Home office and teamwork are currently on everyone’s lips, and companies have been forced to deal with it more or less overnight. One key question always to bear in mind: What influence will home office have on my team’s productivity? The answer will vary among companies, but it will always include two aspects. These are cultural building through informal communication and reducing distractions.
Employees like to emphasize how they’re more productive when working from home. For example, because they’re not interrupted as often, or the work-life balance is more manageable. In most cases, this is true for both, for a few days or weeks. What we only recognize too late are the tasks that normally happen automatically in the office. These need to be actively compensated for in the home office. And this requires changes in how you work and above all, how you communicate.
It’s unrealistic to expect every person who’s influenced by everyday office life to be aware of the necessary changes, and to be able to adapt accordingly. Also, it’s not in the interest of a company that this process takes place on an individual level. An important part of teamwork is the formation of common and harmonizing ways of working. This means that we need to work together as a team to achieve the changes.
For such a process, developing a framework for working in the home office is very helpful. This communicates expectations and the tools that go with them. You can expand such a framework as required, but it should include the three areas of communication, workplace, and social issues.
Say hello when you start your day, and goodbye when you finish. If you are going to lunch or taking a long break, say you’ll be back in an hour. Little things like this will help you stay in social contact with your team members and let them know if you are currently available.
Tools: A messenger app with group chat for example: Slack, Teams or Skype
In the office, you can easily see if someone is on the phone or someone is thinking hard about something. When it comes to home office teamwork though, this needs to be communicated. Simple sentences such as “I’m in a meeting with…XX” and “Finished with my XX meeting” or “I need to proofread 30 minutes of text on XX” inform your team that you’re not available right now. It’s important not to leave out the XX. This information is the equivalent of overhearing a conversation or passing by a meeting room and seeing who’s in there. All things which normally occur automatically in the office. With these small snippets of information though, your team has the opportunity to stay involved without all too much formality.
Tools: A messenger app with a group chat feature e.g.: Slack, Teams or Skype
You can’t not communicate. But how you communicate depends on the content, target groups, importance, urgency and a whole range of other factors. The short hello in the morning, for example, should be answered as quickly as possible. A contract amendment, on the other hand, is generally not discussed spontaneously. What was discussed may have to be found a few years later. An employee performance review is best held via video between two people, while a team meeting should offer everyone the opportunity to get involved.
There is no single tool that is suitable for home office teamwork and every form of communication and for every team. But there are many tools out there that are very well suited for certain communication tasks. Its important then that the team agrees on which tools are used for which type of communication.
A majority of office communication takes place in real-time. This is because the person looking for a conversation notices whether the conversation partner is available before he or she starts talking. This is something not possible in the home office. You write to someone without knowing whether you’re interrupting. It’s only normal that you don’t get an immediate answer. After you’ve experienced this for a few days though, the question comes up about how long it is OK to wait for an answer. Again, no one value is equally ideal for all teams and all forms of communication. You should agree on different response times for the different communication channels.
For example: Calls = immediately, messenger messages < 10 minutes, emails < 2 hours
An office provides a working environment that’s conducive to productivity, which is good for better home office teamwork. You should expect the same from the home office. A clear description of a suitable workplace can ensure that everyone is on the same page. For example, the beach or while traveling on the suburban railway isn’t really suitable for working and team productivity.
It sounds obvious, but it isn’t: A workplace should have a chair and a desk/table. You may be tempted to work from the couch, bed or even a hammock behind the house, but in the long run, it’s not conducive to continuous, concentrated work.
A home office workplace should be free from distractions. This includes that there is a specific area where you’re undisturbed. Whether it’s a room or an entire house, a door ensures that you can be alone and concentrate on your tasks. Freedom from distraction includes, among other things, that there is no permanent noise, that the TV isn’t on and that children or pets do not need to be actively looked after.
For home office and teamwork to be a success, every employee must be able to do all his or her work from their home office. It’s therefore important that the computer, monitor and internet meet the requirements and function reliably. In particular, additional requirements due to internet telephony, video conferencing and VPNs should not be underestimated. To be able to communicate with team members, a high-quality headset and a webcam are indispensable. If processes require it, a printer may also have to be made a prerequisite.
Team culture can develop by itself. The team culture that you’ll want to have, will need a bit more work though. It’s therefore necessary to make the social aspects of working together in the office also tangible in the home office. This means a mixture of structure and freedom.
It may seem silly to some, but smileys, pictures and video clips help create a sense of belonging. For example, you should also share personal things, such as weekend activities or family situations. Just as you don’t stand by the coffee machine in the office for 4 hours and talk, this is also the case in the home office. It’s also important that sharing this kind of private exchange isn’t forced. It needs to be possible to exchange information privately or in a small group. For example, not everyone has to read whose favorite team won at the weekend game.
Tools: Messenger with private chat and sub-group chat: Slack, Skype, Teams
Home office employees face a major challenge – greatly reduced social environment. Introverted people especially interact with others primarily through the office environment. These social contacts are not only motivational but also have a decisive influence on inventiveness and creativity. As a result, they should therefore not be ignored in a framework for long-term home office initiatives.
A simple recommendation is to have lunch together once a week, in front of your own webcam in a team. Or you can meet in the morning for coffee, with your own coffee, in a group chat. So, if the distances between the team members allow it, it’s also advisable to bring the team or ever-changing parts of the team together every few weeks or months and work together in the same room for a few hours.
For example, another way to promote communication between team members is to delegate tasks not to individuals but small groups of 2 people each. The result is not only a positive effect on the quality of the work but by changing group membership the team also gets to know each other better and adapts to each other. The pressure on you to carry out formal team-building measures is reduced somewhat and it’s another easy step to improve home office teamwork.
Firstly, if you have the feeling that you have more time than in the office and you are overloaded with fewer tasks for example. These are indications that communication or work performance may not yet be sufficiently up to where it can be.
To put it bluntly: Only when team members interrupt each other in the home office just as often as in the office, have you created a home office concept that offers the same levels of productivity as in the office. That’s not to say, of course, that you can’t improve a few things at the same time when switching to the home office.