An Office Flood and the Challenges of Remote Employees

Jeff Lefler

Date

Feb 07, 2018

Last month, on January 2nd, 2018, in the middle of a cold snap where temperatures were -10 °F, we arrived at the office after the holidays to find that a pipe had froze and burst, damaging most of our office. Several desks and our kitchenette area were the most waterlogged. We’re fortunate enough that our servers and most computers and electronics weren’t damaged.

As most of my employees have laptops and we have a secure VPN, it was an easy decision to vacate the office and have everyone work remote while the clean-up and renovations occurred. But we’ve never had our entire team working remote for any extended period of time.

What was apparent very quickly was that some employees excelled from home and others struggled. We needed to quickly address this problem and made some simple changes in how we operate to help support an entire employee base that was working remotely.

Here are 5 simple adjustments we made to better support remote employees:

1. Clearly define expectations

We redefined deliverables and expectations to be more specific and task oriented. Rather than a generic “analyze and grade an FDD”, we defined daily expectations of “analyzing and grading a minimum of 4 FDDs per day on average”. These explicit targets have helped ensure employees focus on a deliverable.

2. Foster better communication

We installed MS Teams and began defining projects and brainstorm sessions within this chat platform, providing an easy to use communication platform for employees to interact. I’ve talked about the challenges of these communications platforms before, but with remote employees it’s vital to foster a sense of connection.

3. Educate about work from home best practices

We provided resources to help educate remote employees on best practices of working from home. These include setting up a dedicated work space, getting dressed for work, ensuring kids continue to be sent to daycare and scheduling specific times for home based tasks like laundry or dishes to limit distractions.

4. Increase feedback and encouragement

Working from home can be lonely. The lack of visual or physical interaction with other people and the isolation of not leaving your house in the morning can demotivate people. Increased check-ins with management and added encouragement helps keep remote employees motivated and on track.

5. Allow for odd working hours

As long as an employee is working their 40 hours per week, it didn’t matter if those hours were spread out throughout evenings or weekends. The goal is to ensure that an employee puts in a dedicated 40 hours. If the most productive time for them is the evening, then be productive in the evening.

No matter what happens, business moves forward. Sales, customer support, research projects and our software development cannot stop because of an unexpected flood. It forced us to pivot and adapt quickly. Policies and practices that were implemented in office did not translate clearly to remote teams and we found that there needed to be a mindset shift for both management and employees.

The clean-up and renovations have taken longer than expected, but within this fiasco was an opportunity to improve our communication and allowed us to study how our employees have adapted to remote working conditions.

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