Keep the Humanity in the Work

I admit I was overwhelmed by the volume of advice currently available about working from home. So I did what I often do when I’m overwhelmed—I called my sister. In this case, this was an extra good idea since Gretchen Robinson has decades of experience working from home as a business creator/owner, and for other employers. Robinson also knows a thing or two about working on-call and can recall work moments like, “the time I got someone across the border from a clothing store changeroom, half dressed.”

Currently working in client services and operations in the design, fashion and patterns industry, Robinson is also a freelance maker, sewing and pattern teacher, writer, baker and bakery creator/owner. Previously, Robinson ran the books and human resources for international sea shipping companies and national organic food retailers. She also has high-level first aid and theatre training, and nerves of steel. 

The tips and advice from Robinson, here, are for folks employed by others and for employers working with remote employees.

Robinson’s advice is rooted in the high value she places on employee health and wellness. First and foremost, she advises, “Put yourself and your wellness first. Keep track of things that make you feel healthy and fulfilled.” This January, Robinson decided to prioritize her health over work. She explained, “Now I have coffee with my husband in the morning, leave myself time to think and have a proper breakfast, throw in the laundry, make the bed, do what needs doing in the house environment. Then I have a second coffee and open the work files.” 

While the employee needs to take care of their mental health, employers play a big role. Robinson recommends, “Employers ‘keep the humanity’ in the work. Even from a distance, companies need to acknowledge online employees are part of the team.” 

Robinson suggests a few ways to make remote workers feel visible and acknowledged. “Put photos of all employees, remote and otherwise, on the company webpage. Send your remote workers gift cards, equivalent to buying an in-person lunch or coffee.” Robinson notes, “With so many people working from home, companies experience savings in overhead, but this benefit does not necessarily trickle down to employees.” 

A disadvantage of long-distance work relationships can be, according to Robinson, that “remote employers do not know how satisfied the employees are (or are not) in their work. It’s also more difficult to impress upon people what [they] need to change or fix.” 

Do not despair, we do not need to reinvent the wheel to help resolve these issues. Robinson advises employers to “look to history and organizations with work cultures that already work at a distance … on the high seas, for example, where there are strong protocols for how to confirm the receipt of information—how to respond and when.” 

Protocols and personal style are important to maintain. Robinson cautions against getting trapped beneath too much trendy advice about working from home. “Beware of work trends like ‘Inbox Zero.’ Develop your own work style. Mine is ‘do and delete’.”

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