This is part 2 of a 3-part series on the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on companies and their employees who are now required to work from home. (You can read Part 1 here.) Now that we're becoming adept at working from our homes, it's time to consider making that a permanent option.
My current work-from-home scenario is not my first encounter with the joys and frustrations of carving out a place to work. In fact, I assembled my first home office back in 1991. (Now you know how I have accumulated 35,000 hours of work-from-home experience.)
I was sharing a 2-bedroom condo with a friend, and the only place to set up a home office for my newly-minted consulting business was in my bedroom. I already had a desk, a computer, a printer, and a couple of bookshelves. I added more bookshelves for storage and voilà! My office was 3 feet deep, 8 feet high, and 8 feet wide. In other words, it was all mounted to or pushed up against the wall. I worked that way for a year, supporting myself reasonably well for a first attempt at entrepreneurship. I eventually got a job again, but I have kept a home office ever since, hoping at some point to return to self-employment.
The next opportunity to go out on my own came after 10 years of working at Microsoft. This time I planned my home office in great detail. I chose my departure date approximately 2 years in advance. I ordered the same ergonomic desk and chair that I used at Microsoft because I knew that I could comfortably work that way, having spent 10 hours a day in that setup already. I even figured out how many Diet Cokes (which Microsoft handed out for free) that I drank per month, and realized I would need extra toilet paper because I would be home all day. (Yes, as a result, I was prepared for our COVID-19 experience.)
When I returned to work in Corporate America, I kept my home office along with a few small business clients. I refined my home office setup over time, making room, for example, for an employer-issued laptop. I've had contracts where I worked for Microsoft and Amazon exclusively at home, so keeping my home office in good shape (fast Internet speeds, ergonomic setup, updated electronics) has been a worthwhile investment.
What Makes a Home Office Effective?
Having an effective home office does not mean that it needs to take up a lot of space; I covered that in the description of my first office. What makes an office effective are the equipment and tools. I've already mentioned some of them:
- Comfortable chair
- Reasonable desk area
- Good Internet connection
Our COVID-19 pandemic has caused most of us to have to assemble a full-time home office in a hurry. Fortunately, some employers are pitching in to provide equipment for their home-bound workers, and it is to those proactive employers I am addressing the rest of this article.
Employers, Take Heed
Has your company seen to it that your workers have what they need? Here's what I think is a minimum viable work-from-home scenario anytime, but especially important now.
- Laptop: less than 3 years old.
- At least 1 monitor. If you typically provide 2 monitors to your employees on-site, in a pinch, the laptop monitor can be used as a second screen.
- External Keyboard and Mouse. There are so many reasons to provide these even if your employees have a laptop, but chief among them is better ergonomics. Your workers won't be as tired at the end of the day if they use a full-sized keyboard and mouse.
- WebCam. Working from home involves online team meetings. Employees can use the webcam built into the laptop, or you can provide a small webcam that perches on top of monitor. Right now because everyone switched to online meetings, good webcams are currently difficult to obtain, but I expect that situation to improve soon.
- Wired Ethernet connection. I can hear you squawking already. Because we're so used to toting our laptops to and from meetings, to Starbucks, to the library, etc., wireless computing is considered the norm. But when you need your employees to get some serious, uninterrupted work done, nothing beats a wired connection. Here are some useful cost estimates to support funding this decision (average costs obtained from Amazon.com):
- CAT-5 or CAT-6 Ethernet cable. Remember, your employees are not home alone; they are potentially sharing their wireless connection with a roommate, a spouse, and/or kids who are using online learning, all on video. That takes up a lot of bandwidth and slows everything down. A 50-foot cable costs between $10 and $20 depending on the vendor. That's a small price to pay compared to loss of productivity due to an inconsistent or overloaded connection.
- Ethernet adapter for laptop. You need to confirm that the laptops you provide have an Ethernet port. If the laptop doesn't have a port, you can still obtain a USB to Ethernet adapter for less than $20. Again, given how much better their connection will be, it's worth providing an adapter.
Extra Support for WFH Workers
If your brain is already buzzing with ideas for creating long-term work-from-home options, here are some additional items your company could provide.
- Ergonomic chair. This is a proactive move for greater productivity. An ergo chair can potentially save money on chiropractic and physical therapy bills resulting from poor posture, hand and wrist overuse, and sitting for long hours.
- Laptop dock. This device provides extra connections such as Ethernet, multiple monitors, and USB devices, and increases the usefulness of the laptop.
- Printer/scanner. Depending on the kind of work your employees do, this device might be necessary for circulating paper documents.
- Reimburse Internet Connection costs. For teams operating entirely remotely, reimbursing all or part of their Internet connection costs allows them to individually afford faster Internet speeds, thus improving productivity.
- Subsidize home office furniture expenses. In doing research for this article, I was pleased to see how many office furniture companies have come up with compact and relatively inexpensive solutions for home office needs. Paying a portion of the cost of those desks or workstations gives employees the flexibility to install furniture that fits the space.
This COVID-19 Thing is Temporary; Why Invest Now?
In short, there is so much uncertainty about our situation, it means that we do not yet know what a safe new-normal is.
- Lack of testing. We simply do not know how big the problem is, or who is potentially carrying the virus.
- Lack of contact tracing. This important step to help contain the virus is not happening as widely as it is needed.
- Lack of a vaccine. Experts estimate anywhere from 1 to 3 years before a fully-tested and vetted vaccine will be available to everyone who needs it. (https://www.webmd.com/lung/covid-19-vaccine#)
- Lack of environmental controls. If your company rents space rather than owning the building, there may be limitations on how much you can control the environment so that workers stay safe.
And here are even more reasons to consider making working from home a regular or permanent option:
- Employees like it. Having done so now for several months, workers may prefer working from home and want to keep that as an option – if not permanently, then more frequently.
- It's a competitive option. Workers may also decide to move to another employer if that company promises the option to work from home regularly or permanently.
- They need it. Most importantly, some workers may require work-from-home protection due to health constraints and/or vulnerability to COVID-19. It will be absolutely necessary to address that issue, and to permit those workers to work from home until the situation is resolved.
Smart companies are already thinking about the possibility of providing a permanent work-from-home option, and they're making plans. Exactly how your company can create a work-from-home option will be covered in the final article, Part 3 of this series.
Want to discuss with me the option of making working from home a permanent option? Visit www.AskToolie.com and make an appointment for a 30-minute Brainstorming Session. Let's get ahead of the curve and make your workplace -- wherever it is -- safe and effective.