Work From Home: Tools and Resources Necessary for Remote Workers
Working from home, some people love it, some people hate it, most of us have a love-hate relationship with it. On the one hand, you can roll out of bed and start your day. You can focus on your actual job without the distractions of your boss peering over your shoulder, that new employee’s constant questions, or Joe in accounting’s yacht rock playlist. No hard feelings, Joe – I too have the emergency Hall & Oates helpline on speed dial (call 719-26-OATES – you won’t regret it).
On the other hand, work from home either totally isolates you from the social interactions and collaboration that motivate you; or the constant needs and destructive tendencies of tiny humans and four-legged fur children suck every ounce of energy from your soul.
We all know that the stress of the pandemic affects job performance. It’s unreasonable to expect employees to live up to their pre-March 2020 selves when dealing with kids’ virtual learning, endless cycles of quarantine, and the looming worry that they or someone they love will get really sick – or worse. While it feels like these stressors are lighting up a bit, they're still a reality for at least some of your workforce.
But let’s put the added stressors and productivity killers of the pandemic aside. The fact is that work from home is here to stay, in some form or another. Employees have come to expect the flexibility it offers, and employers are re-evaluating their need to invest in more physical space to accommodate business growth.
Do your employees have the same tools, support, and resources to be as productive and efficient at home as they do in the office?
If your answer is no or you’re not sure, then the hard truth is that you’re part of your team’s productivity problem.
Are you frustrated with your team’s drop in performance while working from home? Are you worried their performance will continue to suffer if you make working from home a permanent option? Or, perhaps you just want to make sure you’re doing everything possible to set your team up for success at a time when it can feel like their world is caving in around them.
If so, ask yourself the following questions.
While working from home, how does my team:
- Make and receive calls or get voicemails.
- View items on their computer.
- Print and copy documents.
Do these functions take longer, cost money out of pocket, or are so frustrating your team avoids even trying to work in the same way they usually do in the office?
If so, you can do better.
Standardize a work from home office equipment package
You likely provide standard tools to every employee in the office. If you’re expecting employees to work from home long-term, they must have similar tools at home.
A standard office worker might need the following equipment to work from home:
- Laptop with webcam and VPN capabilities.
- Two monitors with double monitor stand.
- PC dock.
- Wireless keyboard and mouse.
- Power strip surge protector.
- Wireless headset or noise-canceling earbuds.
- Desktop laser printer for specific employees as needed. Additional features like color printing and scanning can vary per employee.
- Desktop phone handset, or software phone client used with a headset.
Think beyond technology tools.
Work from home productivity isn’t just about technology tools. Think about what makes your office space comfortable and conducive to productivity. Do your employees have comparable areas at home?
- Are my team members sitting at appropriate and ergonomic workspaces?
- Is their area appropriately lit?
- Do they have adequate space and storage for any hard-copy files?
- Do they have access to the same quality of necessary office supplies?
- Can they move around and take breaks?
- Are they taking time to eat and stay hydrated?
The answers to all these questions play a significant role in your team’s ability to maintain productivity while working remotely. Sure, you can’t solve the weight of their pandemic-related problems and the effect they may have on their performance – for that, I challenge you to think about how to be a better, more empathetic, and emotionally supportive leader. But that’s an article and a lesson in psychology for another day. What you can do relatively easily is make sure your team’s work isn’t stifled by dim lights, an achy neck, or trips to use the printer at Staples.
Office Equipment for remote workers
Do your team members have more than one computer monitor at their desk in the office? You didn’t invest in multiple displays for each desk in the office for no reason. You did it because that’s what your team needs to do their jobs. It’s one thing to hunch over your laptop for an hour waiting on your kid at the dentist. It’s another thing to work like that day in and day out for months. Especially if your job historically required two, three, or even four displays.
