Flu season is challenging for almost everyone. Because influenza is so contagious, it’s often not a question of whether someone will get it, but how well they will hold up in response to it. Flu shots and regular hand-washing can greatly lessen the chances of a serious infection, as can simply staying home during periods of peak contagion.
The latter option deserves a lot more attention as a prevention strategy, especially in the context of the ongoing growth of remote work and the rising prospect of a coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic from 2020 onward. Requiring every employee to be physically on-site near other people has some well-known drawbacks – lengthy commute times and high associated costs, limited flexibility in who and where you can hire, etc. – but the health benefits often go overlooked.
Remote work: As good for your health as for your happiness?
While we’ve focused on the flu and the coronavirus so far, the common cold is another common ailment that thrives on lots of people being concentrated in one place, such as a traditional conference room or an office elevator. Between them, the flu and the cold compromise the health of millions of people every year and also cost organizations tens of billions of dollars in lost productivity, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The latter is a less vital concern than the overall impact on public health. However, it’s important to note that employee well-being and company productivity don’t have to be in conflict. In other words, it’s not necessary to require people to risk the possibility of a COVID-19, flu, or cold infection by physically coming into the office, or force them to use up their sick days if they can’t.
They can instead work from home if healthy enough to do so. In most cases, they can be just as happy and effective, all without heightening their chances of becoming ill or spreading their illness to others outside their immediate family or roommates. But what if your company hasn’t regularly supported remote work in the past, only making it available to select employees or on an ad-hoc basis?
Let’s look at how you can manage the transition into remote working arrangements, while reducing your workforce’s exposure to seasonal illnesses:
1. Make remote workers feel valued and involved
One of the biggest challenges in telecommuting is the sense of isolation and loneliness felt by many remote workers. A Buffer report, “The 2020 State of Remote Work,” found that these feelings were widely reported by telecommuters. So, when someone starts working more from home in the wake of an illness, it might create some new problems, mainly related to feeling out of the loop.
Have regular check-ins with your remote employees to keep them engaged and prevent them from feeling isolated. This is where it’s important to use real-time collaboration technologies to keep them connected. Relying only on email or phone calls often won’t be enough to make a remote worker feel truly engaged. In contrast, options like video conferencing, integrated team messaging, and document sharing and co-editing platforms can help a remote employee feel like they’re in the same room, even when far apart.
2. Set expectations up front
To begin transitioning to a remote working environment, you need policies and processes in place to keep remote workers connected and effectively contributing to assignments, projects, and overarching business goals.
Successfully embracing remote work requires leadership support to create a culture that encourages this type of flexibility. Set forth policies for aspects of remote work from the beginning. Focus on things like the hours you expect them to be available, standards for keeping their security software current, tools they should be leveraging, and more. Be clear about your expectations but willing to listen to employee feedback. It’s important to establish both trust and accountability from the top down.
3. Be cognizant of time zones when scheduling meetings
Once you start supporting remote work, time zones become more of a concern, since it’s easier for people to choose when and where they work. Having employees spread across multiple time zones can make meeting scheduling tricky. An ideal time for Person A might be too early for Person B and too late for Person C.
Some proven workarounds include:
• Sending out a group email asking everyone to submit a few time options that work well for them, and then settling on one that’s common to everyone, or at least close enough.
• If you’re a U.S.-based company, picking a standard meeting time that’s usually good across all U.S. time zones, such as 2 p.m. Eastern.
• Using a web-based world clock tool to find an ideal time for a meeting with invitees spread across international time zones.
• Utilizing a team messaging app to supplement video conferencing enables people across all time zones to stay connected and keep discussions going when it is convenient.
4. Implement versatile and flexible collaboration tools
Whether a remote worker succeeds or fails will often hinge on the quality of their collaboration tools. For example, if the software they have to use has a steep learning curve or isn’t deeply integrated with other applications, then simply communicating with others can become enough of a problem to eliminate any of the potential advantages of telecommuting.
In general, having a few key tools for your remote workforce will make a big difference in productivity levels. First, a video conferencing platform. Being able to meet virtually in a face-to-face environment goes a long way in establishing connections, driving deeper relationships, and increasing focus in meetings. And with real-time screen sharing, everyone can literally be on the same page or co-create together, further enhancing the feeling of being in the same room. All this translates to better output by your virtual teams.
Also implementing a team messaging platform is a great way to facilitate more off-the-cuff conversations and quick information-sharing. These platforms can also be used to share documents and are pervasive, so conversation threads and key materials are saved for context and easy access. Not only do these platforms enable improved productivity, they can also drive better relationships by acting as a virtual water cooler for teams to tell jokes or share photos.
Whether you are navigating COVID-19 complications, or the flu season, remote work often becomes more vital. With the right approach, processes, and technology, you can enable a remote working environment for as long as you need—all while keeping your employee base healthier.
This story was written by the experts at Cisco Webex.