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COVID-19 and Managing the Work-From-Home Crush

It’s been a jarring and abrupt shift. In a few short weeks, COVID-19 pushed three-quarters of Americans (250 million people) into state-ordered “shelter-in-place” living restrictions. In other words, stay at home orders.

This means millions of American workers are now operating in make-shift home offices or WFH for short – working from home.

For many workers, WFH also means competing for space and attention with a host of other parties – such as partners in the same bind, homebound children closed off from school or even friends as well as elderly parents who are now living under the same roof.

Millions of workers are trying to make the best of it under the anxiety of COVID-19, fearful for their own well-being and that of their loved ones.

Judging from the latest estimates, these remote WFH arrangements will necessarily persist for the next few months and possibly longer.

In response, employers are scrambling for and adapting best practices that will effectively support WFH employees, maintain positive morale and keep employees engaged in productive work – all the while taking into account overcrowded home spaces and extremely limited access to services and supplies we once took for granted. (Toilet paper, anyone? Printer ink?)

In recent years, we have learned quite a bit about the upsides and downsides of teleworking.  Overall, the research points in a generally positive direction when employers take a thoughtful approach to employees working remotely.

Here are six suggested practices forward-thinking employers are experimenting with to support their WFH colleagues:

  1. Policy: Establish a consistent workplace policy framework that provides guidance to employees on how their organization will manage and support WFH realities.
  2. Openness: Make space for employees to express their stress, anxiety and fears around COVID-19 – regularly holding online video staff meetings and other check in opportunities that allow for employee openness.
  3. Communicate: Communicate, communicate, communicate to prevent the isolating effects that arise from employees working at home week after week under these anxiety-producing circumstances. Reinforce the communication mantra with managers and the importance of staying regularly in touch with their teams.
  4. Equip. Make sure all employees have the technology and other support they need to work at home with consistency and minimal obstacles. (E.g. computers and internet service that are reliable, ergonomically sound work locations, sound-canceling headphones, etc.)
  5. Goal-setting: Establish basic weekly goals and deliverables with staff so they feel focused and anchored to a structure and routine; don’t overdo it. Make room for the inevitable disruptions that arise when kids need baths, elders need blood pressure checks and the dog needs walking. That’s life right now. Make room for it so you do not further undermine the well-being of your employees.
  6. Boundaries: To help with stress and balance, support employees to set reasonable and consistent start and stop work hours. Encourage them to set and keep a regular schedule and pay attention to exercise and – wherever possible – time outside in nature.
Here are several resources to learn more about best WFH tools and practices: