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Dear ReWorker: What Rules for Remote Work Apply to This Unprecedented Situation?

Suzanne Lucas

Founder, Evil HR Lady

Dear ReWorker,

Our CEO wants everyone to wash their hands and come into the office, but I'm trying to convince him the best thing is to let as many people as possible work from home. I've tried to tell him it will be fine, but he's old-school. If most of our employees do end up working from home, what company-wide rules can we reasonably enforce? Set hours? A background noise ban?

Sincerely,

Ready to Be Remote

_______________

Dear Ready,

You can, within reason, make just about any rule you want. Setting strict work hours and banning background noise during official meetings or calls are both pretty standard. But, at this point in time, even those may be over-the-top requests for your staff.

They also might not be attainable for colleagues sharing spaces with children, video-conferencing partners or noise-making roommates. Here are a few more reasonable rules to live by these days:

1. Everyone does their best.

2. Everyone lets babies and pets participate in video conferences.

3. Obligatory snacking.

4. Unlimited screen time for children.

OK, back to being serious. I get where your CEO is coming from—this is the worst way to work remotely. You have a bunch of people without experience working from home, kids are out of school and daycare and everyone is stressing out about their livelihood—not to mention loved ones (and the world, in general). It’s understandable that your CEO expects people won’t be as productive (though, to be fair, several of those stressors would still reach employees at the office).

That said, he may not have a choice anyway. Multiple states have already made it all but impossible for non-essential workers to be in the office, and others will soon follow.

So, home it is, when at all possible. And since your CEO probably isn't going to be on board with the list I laid out above, here are some real rules to consider:

1. Non-exempt employees (paid hourly or otherwise eligible for overtime) need to track their time. Remember that all breaks less than 20 minutes have to be paid. So, if they step away to help a child with a video game (see rule 4 above), it's paid.

2. Try to minimize background noise. It's reasonable to ask people who may need to be on calls—video or audio—to keep the number of distractions down. That being said, certain distractions are unavoidable (turns out, young children didn’t get the memo about respecting boundaries). Luckily, there’s a mute button at your fingertips, which every employee should be using regularly during calls.

3. Be as flexible as possible. This one depends on the type of work you do. If you primarily work with external clients, you may need to keep and enforce strict schedules. If you're mainly writing code, it may not matter if you're working 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. (at least, most of the time).

4. Focus on the end product. Don't waste management time auditing every keystroke to make sure people are sitting in front of their computers. Instead, look at what they produce. This should be the way we manage all of the time—not just when people are at home—but focus specifically on this right now. It will drive your old-school CEO crazy if he's measuring productivity by presence. I guarantee you'll be able to tell if people are slacking by looking at the outcome of their work versus the hours put into doing it.

5. Be understanding. This is a strange and unsettling time for everyone. Even with work at home provisions, people in your company may lose their jobs. Their family members may lose their jobs. People may get sick. The typical problems of life did not stop when COVID-19 burst onto the scene. Be compassionate and empathetic.

6. Have everyone check in, one way or another. This, again, depends a bit on your existing company culture. If your team regularly uses a chat platform like Slack or Microsoft Teams, a sense of departmental unity will probably transfer over to an out-of-office work set-up. If your communication was strictly face-to-face, getting people to collaborate and communicate via technology may be tricky. But keep a parallel conversation about life in general going with your employees. Ask them about their day and set time aside to talk if they’re interested. Give everyone the phone number for the Employee Assistance Program, if you have one, and encourage them to call if they feel too stressed or need help with a personal issue. Keep an open ear for signs of problems.

No one can predict when this will end, but hopefully, your CEO will learn that working from home is a feasible way to run his business with a remote workforce. He may even like the freedom that comes with not having to wear shoes. This brings us to Rule 7: Pants are required—no exceptions.

