Working From Home Doesn’t Have To Be Hard

Almost overnight, the way we live, work and interact changed dramatically. While remote work has been the norm for some professionals for years, the pandemic has made it a reality for many businesses that previously dismissed the idea. Many people have adapted to a new normal and are adjusting to the situation on their own terms. One of the biggest adjustments people have had to make is the shift to remote work for an extended and unpredictable period of time.

As chief people officer at Zenefits, it’s part of my role to set the example for remote work and help teams communicate effectively. Our culture has historically had a very strong office focus, with a myriad of perks such as lunches, Ping-Pong and fully stocked kitchens designed to encourage team members to work, hang out and interact. That said, the global “stay home” mandate is a huge change for us but, as a team, we’ve learned that this change doesn’t have to be painful–and we’ve outlined a number of creative and effective ways to adjust.


Find Your Individual Path To Productivity

Remote work can be challenging for some, but others may find their groove while being “out of the office.” In fact, 77 percent of remote employees say they’re more productive when working from home (Source: CoSo Cloud). One of the ways I’ve found to be most productive is eliminating distractions and maintaining a set schedule. It’s so important, especially in times of uncertainty, to create a routine and stick to it. Finding a dedicated space to work helps create a better work environment, while taking frequent breaks actually helps productivity. Lastly, finding the motivation to work, whether it’s checking in with a colleague, taking time for self reflection, or organizing your to-do list, are other key ways to maintain steady productivity. 


Maintain Core Office Hours And Set Boundaries

While remote work is preferred by several employees, for others, working remotely comes with some disadvantages. It can make it hard to find a healthy work-life balance. In fact, 22 percent of remote employees report that unplugging after work is their biggest challenge (Source: Buffer). At Zenefits, each team defines its own core hours, so employees have a flexible way of managing their personal activities against business meetings. Additionally, we regularly host open office hours forums. We use these forums to facilitate learning and sharing on a wide range of topics for our virtually connected colleagues, who can share experience and key tips with one another on how to better cope with this new normal. 

Organizations can help employees manage their personal and work time more effectively by creating realistic expectations of when teams and individuals need to be available. And by facilitating their own version of “office hours,” employees can learn from the company and connect and engage with other colleagues. 


Forge Connections In New And Unique Ways

Before the pandemic, 43 percent of U.S. employees were already working remotely, at least some of the time, according to Gallup’s report on the State of the American Workplace. No matter the situation, staying engaged in work can be a challenge when you feel isolated, so for many people it is all about finding new ways to connect with others in order to maintain that same level of productivity. 

As a result of everyone moving to remote work during this pandemic, people have learned to forge relationships with their colleagues in new ways. Yes, we may miss the in-person conversations, but we have found many ways to develop relationships virtually–and with people all around the world. Video conferencing, for example, allows us to connect meaningfully with colleagues we normally don’t interact with, creating a more casual environment for work while permitting real-time communication and a faster, more collaborative norm for working. 

Asynchronous communication is also an extremely important lever from a communications perspective, especially in global companies. Most messages can wait–email, Slack IMs, texts. By relaxing the expectations around how fast everyone needs to respond, employees can reply in their own time and not feel pressured to be “on” 24/7.


Encourage Flexibility Powered By Over-communication

The lines are now completely blurred between our home and work lives and subsequent responsibilities. Given that people are now juggling kids of all ages, spouses, pets–not to mention standing in line for hours at the local grocery store for basic supplies–employers should allow and encourage flexibility for how and when work is done. In fact, 72 percent of talent professionals agree that work flexibility (which includes remote work options) will be very important for the future of HR and recruiting (Source: LinkedIn). 

The key to making this flexibility work for everyone is over-communication. It’s critical (and common sense) to have transparent conversations around this work dynamic and require people to not just communicate, but to over-communicate with colleagues and clients about their work, their projects and their schedule, while everyone adjusts to this new normal.

The future is unpredictable as it stands, but no employee should have to navigate the new adjustment to remote work alone. There are various proactive steps employers and employees can take to help create a seamless transition from in-person to remote work. With the help of a strong people-operations team, a great IT team, and solid mobile-enabled secure technology to back up these practices, it’s a little bit easier to understand how so many workers around the world have been able to successfully make the switch. 



About the Author, Tracy Cote

Tracy Cote is chief people officer at Zenefits: Cote brings 20 years of HR experience to Zenefits. She oversees the people experience programs including employee engagement, compensation, benefits, learning and development, employee relations, talent acquisition, and employment branding. Most recently, she held the position of chief people officer at Genesys. She also led HR teams at MobiTV Inc., and Organic Inc. Cote also taught human resources management at San Francisco State University for over 10 years.


Header image by Christian Lambert on Unsplash

  • Originally published May 19, 2020, updated June 15, 2022