CEO at Asia Pacific Sales & Marketing Academy Pte Ltd, and Sales Association Lead leading sales transformation and customer championship.

When everyone shifted to virtual workspaces earlier this year, business leaders scrambled to set up their technology platforms and digital infrastructure. Since then, we’ve seen major issues arise for workers who are still struggling with their at-home work environments, slow connection speeds and long-term viability in the work-from-home culture. If this trend is here to say — and it looks increasingly probable — then companies need to continue to adapt their practices.

Through our training programs at Asia Pacific Sales & Marketing Academy, for instance, we’ve seen that global corporations are grappling with the best ways to support their teams in several countries, where various cultures may embrace different norms and disparate earnings can lead to difficult home setups. Family members may work and attend school in small living spaces, and noises from nearby traffic or factories may be unavoidable.

To better move forward in this virtual-focused environment, businesses must find a way to improve these circumstances for their employees and contractors. We’ve identified a few unique ways to engage with our workers and ensure they feel valued, too.

Try these tactics for ongoing improvement in your work-from-home arrangements:

1. Address the noise.

As video meetings became the norm this year, people embraced the ease and inclusivity of using virtual backgrounds to hide household clutter and other people. Now it’s time to do the same with background noise. People who live in small homes and apartments, for instance, may have two or more family members on calls at the same time. Those who work in their kitchens near noisy appliances or live near hospitals with loud ambulance sirens need a way to conduct their work without constant interruptions and apologies. In Washington, for instance, noise complaints are up 22% this year, and residents reported more than 3,000 noise issues in March and April alone.

In one memorable instance this year, I worked with a contractor who lives near an airport flight path, where takeoffs and landings drowned out her speech every 10 minutes during peak hours. Since she’s a team member at a call center, she needed a better environment to complete her calls, but she wasn’t able to leave her home or work in a virtual office. At first, she was scheduled for non-peak airport hours, but that wasn’t sustainable. As a solution, I shipped her a noise-canceling headset that covered her ears and stemmed noise at the microphone input as well, which reduced the approaching roar of overhead planes. The technology exists to help our people, and we need to invest in it.

2. Be respectful of time.

In the mania of transitioning to a work-from-home lifestyle, many of us grew used to working beyond our typical work hours. We’re near our computers at all times and finding it more difficult to step away for balance. We’re also working with more global teams across multiple timezones, which can be difficult to navigate within normal working hours. In a new 2020 report, remote workers said their biggest struggles were collaboration, communication, not being able to unplug and being in a different timezone than their teammates.

We need to find new ways to collaborate, both with and without our newfound emphasis on video. For one, it’s vital to keep our global and cross-country teams in mind when scheduling calls and events. Use a service with a timezone converter to book the most accommodating appointments across as many team members as possible. Beyond that, open up multiple days and times for calls and trainings, and if someone can’t attend, provide a recording for easy viewing later. On top of that, we need to become comfortable with cloud-based platforms to collaborate on tasks, which allows workers to contribute when they’re on the clock. When we’re away, we should change our status signal to show that we’re not available. This sounds simple, right? It’s surprising, though, how many people ignore it and take this feature for granted. 

3. Shift your training style.

For the time being, we’re not able to hold in-person events or conferences in the same way as before, and that requires a major change to our training methods. I’ve worked with several companies that have tried to simply map their in-person routine onto a digital landscape, but it’s ineffective. People can’t be expected to sit in 9-to-5 training sessions and retain the information they need. Time and time again, I’ve seen participants lose interest, become uncomfortable in their seats and interact less.

Moving forward, businesses need training programs — both for current employees and new hires — that are shorter, include breaks and follow a more iterative process. As part of our sales and marketing academy, we encourage bite-size sessions with actionable next steps, small groups with engaged discussions, assignments, capstone projects and 1-on-1 coaching calls that provide direct mentoring. Even with new hires, I’ve developed tailored checklists that can be accomplished over a period of time, such as setting up their accounts, training them on products and introducing them to fellow team members. According to a recent survey, employee enthusiasm for work peaks at the beginning of a new job and drops by 22% soon after that. When we’re all separated in digital workspaces, it’s important to create phased, targeted approaches for skills training that keeps workers engaged.

Looking toward 2021, several new challenges will pop up around our ongoing focus on the work-from-home landscape. Although some people are ready to return to in-person work, others want to stay at home. This will raise new questions around leadership practices, annual leave policies, flexible work arrangements and the way we operate in-person workplaces and hybrid environments. 

At the same time, we may welcome new global collaborations and rewrite organizational culture to embrace different norms and workstyles around the world. To build the best foundation for those conversations, we need to think about today’s barriers — such as environmental disparities, time differences and training practices — in the months ahead.

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