MP spoke with Biljana Rakic, VP of Human Capital at COING. Rakic explores the impact of remote work on communication within teams and work-life balance. 

How important are comfort and quiet when working from home, and why is this the case?

The best and the worst part about working from home is that you’re responsible for your comfort. 

Of course, your employer can provide you with the necessary equipment, ergonomic furniture, and similar equipment, but you choose how to organize your workspace. This is great because it allows you great freedom, but it is also bound by your home space and general living situation — whether you have a separate room, your kids and pets running around, etc.

And, there’s another catch — too much comfort can negatively affect you. 

It’s perfectly fine to work from your bed on a gloomy day, but if you make it a habit to drag your laptop to your bed as soon as you open your eyes, still in your PJs, this can be detrimental to your mental and physical health.

So, it’s important to find the right amount of sustainable comfort that allows you to stay put together and productive in the long run.

Another thing I hear a lot from employees is that this work-from-home flexibility often leads to the blurring of the lines between work and personal life. 

It’s easy to fall prey to this type of convenience and think — oh, I’ll just work a bit now, then an hour more later — and before you know it, you end up perpetually working. There’s never an off switch when you can say: okay, now I am done with work for the day, and I can dedicate 100% of my attention to something else.

So, working from home requires some self-discipline.

What are three out-of-the-box tips you can share to help our readers working from home create a space that works for them, and why these three? 

1. Make Sure You Have the Right Equipment

People often assume that all you need for remote work is a will and a laptop. 

And, for some, that’s enough. 

But, many remote workers need an entire setup — developers might require multiple monitors, designers often benefit from adjustable desks, etc.

At our company, we’ve noticed how much the right equipment can affect employee productivity, and we help employees equip their home-based workstations with anything they might need — from computer monitors and headsets to ergonomic chairs and desks.

2. Have a Designated Workstation

As your dedicated workspace, having a room, or even just a corner of a room, is incredibly important. Once you sit at your desk in that space, your brain signals it’s work time. 

Leaving the desk helps you leave work mentally. 

It helps you distinguish between work time and personal time.

We attach purpose to each space, whether or not we’re aware of it. 

The kitchen is for cooking and eating, and the bedroom is for rest. 

If we introduce work into these spaces, we make the lines between work and life even more blurry, making it even harder to switch off after work hours. If your mind associates your bedroom with work, it can become more difficult not to think about that report you just wrote in that room while trying to fall asleep.

3. Think About the Long-Term Effects of Your Workspace

During the pandemic, when many employees suddenly found themselves working from home, we’ve seen many creative WFH setups. I remember seeing pictures of clothes hampers or ironing boards as desks or people working from their closets.

While solutions like these work fine temporarily, you need to consider the long-term effects of your workstation on your health and morale. 

Sure, your folding chair or couch may serve you well now, but how will your back feel after days and months of sitting on it? Or, your basement might be spacious and provide peace — but never seeing any natural light during your work hours might make you feel miserable without even realizing why you’re feeling this way.

Biljana Rakic of COING
VP of Human Capital at COING Biljana Rakic / Photo courtesy of Biljana Rakic

How can people working from home avoid meeting fatigue, and does this change from the employee to the executive level?

Online meetings are more draining than offline ones because they require more mental processing. 

You’re constantly trying not to talk over each other, actively making an effort not to fidget and to understand what people are saying, your eyes keep darting to the little image of you at the bottom of the screen, etc.

So it’s best for everyone to keep online meetings extremely short and focused.

As an employee, you can save yourself from meeting fatigue by not attending meetings where your presence is unnecessary. If you believe some meetings you need to attend don’t have a clear purpose, talk to the meeting moderators and discuss how you can make them more effective and efficient.

On the executive level, meetings can get even more tiring because you’re often the one in charge of organizing and guiding them. That’s why it’s crucial to keep to a tight agenda. You can even send the agenda to all the participants in advance to help them prepare and stay on topic. 

Time management is also essential. It’s best to set time blocks for each discussion item and keep to them. If an unrelated topic emerges, acknowledge it, write it down to deal with it later — and get on with your agenda items.

How can business leaders ensure that productivity remains high while working from home and operating under a decentralized working model, and why might these strategies work best?

As a remote-first company, one of our most important values is trust. We put immense trust in every single employee’s abilities, and we trust they will do a great job. 

