‘People who need that human contact are suffering not only from productivity levels but with mental health issues’
When it comes to working from home, one policy might not suit all employees because everybody’s situation is different.
In an interview with Canadian HR Reporter, Sarah Mullins, founder and principal consultant at uptreeHR in Halifax, talks about best practices for employers with staff working from home.
How can people’s situations at home differ?
“There’s a lot of different factors. And I think it really depends on a few different things. One is the actual home life. Is the person residing with children and partners or roommates? Are they in a small condo or apartment downtown, or are they in a multi-room home where they got some green space and they can go inside?
“Are they sharing resources within the home, technology, internet connection? Are they able to get privacy? Some people find it very effective to work from home, some people don’t. And employers are seeing that.
“There’s also the personality factors. As human beings, we are social beings. And we thrive in that human contact. And some people require that contact more than others. Sort of like an introverts-versus-extroverts scenario. But people who need that human contact and have not been getting it are now suffering not only from productivity levels in the workplace but also with mental health issues.
“And the third thing is what the employer is doing to support their workers at home. Do people have the right resources? Do they have the right technology to efficiently work from home? Do they have workspaces? Do they have equipment? Are employers keeping in contact with people?”
How can the hybrid approach help?
“I had one client [where] it just did not work [for one person]. They live in a one-bedroom apartment with two children or home-schooling at the time, they just could not do what they need to do from home. So [the employer] offered the office back up at a tenth of the capacity… so there were employees coming to the office to work, very safe and keeping their distance.
“Some have remote workspaces, those are still available, that they can book to schedule. And for some people, it’s a balance of going to the office and staying home. It’s really about being agile and identifying what it is your employees need, and doing the best that you can to provide for that need.”
Why is technology important?
“It’s become very challenging because we can’t just walk into someone’s office… We really need to be using technology, whether it’s instant messenger or email or Zoom calls. The online meeting platforms have improved significantly over the last year with breakout media rooms and different ways to connect.
“Employers really need to identify what works for their types of business and make sure people are trained on and are utilizing that technology to ensure there’s cooperation of co-workers, because we’re not going to have [those] water cooler discussions or sitting around core group tables and solving problems. It’s online, very different.”
How have work processes changed?
“It’s interesting; we have seen an increase in clients coming to us looking for job descriptions for their employees. And it’s not that the employers are concerned about what the employees are doing; it’s driven by the employees. Employees are coming to their employers, saying ‘What is it that I’m supposed to be doing?’, ‘What are your expectations of me?’ And now they’re being documented.
“In the very beginning, we all thought we’ll be working from home for a few weeks, then we’ll be back to normal. Then as time went on, the expectations were no longer clear. So I think that’s the first point, really setting clear expectations with employees: What is it you expect of them? What the timelines are. Are deadlines changed or are they the same? What are the hours of work?
“There’s a lot of work-life integration with COVID. So you might have people that work during the day until kids come home from school and then they are not working from two to five… or two to seven until the kids go to bed. And then they’re grabbing their laptop and they’re working until 10, 11 at night.
“And that may work for them, but employers need to know about that type of arrangement. They need to know that the employees a. have that flexibility and b. you might not be able to contact that employee between two and five. So it’s having those discussions on both sides. What the expectations are, what may work, what doesn’t.”
How can employers support workers who may be struggling?
“[It’s about] the flexibility, the communication, not only on what the employees are doing or how they’re doing their job, but also how they’re doing from a personal perspective: So how is the arrangement working? How do you feel? Do you feel like you’re productive? Do you feel like you’re included? And if not, what can we do to fix that?”
“So it should be a collaborative discussion between the employer and the employee. What it is that they need, and what their employers have to do to meet those needs.”