The 23rd of March 2021 marks a year since the first UK lockdown, and the start of the mass exodus from the office to our homes. The way in which we work has changed, with many businesses now planning on a hybrid working model as the country opens up once more.
While some people have adapted well to a WFH model, this has certainly not been easy for everyone. With parents having to fit in homeschooling around their working day, and others having difficulty with switching off, managing the work/life divide has been a challenge.
For those of us who will continue to work from home in some capacity, there is the ongoing risk of fatigue from the tools we use to complete tasks and stay in touch with our clients and colleagues on a daily basis. Increased video conferencing, for example, has led to people feeling burned out, and collaboration software, like Slack, has increased anxiety, and in some cases, disrupted workflow.
In addition to this, a number of organisations have turned to consumer messaging apps such as WhatsApp, which further blurs the line between our work and personal lives.
These factors combined leads to a feeling of having to be ‘always on’. Because of the flexibility that comes with home working, there is increased pressure on many employees to be available outside of normal office hours.
Clearly, if this ‘new normal’ is to be maintained long-term, it needs to come with a better way of working.
Cut the communication channels
A full inbox can be stressful enough, but when staff are battling to clear emails, alongside checking for tasks that have been assigned to them on a collaboration platform, attending video conference calls, and then dipping in and out of instant messages on their phone, they end up responding through many different channels when one would suffice, As a result, they are constantly distracted, and therefore, not getting much work done!
Organisations who use multiple platforms to communicate should create clear guidelines of how these channels should be used, by who, and when.
Lengthy or detailed communication is often better suited to email, whereas if quick feedback is required from a lot of people, a messaging platform that threads conversations so that they can be scanned more easily is more appropriate. Workflow collaboration platforms, when used properly, can be used very effectively to communicate, particularly on projects where tasks need to be completed in a certain order to be able to progress to the next stage, and keep track of deadlines more easily.
Video calls are great, but for many of us, staring at a screen for 8 hours a day is already exhausting. Next time you schedule a video call consider whether this would have warranted a face-to-face meeting previously, or would a phone call or email suffice? Additionally, when meetings do not have a set agenda they lead to unnecessary conversations, when the purpose of the meeting is unclear, you risk straying off topic, and sometimes, meetings have far too many people involved, resulting in projects being slowed down to ensure everyone has their say.
Trust is also a huge part of reducing the level of communication required when working remotely. It’s important to set realistic deadlines and stick to them, and equally, the person who is waiting for the task to be completed should be respectful enough not to chase ahead of the completion date.
Sharing employee calendars provides visibility on the day to day activities each team member already has scheduled, and being mindful of everyone else’s workload means that everyone can see when it is, or isn’t a good time to get in touch. Additionally, having a quick catch up at the start of every day to share what everyone is working on, and discuss how they can support each other, is hugely beneficial.
It’s all well and good focussing on improving the way we use the tools we communicate with but ultimately, the days of the 9-5 are over and it's almost come to be expected that workplace communications will happen outside of the traditional working hours.
Having email and app notifications going off all evening means many cannot resist the temptation to ‘just get that done before tomorrow’. Let staff know that it’s completely acceptable to not be available 24/7.
Ensuring that staff wellbeing is being looked after is crucial for a happy and productive workforce. If possible, allow staff to book out blocks of time each week where they will be completely uncontactable so that they can focus on a task without distractions or disruption.
People need a break from staring at their screens. Encourage video call free days, at least once a week. If it must be a meeting, make it a phone call instead to give employees the opportunity to get away from their desks.
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