Not to mention, without the multiple monitors your team had in the office, they’re more likely to print more than usual so they can reference hard copies of the data they would typically display on an additional monitor. PS – if you didn’t invest in multiple monitors in your office, think back to how often you’d see someone referencing a printed document on their desk. Did they really need to print that document? Or, did they print it because they ran out of screen space? If it’s the latter, here’s your chance to save on printing costs all around.
Printing and Copying
While we’re talking about printing – are employees coming into the office for no other reason than to print or copy? There are ways to save them the time of traveling to the office for short printing trips. Not to mention minimizing the risk of people in the office using a high-touch device like a printer or copier during a pandemic.
On the other hand, if employees are printing at home, are they submitting expense reports for home inkjet printing costs? Managers may overlook these seemingly minor expenses when they see a single $30 expense. But when you add up everyone’s $30, you’re likely paying much more for de-centralized at-home printing than you did in the office.
That doesn’t mean your remote employees shouldn’t print. And you absolutely should reimburse them for out-of-pocket expenses. But you must understand what they’re printing and why. If they’re printing documents to reference because they don’t have room on their screen, it’s likely much more cost-effective to buy them another display – or three.
If they’re printing at high volume and need access to those documents immediately (like someone who prints batches of invoices), leasing a desktop laser printer could be significantly more cost and time effective.
The average home inkjet printer costs around $150 but can cost up to 20 cents per page (even up to $1 per page for color) and prints around 18 pages per minute. That means it costs your accounting assistant $20 (maybe up to $100 if your invoices are color) and six minutes to print 100 invoices.
Alternatively, a small, commercial-grade laser printer costs around $500 but prints 33 pages per minute and costs as little as two cents per page. Suddenly, those 100 invoices cost about $2 and take only 3 minutes to print. Basically, with a small up-front investment, you can cut at-home printing costs down to a fraction of what it costs employees to use their home printers (assuming they even have one).
The last category of employees are those who need to print but don’t need immediate access to the printed documents – think about a salesperson needing to print in preparation for a client meeting or presentation. You can likely add a mobile printing application to your large office multifunction copier, giving those employees touch-free printing capabilities. Through many available technologies, employees can send documents to the cloud and then release them to print from an app on their phone when they arrive at the office. This eliminates contact with high-touch surfaces, and lets employees pick up batches of documents from the office as needed.
The technology and options available are endless, but the key is to know who’s printing what and why, so you can provide your entire team with the most cost-effective tools that make them happier and more productive.
There’s no reason your team members can’t field calls from anywhere, just as they do in the office with today’s phone technologies. IP and cloud-based phone systems allow employees to take their desk handsets home, take calls through their computer with a headset, or use their cellphone to accept and receive calls to their office extension.
When your employees are not in the office, do they need to call a number to get their voicemail? Many modern phone systems allow voicemail messages to send directly to email as an attachment.
Are employees unable to answer the phone outside of the office? Do they have to get a voicemail and return the call? If you’re team’s been doing that since March, think of how much time they’re wasting playing phone tag.
You can configure most modern phone systems for voicemail to email, remote calling, and forwarding to cell phones. Plus, cloud-hosted phone systems work directly from any internet-connected device.
Recreate the office at home for remote employees
Work from home productivity isn’t just about having the right computer set up. Two monitors are great but don’t fix the problem if you’re sitting on a dining room chair or don’t have a dedicated workspace. If your team is suffering from back, hip, or neck pain because of uncomfortable chairs or inappropriate work surfaces, providing office chairs or desks for their home can go a long way in helping them best utilize the tools you’ve provided. If your office is closed, you might consider sending office furniture home to provide more appropriate workstations for your team. It’s just sitting there collecting dust, and you bought it so your employees could use it.
Even things like lighting and regular breaks play a role in productivity. Everyone’s needs and home situation are different, but it’s important to have a conversation about their home work environments and brainstorm simple fixes to improve their spaces. Small efforts can go a long way in the comfort, health, and productivity of your team and their morale.