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Genuine Ways to Connect With People Remotely

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Genuine Ways to Connect With People Remotely

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Beam to Work: 6 Remote Jobs of the Future

Telecommuting allows employees to work away from the mothership, but we’ve just scratched the surface when it comes to remote jobs. As part of an effort to educate children and parents about future career opportunities, Martha Turner and her colleagues at CST Consultants predicted jobs that will exist in 2030. Among them: robot counselor and agile supply chain manager. "Technology is a big component of the jobs of 2030, and that’s largely because it really fuels the opportunities for growth in the marketplace through innovation," says Turner, vice president at CST. Employees already are beaming into the office via robots and telepresence technology. Here are six jobs that will take remote working to the next level. 1. Tele-surgeon For people living in rural areas, access to healthcare — particularly skilled surgeons — remains limited. "We can leverage robotic tools to operate on patients in remote locations," Turner says. Tele-surgery involves a combination of robotic surgery tools, scanning and sensing technologies and high-speed networks. Tele-surgeons will need an understanding of robotic technologies and video systems in addition to steady hands. 2. Drone-operating farmer "Drones may feel like science fiction to us today, but in fact they already have some small commercial applications today," Turner says. Agricultural use will make up 80 percent of the commercial market for drones, according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. Farmers "are going to be able to see things and monitor their crops in ways they never have before. In the next 10 years almost every farm will be using it," Kevin Price, executive vice president of applied research and technology development at RoboFlight, tells USA Today. Drones will help farmers identify insect problems and watering issues, assess crop yields and track down wandering cattle, to name a few use cases. 3. Healthcare coordinator Doctors are gaining more access to real-time patient data through connected devices while machines are increasingly automating parts of routine doctor visits. This means that at least some healthcare professionals will take on overseer roles, says Matthew Holt, cofounder of Health 2.0, a conference focused on new forms of medicine. "The trend towards team-based care for most patients plus the growth of video consults ... will see the emergence of a mission control function for medical professionals," Holt says. "More doctors will devote at least some of their day to managing teams who are managing patients," he says, adding that doctors will be more location independent. 4. Telecommuting teacher In California, A.P. history students at Redlands East Valley and Orangewood High School tune into class at Citrus Valley High, where their teacher instructs via telepresence. We’ll see more examples of teachers who connect remotely to students, making more classes available and adaptable to students’ schedules. Teachers will use additional tools to extend learning beyond the classroom. Fifth-graders in Houston recently took a virtual field trip to Mars, with a lesson from experts at NASA using Google Hangouts. 5. Landlocked ship captain You’ve heard of — or maybe even seen — driverless cars, but what about captainless ships? Rolls Royce and a handful of other organizations are designing ships that captains would operate from a virtual bridge on dry land. These automated vessels would have little to no crew on board during deep sea legs of their journeys. Drone ships would be safer, cheaper and less polluting for the shipping industry, and they could be navigating the Baltic Sea within the next decade, according to Rolls Royce. 6. Connected grid directors Sensors are being embedded in infrastructure from highways to water treatment plants, collecting data on traffic patterns, energy use and all kinds of indicators critical to how we run cities. A regional grid director — a title coined by CST researchers — would use this data to determine how resources are best distributed across city grids and among different regions. For any type of remote work, employees will need to hone in on communication skills, Turner says. "There’s more of a need for you to be able to get along with diverse groups of people. You need to be able to work through different cultures and preferences for work styles," she says. "Your ability to go and not just have that technical knowledge, or specialized knowledge in your field, but be able to communicate and sell it is going to be very, very important."

What Remote Work Data Can Teach Us About Employee Productivity

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What Remote Work Data Can Teach Us About Employee Productivity

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has made the shift to remote work inevitable for non-essential businesses. For employees, the challenges are well-documented—from balancing work with child care to engaging without colleagues nearby. For employers, meanwhile, a key area of concern has been productivity. A few months in, many bosses remain unsure that their teams work as effectively outside the office. Some have gone so far as to track employee hours via a variety of methods ranging from practical to controversial. But while employers debate the practicality and longevity of remote work, workers are thriving. According to a survey from Azurite Consulting, 72% of managers said they were at least as efficient working from home, while 68% of employees felt the same. Other data sources about remote work are yielding some interesting insights that can help shape workforce policy in the future. The consensus? The pre-COVID-19 definition of productivity no longer applies. 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Employers looking for immediate insights about their employees can also make some simple changes. Conduct a Pulse survey to assess how employees are feeling about their workloads, how they’re coping with change and whether they’re in a positive mental state. Act on the results by offering resources to help, like learning materials that strengthen adaptability or information on your company’s wellness program. And above all else, empower employees with access to their own data. Whether it’s insight into patterns on their timesheets, or a view of how much time they’re spending with your organization’s LMS, information is power. It can set them up for success and help your business thrive, too.

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