At this moment in time, people and businesses have been hit hard by efforts to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus by social distancing, self-isolating, and the shut down of businesses deemed non-essential.
So many people are out of work or have been asked to work from home. The world economy has stalled, and we’re left to watch and wonder how it will all turn out.
There have been times of hardship in the past that have many similarities to what we’re seeing now but, to me, there is something we have now that sets this time apart—digital technology.
It’s amazing to watch what we can do now compared to just 30 years ago.
30 years ago we didn’t have this huge digital infrastructure to build a digital version of our businesses on, allow us to work from home, and stay connected with people around the world.
In the past, when a major event happened, it took several days or weeks for the story to travel through the media. Now it travels around the world in minutes through social media.
The ease of today’s apps, programs, and software have given companies a straightforward way to create a digital component to their businesses, without the need to hire software engineers and web developers. Living digitally has become easier over time, and even become a part of everyday life.
It’s this digital component of business that has kept some aspect of commerce and service up and running in a time when so many can’t work outside of their homes.
The problem for many companies has been having not made the move to digital and remote work capabilities. This omission has left many companies that could be doing business now, either scrambling to get a system in place, or just unable to do business at all.
Of course, there’s a lot of essential work people cannot do from home. For these jobs, work from home technology doesn’t help. But when operations are up and running again, some of these jobs can benefit when a company digitizes its operations. Digital transformation can boost their ability to achieve more while staying more organized. In fact, my team in my day job is one of the best performing teams in our company, thanks to the tools I implemented in 2019.
Why have companies resisted the idea of remote work?
One reason companies have resisted setting up digital capabilities for their employees is that, in the eyes of some executives, the home office is still a no-no. Managers are convinced that if employees are left unattended they’ll slack off but claim they were working.
However, in my own experience, I have always seen the advantage of being able to focus on work, and not being interrupted by people coming into the office distracting with other tasks. This ability to focus naturally leads to more efficiency and higher productivity.
So which is it? A chance to slack off with no one watching, or a chance to hyper-focus with no one distracting?
Research shows working from home boosts productivity.
Multiple studies conducted over the last several years show that when people work from a home office they work differently than when at an office building, but the differences don’t turn out to be bad for productivity.
A 2 year study out of Stanford University confirmed that working from home resulted in a significant boost in productivity, which equaled an extra day’s worth of work at the office when compared to their office worker counterparts. Work from home employees were shown to work a full shift, or more, each day. Participants also reported they found it less distracting and easier to concentrate at home.
Over the course of those 2 years, the work from home group had an attrition rate that was 50% lower than the office staff, they took shorter breaks, fewer sick days, and they took less time off.
And two interesting benefits were also noted in the study that make us smile at the Paperless Movement:
- Reduced carbon emissions from fewer autos driving to and from work.
- Cost savings on rented office space equaled almost $2,000 per employee who worked from home.
While there is a huge amount of work that can’t be done from home, workers and companies have been surprised to discover just how much can be done from home, and just how productive they can be.
When a business can’t be done, as usual, creative people are shifting.
The recent changes we’ve seen in the ability to get out and conduct business-as-usual has caused upheaval for many businesses.
Just consider this list (which is tiny in comparison to all of the businesses that have been impacted):
- Gyms and personal trainers
- Business consultants
- Retail purchases (other than groceries)
- Theme parks
- Sporting events
Businesses that rely on in-person interaction are struggling, and many are looking for ways to find creative solutions to their situations.
Gyms and personal trainers are holding workout classes over Zoom or other video collaboration software. Many are creating workout videos and posting them to Youtube. And others are offering digital downloads their clients can purchase.
Business consultants and seminar companies are providing services in a digital gathering format.
Restaurants and grocery stores are using ordering apps to receive food orders and payments, which allows them to provide curbside or front door delivery.
Sports figures and musicians are interacting with fans online, like U2’s Bono performing a song from his balcony dedicated to caregivers on the front line, or the “HORSE” tournament played among basketball stars made possible by streaming their shots to each other from separate locations.
It’s inspiring to see the ways these enterprising people have shifted to continue to be able to provide services and retain jobs. The common link in the ability to shift in this way is technology. Digital ordering, payments, interaction, streaming, etc. has made it possible to adjust in ways that wouldn’t have been possible without the technology.
Some businesses are thriving.
Although we can’t ever accurately predict which businesses will thrive in a downturn (like in this instance, the cleaning industry and sign makers), this pandemic is giving us a view of which types of businesses are faring best. Most have one thing in common: a digital component to their company, or a digital focus.
A small list of businesses that are thriving at the moment are:
- SaaS businesses like team collaboration and video conferencing tools
- Consultants who’ve always offer webinars and videos for education
- Service providers who work remotely and return digital goods
- Ed tech companies, online learning platforms and programs
- Online entertainment streaming services
- Blogs and Youtube channels
- Computer hardware and accessory providers
Among companies that have an advantage now, are those that invested in digitization as a part of their operations and those that are entirely centered around digital services.
