For some, returning to work might be on the horizon, but others need to prepare for long term WFH.
The sudden outbreak of COVID-19 has left many business owners ill-prepared for running their businesses from home. Even for those owners that have some prior experience operating their businesses remotely, they are finding that doing so on such a large scale can be overwhelming.
In this article, we’ll explore some personal challenges that business owners face when working from home, as well as larger systematic issues that each business must address.
The difficulties of working from home
Most business owners are active and energetic individuals. They look forward to getting up each morning, getting out of the house, and tackling their organization’s challenges. They enjoy interacting with their employees and customers. In the current climate, they are forced to cope with prolonged periods of isolation. For others, they cannot seem to find a quiet place in their homes to get their work done. Both can take a major toll on one’s mental health.
It is important for owners to maintain these relationships. Making use of technology is one solution. In addition to FaceTime, apps like Zoom or Slack make it easier for organizations to streamline their communications. Companies that adopted remote work systems prior to the pandemic have found ways to keep team members engaged and satisfied while working from home.
There is nowhere to run
Those that live with others, especially small children, face some additional challenges. Not only are they missing out on their professional social interactions, but they struggle to find large blocks of uninterrupted time to complete their work. Others work so much that they have trouble distinguishing between home life and work.
If you can set up a dedicated office at home, then do it. Make the space comfortable. Decide what hours you can work each day, create a schedule, and stick to it. Communicate your schedule to your family. Explain to them how important it is to you and your business that you have that time to work. Inevitably, your children will likely find their way into your office during working hours. Try not to lose your patience - instead, reinforce that you are working and will be happy to play with them when you are done.
If you live in tight quarters, you may find it impossible to work from home. Find a space where you will be the most comfortable. Put on a pair of headphones to block out background noise.
Those who work from home report a high rate of burnout. A 2019 study by Digital Ocean found that 82% of remote workers in the U.S. experienced burnout. Again, this is why sticking to your schedule is so important. If your mental health declines, it will hurt both your business and impact your personal life. Ensure that you are taking frequent breaks, getting daily physical activity, and maintaining a healthy diet.
The challenges of remote work for every business
Businesses face systematic challenges when working remotely. These include a lack of accountability, difficulty communicating, accessibility, and security.
One of the biggest challenges that business owners face is ensuring their employees remain productive. It is far easier to trust long-standing employees than it is newly hired remote workers. Even then, however, employees face their own challenges of working from home. In fact, you may find that the productivity of the most historically productive of employees slips without the structure of the office and/or your management.
That leads to another major challenge - how exactly do we measure productivity? If your employees are paid salaries and their normal work hours are 9-5, does that mean they must be logged onto their computers during that time? And if you are paying them for 8 hours per day, what if they can complete that work from home in 4 hours? Do they then have to do double the amount of work for the same pay?
The answers to these questions are largely employer-specific. You know the needs of your business better than anyone. For this reason, you must allot some time for defining your business’ goals. Decide what you need from your employees to meet those goals and delegate work accordingly.
Managing and communicating with your employees and customers
This point is closely related to the previous section. Accountability is a function of managing – ensuring that your employees are doing what they are supposed to be doing. But how exactly does a business go about managing employees that are working remotely?
We already mentioned the importance of delegating tasks. A business must also ensure that those tasks are completed and have a system in place to communicate. Managing employees remotely is all about leveraging technology. Use workflow management software to keep track of tasks. Monitor employee productivity with time tracking software. Use a program like Slack to streamline your team’s communication.
Working remotely also presents challenges for serving your customers. Like you, your customers are coping with their own challenges and fears. Ensure that you regularly communicate with them. Even if they are not buying products and services from you during the pandemic, let them know that you are thinking of them. After all, once things return to normal you will need them more than ever.
Accessibility and security concerns
Even with all these systems in place, your team will likely not be as accessible as they are under normal conditions. For instance, employees with young children at home have increased demands placed on their schedules. They may not be able to participate in a 10:00AM video conference. This requires flexibility on your part, such as offering several meeting times for employees to participate in.
Even under normal circumstances, remote work presents organizations with unique security challenges. Employees may be handling sensitive information. They will be accessing your network from different locations and on a variety of devices. An attack on your network can be disastrous for your business. Be sure to secure your network with a comprehensive network security solution.
Working remotely can present your business with unique challenges. Yet, much like facing any challenge, you will learn important things about your business and emerge from this crisis stronger than before.