The way we work has changed dramatically in the past few months — and for some, the shift will be permanent.

Twitter recently gave its employees the option to work from home for good, while Facebook and Google have extended the option through the end of 2020. If these changes are a sign of a bigger trend to come, then many more companies will start to make remote work a standard part of their operations.

Remote work has many benefits, like reducing real estate costs for businesses and increasing flexibility for employees. However, it also has downsides. More than half of employees say they’ve become lonelier when working from home during the pandemic. Others struggle to maintain work-life balance without the separation of a commute or have more trouble focusing when they work from their living rooms instead of their offices.

With many office workers settling into work from home for the long haul, companies should consider how to make the remote work experience a positive one. That means ameliorating stressors but also taking advantage of newfound workplace flexibility to forge new connections and offer new opportunities.

Six Ways To Improve Employees’ Work-From-Home Experience

Every company is different, and employee experiences should look different, too. When developing programs for work-from-home support, make sure to solicit and listen to feedback from employees about their pain points and suggested helpful actions. You’ll build a more effective program if your strategy addresses your company’s unique culture and its employees’ particular needs. That said, here are a few broad recommendations that any company looking to set up work-from-home support should consider.

• Check in with employees more frequently: Frequent and effective communication supports healthier, more productive remote work environments. It’s especially important to Gen Z employees who may have just entered the workforce and are still learning office norms. You may not be able to stop by each employee’s desk like you could when you were all in the office, but digital solutions like videoconferencing and messaging platforms can help bridge the communications gap. Just don’t overdo it — some employees love frequent team check-ins, but others might find too many meetings distracting. Be sensitive to your employees’ needs and feedback when determining the communication frequency for your team, and don’t hesitate to adjust meeting cadences that aren’t working.

• Organize virtual happy hours and networking events: One advantage of working remotely is that it collapses physical distance. If your company’s offices are spread across multiple states, countries or even continents, this is a perfect opportunity to bring employees together for virtual events. Informal happy hours and “lunch and learns” encourage workers to connect with each other across geographical boundaries. Even if your employees usually all occupy the same physical space, they’ll likely appreciate the opportunity to connect and socialize informally while they’re remote.

• Encourage boundary setting: Having a set routine minimizes stress and reduces burnout, but those routines should be flexible according to the employee’s needs. For example, a working parent may prefer to go online early in the morning, then take time during the day to be with their kids, returning to work in the evening. Encourage your employees to set these expectations clearly, so their teammates can adapt workflows to their schedules.

• Bolster professional development: There’s no reason why the shift to remote work should slow down an employee’s career progression — in fact, it could accelerate it. Many industry certifications and trainings are already available online. Direct your employees to these resources and, if possible, offer to cover any fees. Your company can offer internal trainings virtually, too. Scale the effort by recording the sessions for future on-demand use.
• Reduce busy work: Employees struggling to adjust to working from home may feel overwhelmed by the number of tedious, repetitive tasks on their plates. In many cases, automation-driven solutions can take this work off their hands and free up their time for more high-level, creative work. Make sure to roll out any automation solutions sensitively, though, so employees understand the goal is ultimately to augment, not replace, their labor. Invest in upskilling so employees have the skills they need to take advantage of new opportunities.

• Support wellness remotely: In a recent survey, over 85% of employees said they wanted more help from employers as they adjust to working from home. One can conclude that mental health would be included in this capacity to help. Even before the pandemic, more companies were recognizing that mental health support is no longer just a “nice to have” — it’s a must for forward-thinking organizations. That support can come in many forms: offering guided meditation sessions, recommending fitness apps, ensuring the company health plan covers virtual therapy or even just encouraging the use of PTO for staycations to help employees destress. Whichever tactics you choose, remember to model healthy habits by taking advantage of the same options yourself.

Ensuring Employee Loyalty

As the economic outlook remains uncertain, many companies are asking more of their employees. That should come with assurances that companies will support employees in return. Organizations that make their employees’ mental and physical well-being and career development a priority during the pandemic will earn lasting loyalty long after daily life returns to normal. They’ll also set themselves up for success in a world where remote work is a more common feature of work life.

By Eric Johnson, as published in Forbes on 6th July 2020

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