Two reported cases of growth that are particularly interesting to members of the Paperless Movement community are:
1- The growth of wind and solar energy
Geopolitical tensions, plus the fact that we’re driving less, have caused oil prices to drop significantly. But interestingly, wind and solar are continuing to add capacity.
As the world uses less oil and gas, the sale of fuel has dropped. Plus, the price of natural gas and coal have not dropped, so utility companies are not seeing savings from these products.
In many parts of the world wind turbines and solar panels now produce electricity more cheaply than natural gas and coal. Renewables are still on a growth trajectory. They are currently on track to account for nearly 21 percent of the electricity used in the United States in 2020.
When utility company’s revenue suffers, they will seek energy production from wind and solar because the industry is remaining strong, wind and solar farms cost little to operate, and they currently produce clean energy at an equal or lower cost to plants powered by fossil fuels.
And while work on some solar and wind projects (like installations) has slowed down due to the outbreak, industry executives and analysts expect the renewables industry to continue growing in 2020.
2- Rise in demand for refurbished computers and accessories
At the Paperless Movement, we have talked about how certain tech companies make their products difficult or impossible to repair, to prevent reuse and encourage purchasing new. This leads to a massive amount of waste and pollution and limits access to affordable devices for many people.
The growth of the refurbished computer and laptop market was already on the rise, according to a new market research report in the CRIFAX database. But the sudden need for companies to digitally enable remote workers due to coronavirus has caused the market to surge.
A computer refurbishing startup in France, called Back Market, reported an increase in demand for laptops, printers, and other devices needed for working at home which resulted in a recent three-digit growth rate for their company.
Interestingly, another reason the demand for refurbished computers has increased is due to the closure of Apple and Samsung retail stores in response to COVID-19.
At the Paperless Movement, we have talked about, and advocate for, closed-loop production when it comes to electronics. As more people become aware of the benefits of offering and buying refurbished electronics, we hope this aspect of computer use will only continue to grow.
So what can we learn from this?
To me, the main lesson in regards to business is, we must have some way of being digitally capable in order to stay afloat in this current situation and to propel ourselves and our businesses into the future.
If you haven’t yet set yourself up with a paperless office where you can work from home, or you can work remotely but you could use a few tips, here are some things you can do to get yourself set up for productive work from home.
Take the steps for an efficient home office and work routine.
These times have opened our eyes to the benefits of working from home.
In the past, companies may have been worried that employees working from home would hurt their bottom line. They are now thankful the capabilities exist to be agile in regard to where we do business. And employees are eager to give their best to their companies to ensure continuity.
On that note, we should do what we can to create a place where we can do our best work in current circumstances. This will look different for everyone. Some people have a basic setup in place, while others may be starting from scratch.
Thanks to the internet, we can access the hardware and software we need to work from home, and have it delivered to our doorstep or through instant download.
Here are some tips you can use to set your home workspace up for success.
Set your surroundings.
If you are going to work at home for hours a day, you need a designated place to work. If you have an unused room where you can shut the door, that would be ideal since you are probably at home with others who are stuck inside right now.
If you don’t have a seperate room, look for an unused corner where you can set up a small table, or use the edge of the dining room table, or kitchen countertop. (If you have to share your office space and you need to concentrate, you can invest in a good pair of noise cancelling headphones for periods of time when you really need to focus.)
Lighting is also important. Spending the day in a dim room really messes with your mood and makes you feel groggy. A well-lit room makes all the difference. I love a room with natural light, but I’ve also found that good artificial lighting can do the job. (Lighting also helps you show up clearly on your video conference calls.)
Do your best with the office furniture you have on hand. If you can, you might want to invest in office furniture that will keep you feeling good during a long day of working. An ergonomic chair for hours of sitting, a desk set at your typing height, or even a standing desk.
Get your technology set up.
For an effective work from home setup, you’ll need the usual supplies you use at the office, but you might also find you need a few extra things to help your living space become an office space.
You’ll need a desktop, laptop, or tablet with an additional keyboard, depending on your job. At least one of these will need to be equipped with a camera for conference calls.
An extra monitor.
This isn’t an essential (until you’ve worked with one). Some folks even like to use 3 monitors. The point is, you can adjust to what makes you the most efficient in your work.
Earbuds or a headset.
These tools can help you during a video call to hear, and be heard, better.
If your job requires special software programs, you’ll need to install those. If needed, you might have to coordinate with your company’s IT pro for help with the installation, and to be sure your computer security is up-to-date.
Mouse, keyboard, and accessories.
Wired or wireless, it’s up to you. Ergonomic mouse pad? Sure, if that’s what you like. Get the remaining office equipment you’re used to having at work that you use regularly. If you’re having a hard time thinking of what you’ll need. Just imagine yourself going through your workday and note the things you use regularly.
There are so many ways a team can collaborate on projects through technology. Apps like Slack can help the entire team to see the current status of a project and collaborate and message each other. Meeting apps like Zoom enable groups to meet “face to face” for meetings. (Make sure whichever online meeting tool you use meets your company’s security requirements.)
