I was recently speaking to an associate who mentioned that his job has changed since working from home. Like for many of us, during the early stages of the pandemic, his company moved all staff home to work remotely. Nine months later, most have not returned to the company’s physical offices.
We all have great and not so great stories about remote work/telecommuting in 2020. On the not-so-great side, my associate, an engineering manager at a software company, shared some of his issues with his new work environment. Since working from home, he has been scheduled and expected to attend multiple meetings at the same time. As a daily occurrence, he finds himself simultaneously attending a Microsoft Teams call on his laptop, a Zoom call on his iPad, and another call on his wireless phone He compared notes with other managers at his firm, and they too are having the same experience. Besides finding it difficult to participate in any meeting effectively, finding the time to do assigned tasks is quite challenging given the meeting overload, he reports.
This got me to thinking… would we expect double and triple booking of our staff if they were in a physical office? Being in two places at the same time is impossible, even for a superhero. But, with remote work, has our communication really become so immediate and accessible that we are expected to be “on” all the time?
In our current economic environment, I think many employees feel fortunate to have a job. They are working harder than ever to keep their positions, and in the process, employees can feel burned out, overburdened, or unproductive. How do we help employees work through these issues?
1. Set Workday Expectations — Staff should have reasonable expectations of what the workday should look like. Is the employee required to punch the clock 8-5 or can their schedule be more flexible? Some workers must be logged on for specific hours during the day. Contact center agents or knowledge workers need to be available during business hours. For other salaried employees, can the work schedule be more flexible? Studies have shown that some people are more productive during different times of the day. Similar to being a morning person or night owl, employees may find they work more efficiently at different times.
Talk with an employee to create a workplan that fits their position and workstyle. By understanding and setting expectations, staff and management can collaborate on meeting company goals, and prevent employee burnout.
2. Set Meeting Management Guidelines — Identify who and how many team members need to participate in a meeting. In my experience, too many cooks in the kitchen can spoil the soup. Having more people in a meeting than necessary can prolong decision making, complicate the work needed, or hijack productivity on a project. Lost work time due to unnecessary meeting participation may be costing your company money. Are you paying key staff members to sit in unnecessary meetings? Have employees ever expressed how much a waste of time they feel meetings are — or suggested that an email or a telephone call could have resolved an issue more efficiently than a formal meeting?
Guide organizers to first consider the goal of the meeting. Is it to report? Negotiate? Collaborate? Get approval? Encourage them to set a specific agenda, set goals for the meeting, and honor each attendee’s time.
3. Take the Human Toll Into Account — Working remotely can make the person behind the screen seem invisible. Take a step back and realize that the person on the other side of the screen is a valuable human being working in unusual circumstances. Think about the toll 2020 has taken on all of us. We have been working from home for nine months or more; our lives have been turned upside down. Many employees still have the same issues of managing online school, illness, and childcare in addition to their workloads. Many report that their time is constantly divided, have difficulty focusing, and feel burnt out. Cutting employees some slack will go a long way in their job satisfaction, loyalty, and initiative in the workplace.
When the pandemic forced many employees home, no one imagined that nine months later it would still be going on. This work environment has gotten old and has worn people out. By setting expectations, managing meetings, and being aware of the human toll this abrupt shift has taken, we can all be more productive, efficient, and satisfied at work.
My friend messaged me to say his employer has implemented guidance regarding how to schedule and conduct meetings going forward. The management team is challenging employees to use their time more efficiently.
Some of the suggested changes are: 1) designating one day per week as a “no meeting” day, 2) shortening meeting length by five to 10 minutes to leave time left between back-to-back meetings, and 3) only inviting must-attend individuals to a meeting. In addition, each meeting should have an agenda, suggestions on what the agenda should include, and that time zones should be considered when scheduling.
This management team recognized and was sensitive to the challenges the staff was facing, and then took positive steps to support change. Kudos to them!
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