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Working from home: How can the office work environment be improved?

21 August 2020 by National Bank
Improving Workplace Environment

At a time when more and more people are working from home, many entrepreneurs are looking for ways to provide a healthy work environment in order to effectively mobilize their employees. Here’s some advice from our expert on how to do this successfully. 

1. Mobilize your teams

“Mobilizing your employees when everyone is working from home will indeed be challenging. It will require more effort than if you were all physically in the same place,” explains Nadia Boucher, Senior Advisor, Leadership at National Bank.

She believes that you can maintain an excellent supervisory relationship by investing more time in coordinating internal communications and showing agility. “Alternate between formal and informal meetings to encourage, prioritize and facilitate collaboration between your employees. You should also regularly inform the rest of your team of your availabilities to avoid any feelings of isolation.”

To ensure a successful online meeting, Boucher also insists on the following points:

  • Ask employees to turn on their cameras.
  • Go around the “table” to get a finger on the pulse of your team. Ask them to describe how they feel in one word, or why not ask them to share a GIF?
  • Get feedback from participants who are more quiet by asking them for their thoughts on the topic of the meeting.
  • Encourage people to use group chats to invigorate your meetings or answer any questions.
  • Feel free to appoint a moderator if needed.
  • Save some time at the end to go around the table one last time to make sure the meeting addressed everyone’s needs and that the key points have been understood.
  • Thank your team for their cooperation before leaving the call.

2. Maintain a strong sense of belonging

If you want to improve your workplace environment, you’ll have to work on your team’s sense of belonging. Boucher contends that, above all, people want to feel useful and feel like they’re part of a team, whether they’re working remotely or not.

How do you work on this? Organize online meetings to get news from everyone and to share recent victories by the team or certain team members. And prepare a weekly survey so you can measure your team members’ happiness.

You can also organize fun activities like quizzes on current events or a yoga session.

“But be careful; before you decide to organize a lunchtime yoga session, make sure that your employees’ primary needs are being met. If an employee is stressed out, home alone with their young kids and feeling overwhelmed, a fun activity isn’t what’s going to help them.”

3. Reassure your troops and help manage their stress

To promote an ideal work environment, you’ll have to manage how much stress the team is dealing with and promote their well-being – remotely. Boucher believes that “no news is good news” doesn’t apply to the workplace when people are working from home.

“The shift to working from home has had its pros and cons,” the expert asserts. “While some see many advantages – better work-life balance, easier to concentrate – others are discovering disadvantages – lack of social interaction, lack of physical space to work, difficulty concentrating.”

“Become a beacon for employees who have lost their bearings. Be frank, honest and empathetic with employees who are feeling anxious or frustrated. Ask them about what has changed in their routine. What do their days look like? What do they need? Talk about their victories and give them some positive feedback. As an entrepreneur, the goal of this conversation is to give all your employees the flexibility they need to redefine a work routine that will improve their physical and mental health.”

“The objective is to show flexibility with regard to work schedules to give people a sense of control and thus reduce their levels of stress. That can translate to different work hours for different people – some people may prefer working early in the morning, while others may prefer working late into the afternoon or in the evening. Offering compressed work weeks can also help reduce stress for your employees. Why not work the same number of hours per week, but over four days rather than five?”

Nadia Boucher believes that a generic approach doesn’t work anymore. “There are now many different situations and preferences. As an employer, you have to expand the criteria for what you find acceptable. Your employees will be happier and more motivated (French only).”

4. Recruit new employees and integrate them into the team

Many entrepreneurs will also have to hire new employees and integrate them into the team, even when everyone is working remotely.

While the selection and interview process can easily be conducted online through video conferencing, onboarding a new employee may present certain challenges for an employer.

“Be transparent with your new hires and make sure they feel comfortable reaching out for help or asking questions whenever they’re unsure of anything,” Boucher says.

If you’re too busy to take care of your new employee, take the time to introduce them virtually to the rest of the team, then pair them with a colleague who’s very familiar with how the company operates. This go-to person will be able to help the employee become part of the team faster and provide them with the initial resources they need to be an effective worker.

5. Train your employees and support their development

Whether they’re working from home or in the office, training your employees should always be a priority. “Often, people mistakenly believe that training can’t be conducted optimally if the employees aren’t all physically together in the same room. This isn’t true. You just have to adapt.”

The expert considers the current situation to be the perfect time to develop online training options. “You could film a series of tutorials then upload them to YouTube, or offer training sessions live on a video conferencing platform, for example.”

Other than the choice of the medium, Boucher also insists on two other points: the importance of finding the right time of the week and asking for a follow-up on the quality of the training session. “Get some feedback from your employees after the training is done. It will help you determine whether your goals were met and identify areas of improvement for your next training sessions. Most importantly, debrief the team to find out what they learned. What were their takeaways? What can they do differently? How can they apply what they’ve learned to their everyday routine?”

Finally, Boucher advises entrepreneurs to demonstrate to their employees the qualities that have made them good entrepreneurs. “You’re successful because customer satisfaction matters to you, you’re curious, and you were able to adapt to meet their needs. Your employees are like your clients. They want to be seen, heard, and appreciated.”

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