I have reviewed and given tutorials on many digital tools your teams can use to optimize working together. If you have some downtime, you can catch up on my videos and blog posts to help you find the best tools to use in your team.
There are so many tips on staying productive while working from home on the internet right now. Why? I see 2 main reasons.
- Working from home is a new experience for a large number of people who are realizing there are differences between doing work at home versus doing the same work away from home. And these differences pose challenges.
- It is easy to get overwhelmed at home. The kind of overload you feel from working at home is a new sensation. Combining work and home and having the stress of to-dos amalgamate, can quickly overwhelm your everyday life. What do you address? What takes precedence? When do you shut work down for the day, or the reverse, when do you set “home” aside so you can focus on work?
These new challenges present a learning curve that those who have worked from home can offer guidance on. So here goes.
Set and keep a work schedule.
For many, this removes the freedom they imagined they feel when working from home. But here’s the thing, if you have a schedule you stick to most of the time, you can make adjustments, as needed, that won’t throw your entire day out of whack.
If you keep to a schedule and something comes up (say your dog really needs to go out), you can pause your work activities and when you come back, you know right where you were because it’s what you do every day. Now, ideally you’re set up so that little things aren’t interrupting your work time, but this is real life and everyone’s circumstances are different.
Keeping a set schedule also helps you plan your time more efficiently. If you’re sticking to a schedule and a request comes up, you have a good feel for your workload and routine, so you know where you can fit an extra project based on how much time it will take and your available bandwidth. It’s hard to do this when you’re just taking things as they come.
Ultimately, sticking to a schedule gives you more flexibility and freedom.
Take regular breaks.
I know the research I mentioned above said people who work at home take shorter breaks than office workers. And in the study that sounded like a good thing, but just because the tendency is to take fewer breaks when you work at home, that doesn’t mean it’s the best thing to do.
Taking regular breaks actually makes you more productive. Now understand, this doesn’t mean long diversions from your work. (It can be hard to focus on your work again if you stay away for a long time.) It means getting up more often than you’d think to, and stretch, get a drink, take a bathroom break, and go look at something far away to give your eyes a needed break from the close-up computer screen.
If you’re going for a marathon of desk work, think twice. After a while, your brain starts to get foggy and you make mistakes. It takes you longer to process information, and you don’t think about the quality of your communications to others before you press send. Plus, the pain you can get in your forearm from typing and using a mouse all day can be enough to make you wonder if you can ever click a mouse button again.
Take breaks. Enough said.
Keep a to-do/project list.
Keeping track of to-dos and projects is different when you aren’t talking to coworkers and reporting to managers on a daily basis. If you’re already using a note-taking app or journaling tool like the Tom Solid Digital Journal, you won’t have any trouble using the same method for working from home. If you don’t use paperless tools to track your projects and to-dos, take some time to research which tools will help you most.
These tools can be set up to integrate with other apps and programs you already use so you don’t forget what needs your attention and when. (You can read more about how it works in this .)
Optimize your lunch break.
Lunch breaks are the best. Everyone takes one, so you’re good to turn on your “gone to lunch” notification and disconnect for a while.
You can take your lunch outside or go for a walk. Your lunch break is also a good time to catch up on a chore or an errand, like prepping for dinner or running to the post office.
But wait, you say. It’s my lunch break. I should be able to relax.
True. And you can relax if you choose. But if you’ve been taking your regular breaks during the day, you might find you don’t need to relax during lunch. Sometimes doing something completely different from “work” can be refreshing while removing things from your personal to-do at the same time. It’s not essential, but it’s an option you can take advantage of, and one of the benefits of working from home.
Communicate with coworkers frequently.
At first, this might not seem like a piece of advice to remember. But after you’ve worked from home for a period of time you’ll realize something, you don’t know as much about projects, conversations, and decisions as you used to.
When we get into our daily work at home, it’s easy to forget to check-in. It’s essential that our coworkers know where we’re at on a project so they can continue their work without wondering, or needing to ask.
At first, it will feel like you’re over-communicating. But your colleagues won’t feel that way. If a question comes up as to the progress on a project, they’ll just know the answer instead of having to ask. Of course, it can’t always be this way, but reach out a little more than what feels natural to you and your collaborations with coworkers will be smoother.
Plus, staying in touch with coworkers helps you feel more connected and not so lonely.
How will this work from home experience change the future?
Technology has allowed us to stay connected in ways that weren’t possible before. This means we can check in our loved ones, stay up on news and entertainment, and work from home. It’s amazing.
This digital reality has led some to speculate that the economy will snap back quicker, due to the underlying infrastructure that is still in operation because of the internet, remote working, and business being digitized.
I also think times like these will give a reason for a global mindset change. After this is over (hopefully sooner than later) companies will no longer work as they worked before.
Once companies know what it’s like to have employees work from home, once they see the benefits and sustainability it offers, and once employees learn just how flexible and productive it can be to work from home, things will change for good.
Companies will apply workarounds they devised during this crisis as their actual workflows, seeing that they are even more efficient this way. And once something has been discovered as being more efficient and better for everyone, I don’t see how it could ever go completely back.