When people work from home, you can’t monitor their every move directly — and neither should you. Instead of micromanaging your employees, you should set clear expectations and deadlines and measure their output instead of their activity.

Does it matter how they got the job done if it is well-done and on time? If their results are consistently positive, their methods must be suitable.

Of course, to put that kind of trust in your employees, you first need to hire the people you know are trustworthy and capable of doing a great job. Assembling a team of proactive and dedicated employees you can trust is half the work.

How can business leaders ensure that productivity remains high while working from home and conducting all interactions online?

Online communication requires more structure because it doesn’t flow as smoothly and casually as in-person interaction. That’s why it’s essential to have a structured communication plan so that everyone knows how best to communicate with each other, where to seek information and support, and which channels to use.

This is important because, in a virtual environment, you can’t simply turn around and ask the nearest coworker for help. You need to choose who to contact and how or on which platform to seek the answer to your question.

For example, at COING, if you have a quick, immediate question, you can ping a coworker on our team chat app, Pumble. You can schedule a call if you need a longer consultation with them. Apart from this daily communication, employees also have regular team and 1-on-1 meetings, and new hires get plenty of support through video training sessions and semi-structured check-in meetings.

By making people aware of all the communication channels and how to use them, you ensure internal communication is efficient and workflow smooth.

Another important thing is to encourage and model transparency in all directions actively. This means regular inter-team and cross-functional updates, encouraging upward and downward feedback, clearly understanding who’s responsible for what, etc.

Transparency ensures the communication flow is unobstructed and helps a distributed team connect and solve problems on the go.

Biljana Rakic
VP of Human Capital at COING Biljana Rakic / Photo courtesy of Biljana Rakic

How can businesses adequately protect sensitive information while employees work from home, and why might these ways not work?

Work from home is quite a fertile ground for sensitive information leaks since family members and housemates often surround employees. These security breaches can even happen unwittingly, e.g., roommates can overhear confidential information from online meetings or see message pop-ups on unlocked screens.

But, there are several practices to help you prevent these data leaks.

1. Dedicated Work Devices

First, provide your employees with dedicated work devices and make it clear that these should be used only for work-related purposes and only by the employee. 

Furthermore, employees can sometimes be tempted to use personal devices for work — e.g., they’re away from home and have only their laptop with them, but they want to get in a few hours of work.

Make it clear that that’s an unsafe practice and should be avoided.

2. Tight Security Policies

Second, have a tight security policy and provide regular security training to your employees, so your security practices are uniform across the company. 

People are often careless and don’t think much about safety, e.g., using the same password across multiple platforms, leaving the data behind them vulnerable to attacks. 

This is why regular brush-ups on mandatory safety practices are an absolute must.

3. Have Employees Sign NDAs

Finally, have employees sign NDAs to legally bind them not to disclose confidential information. Constantly remind employees that they mustn’t share confidential business information with anyone, not even family. 

Encourage them to attend meetings in private, use headphones to prevent housemates from overhearing sensitive information, and lock their screens when they’re away from their work devices.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Today, and especially after the pandemic, work from home is often presented as a superior model to office work. And it has many benefits, but it’s not without its challenges. In practice, the hybrid model has proven the most effective.

As an HR professional, the biggest challenge I’ve heard people cite concerning remote work is isolation and social distance.

Connecting with your coworkers is much more difficult when you don’t spend hours with them daily, and teams take much longer to go through all the crucial development stages.

This disconnect can also lead to employees not being as loyal to their company as office employees.

You need to support your people and help them connect actively. But, it’s important to note that you can’t simply transfer offline team-bonding activities online. 

For example, if you were once office-based and your team used to bond on Fridays over pizza and snacks, you can’t have your remote employees chat on video calls while eating pizza from their separate homes.

Instead, you need to consider the purpose these offline activities used to have and see how you can translate that purpose into activities that fit a remote workforce.

For example, our employees love online workshops we organize on various topics, i.e., procrastination, how to deal with difficult people at work, etc. 

They can enjoy educational content while also getting a chance to chat with people outside of their immediate team. If you organize an online team building where you just gather a bunch of people (who don’t know each other well or at all) and expect them to talk, I assure you it won’t go as planned. But, if you give them a discussion point and a direction, they might come out of their shell.

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