Partner WFH Hero

COVID-19 kicked off the largest work-from-home experiment ever undertaken. Several months in, we wanted to get a sense of the real behind-the-scenes stories of remote workers, so we asked a few Mitel partners to tell us about their experiences. Among our questions: how was the transition from office to home? What were your biggest challenges? What tips do you have for other WFH employees?

Here's what they told us:

The Upside of Remote Work

Over the last two months, news stories have put a spotlight on the positive aspects of working from home. Many of our partners' accounts mirrored these findings. They say productivity is up and their workspace at home offers a more relaxing, less stressful atmosphere than the office.

Without a commute, many save two to three hours per day. Less time spent traveling means they have more time to exercise and make healthier meals. Without co-workers stopping by their desk, some find they have fewer distractions, which means they can better concentrate on their work.

Those with family at home find the extra time is a silver lining. Randy Collins, a low voltage engineer at TSAChoice in Asheville, N.C., says, "getting to see my family smile at me when they first wake up and walk down the hall and knowing I'll be with them all day" is what he likes best about remote working.

When Home Interferes with Work

Even with its advantages, remote work can sometimes be less than ideal. Without defined start and end times, many employees find it's all too easy to extend their workday beyond acceptable boundaries. A home office makes it hard to know when to put work away and start paying attention to the family. As a result, they work longer hours.

Physical stress is another problem that comes with a longer day. There's no opportunity to stand up and have a quick chat with a colleague or visit the cafeteria for a cup of coffee. As a result, many workers complain they sit too much.

And while there may be fewer interruptions from co-workers while employees work from home, new kinds of distractions bubble up. For instance, kids or spouses might pop into the office, or the family cat might decide to stalk across your keyboard. Becky Ballenger, director of sales for TSAChoice, has been challenged by her cats several times. "They wanted attention during video calls," she says.

And yet cats can't replace interpersonal interaction, some partners observed. Many say they miss the banter and laughter with colleagues and the face-to-face discussions with clients.

Managers face an added challenge: keeping the team aligned. Keeping up morale and inspiring motivation is more difficult without the ability to interact in-person.

Finally, there are technical challenges. Iffy network connections can slow progress, for one thing. For another, some employees didn't have the right equipment at home in the beginning, meaning printers, phones, office furniture or the right number of screens. The good news: many say they solved these problems within the first few weeks.

A Smoother Transition than Expected

Indeed, our partners found adapting to remote work was a challenge they could overcome more quickly than they expected.

Several told us they enjoyed a smooth transition because they'd previously worked from home. Others found that once they had with the right equipment, remote working became more manageable.

"I've found both myself and my team have settled into a fluid behavior now," says Mathew Hinchcliffe, head of unified communications at Ethan Group in Australia. "Leveraging our collaboration tools, we still have real-time access via chat, phone and video to all parties throughout the day."

Other partners have made unexpected discoveries. For instance, Cathy Davis, a UC engineer with TSAChoice, was surprised to discover she didn't need to print everything. "I had pretty much full access to everything I needed straight from my desktop," she says.

On the other hand, George Collins, a low voltage project manager with TSAChoice, found life without printed copies made him less efficient. "The only thing I really missed was having all my printed-out drawings in front of me whenever I wanted them," he says. "I have PDF versions, but it's not as easy to see the entire picture when you have to zoom in and move around on a computer screen."

Tips for Easing into Remote Work

The partners we polled revealed that the last several months have offered plenty of lessons for setting up an effective home office and mastering remote work. Among them are the following:

1. Create a separate office space

The ability to separate work and home is crucial to being productive and enjoying the remote experience. If possible, try to set up your workspace in an area away from family and high-traffic areas of your home. Be sure you have all of the devices necessary for conducting business with clients and collaborating with your team. Unified communications solutions like MiCollab and MiTeam Meetings put colleagues just a click away.

2. Get comfortable

To maximize productivity, optimize your comfort. Ergonomic chairs, good lighting and extra computer screens will help you work more effectively with large volumes of information, pivot easily between tasks and increase efficiency.

3. Prioritize tasks

Wherever you're working, prioritizing tasks and projects is vital to getting things done. It's especially important because meetings are a staple of the remote workday. Many partners say they're getting used to having more video calls, especially as managers implement or enforce regular team meetings and establish frequent check-ins with individual employees.

4. Meet more often

To compensate for the lack of ad hoc conversations, many partners find shorter, more frequent meetings help them keep projects on-track. Collaboration tools like MiCollab offer virtual workspaces where teams can share documents, answer questions via chat and ensure project timelines are met. Two other tips: choose video conferences over audio-only calls to build and maintain team rapport, and favor phone or UC conferences over email to better maintain personal relationships.

5. Implement social calls

To counter the need for socialization and keep up team morale, happy hours or other social meetings have become quite popular in many companies. Becky Ballenger says her team holds such calls once a week.

6. Enforce normal work hours

Though it's tempting to keep working beyond the normal workday, most partners advise getting a bit tough on yourself. Sticking to regular work hours and making a clean break between work and family life will help you navigate both worlds more successfully.

"Stick to normal office hours and try to respect imperative family hours, like meal time," says Jean-Baptiste Perraudin, deputy general director at Foliateam in Bordeaux, France, who has three children between the ages of three and 12 at home.

7. Dress for the home office

Maintaining a work-from-home dress code will put you in the right frame of mind to be productive. Davis has made this part of her daily routine. "I would get up, get dressed as usual but instead of driving to the office, I walked downstairs to my office," she says.

Though it's tempting to wear sweatpants, you set the right tone for yourself when you're dressed for a professional video call, even if your outfit is one notch below business casual.

8. Take advantage of family time

Randy Collins, the TSAChoice low-voltage engineer, suggests taking advantage of being at home and making time for your family. Many partners savor the morning's "commute," when they get to see their family for a few minutes, or the lunch hour, when they join the household's midday meal.

Remote Work Post-Pandemic

Even though many employees say remote work has been a positive experience, some still miss certain aspects of the office.

Connecting with others leads the list. Many workers miss in-person conversations, especially when they have a quick question or there’s a problem that needs to be solved. Without the personal connection, there's a risk someone might misread issues.

"Many times, the best way to address an issue or problem is to put your eyes on it and ask questions," says John Adair, project coordinator, AV and security systems at TSAChoice.

For salespeople, networking is crucial to building the trust and relationships needed to get deals signed. That's not as easy in the Covid era because video calls can only do so much to replicate the direct connection.

On a more personal level, everyone misses going out to restaurants, movie theaters or church. Still, an overwhelming number of partners say they'd like to continue working remotely after the pandemic is over. Globally, half of employees now working at home say they'd prefer to continue that arrangement after the pandemic subsides, according to a recent Gallup survey. For others, a mix of both might be the ideal arrangement.

"I find working from home to be as or more efficient than before, but now that most people are slowly going back to the office, I'm glad to reduce work-from-home and have a more balanced mix," says Perraudin.

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