from home as a breather from the daily commute, the distraction of office interruptions, the need to dress up, or the rigidity of a typical workday, others struggle with the lack of structure, routine, and personal interaction. Whichever the case, the success and longevity in a work-from-home arrangement involves an adaption to a new environment and manner of conducting daily activity.
Working from home requires give and take from both the employer and employee. Those who work from home regularly or have team members who work from home know that it involves a real-time merger of business and personal lives that differs from traditional working arrangements. Home working environments can vary significantly. While some prefer or have the ability to work in solitude, others need to share living spaces with a spouse, roommate(s), kid(s), and/or pet(s), making occasional distractions or sounds from home acceptable and expected. Those who work from home permanently likely have a dedicated space that is more comfortable and committed to their needs, while the occasional home worker may not be as settled. While some have physically separated spaces, most incorporate working from home into their living space. Whether working from home occurs at a desk in an additional bedroom, a space at a dining room table, a couch, recliner, or bed, productivity can come from a variety of typical or unconventional setups based on preference, comfort, and the nature of the work.
The work-from-home experience can also vary based on the role, responsibilities, needs, and personality type of the individual. While some find the opportunity to concentrate on deep work and minimize interruptions as a way to maximize productivity, others find it more difficult to get work done without the conveniences of having co-workers with whom to collaborate. Programmers, engineers, writers, and administrators likely prefer the solitude and quiet, while salespeople, managers, marketers, and customer service professionals are more effective in an interactive and collaborative environment. All of these considerations impact the success of a work-from-home strategy.
The long-term viability of working from home also includes a change in mindset and approach. Working from home is not simply a matter of not coming into the office. It is a commitment to a long-distance relationship that shapes the processes, procedures, policies, expectations, and mutual respect among all parties involved.
Here are some tips that can be used to implement a successful work-from-home strategy and avoid costly pitfalls:
From the onset, it is important to be clear on the arrangement of work from home, in-house, or a combination. Certain roles and responsibilities don’t naturally lend themselves to a remote arrangement like being a technician, installer, office manager, or receptionist. Other roles may naturally fit like an outside salesperson, software developer, customer service representative, or telemarketer. On a blended team of in-house and work-from-home members, challenges can arise in understanding responsibilities, commitments, and the perception of privileges, especially when there is a mix in the same roles. Awareness and attention to addressing a positive working arrangement from the onset can be critical to the success of a cohesive team and healthy culture.
Next, the selection and vetting process of team members should be approached with the possibility of a work-from-home arrangement top of mind. A job description and individual’s role should provide a clear understanding of the expectations, responsibilities, guidelines, and requirements to be successful specifically addressing details of working from home. Similar to any type of relationship, misunderstandings and misaligned expectations undermine success. Therefore, when the organization and team member have different visions about the role and expectation, conflict and challenges will quickly ensue leading to an undesirable outcome.
Similar difficulties can occur when converting an in-office role to remote or vice versa. The individual and company need to not only be accommodating to a new arrangement, but be able to be effective in the new capacity understanding what has and has not changed about their responsibilities and the expectations of them. Different people are better suited for one role over another, so it is important to define the parameters upfront and put the right person in the proper role. Qualities that are especially key for a successful remote worker are discipline, focus, organization, time management, ability to work independently, consistent communication, and having an effective home working environment.
Work from home requires an investment and commitment to a toolset that will provide the convenience of working closely (although physically distanced) and be relied upon to effectively conduct business. Whether it is related to hardware like laptops, tablets, monitors, and phones or software for communications, cloud storage, CRM, or remote access to equipment, teams need to be armed and set up for success. While the responsibility of providing the right tools, connectivity, training, and support lie on the shoulders of the employer, the investment needs to be met with a commitment to learning and adoption on the part of the employee in order to see the true effectiveness.
With any “long distance relationship,” the responsibility of a successful outcome can’t fall on the shoulders of any single party alone. Businesses, organizations, and individuals all need to have an active role in ensuring that a work-from-home arrangement is effective. Providing flexibility, understanding, and leeway can all contribute to a productive culture and healthy work environment. Additionally, privileges and relaxed protocol need to result in productivity, accomplishing goals, and providing an equitable feeling. It is important that appreciation is shared, and efforts are made to clearly demonstrate the effectiveness of the relationship. If both parties approach working from home with the goal of making it work and maximizing its benefit, the likelihood of long-term success will be achieved. Like with any relationship, a work-from-home arrangement with a clear understanding of each party's needs, an effort to compromise, a commitment to respect, and dedication to achievement is destined to succeed.
Steve Greenblatt, CTS, is president and founder of Control Concepts, a provider of specialized software and services for the audiovisual industry.