Handy tips for remote working - flexible working and multitasking in response to COVID-19
With the impact of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) many organizations are closing the doors of their physical offices or reducing the staff going into the offices and asking their teams to work from home where possible. As an organization with all the team remote working, we thought it would be helpful to give some hints and tips we have learnt over the years:
• Keep fit and healthy
• Stay sane online
• Be contactable and transparent
• Host and attend virtual meetings
• Deal with interruptions
• Dedicate a working space
• Accommodate different time zones
Keep fit and healthy
That time you would be using to commute - use it to take out the dogs longer, have a relaxing bath, do yoga, read, dance around the kitchen listening to music, play with the kids or just stay in bed that extra hour! Do what makes you happy and ready to start/or unwind from the day.
Take regular breaks as you would in the office to make yourself drinks - it's very important to stay hydrated - it's easy to get engrossed in work and hours later realize you haven't had a drink!
Also, take that lunchtime you would normally have and move away from your computer - it is too tempting to carry on working sometimes! Take time out to go for a walk or outside, get some fresh air!
If you have a busy day of meetings ahead, reduce meetings down from 1 hour to 45 minutes and 30 minutes to 20-25 minutes so you can have a break in between to get ready for the next meeting but also stand up and move around.
Stay sane online
When working remotely, people may find it hard to know if you are available. If you have an online messaging system like Skype, Teams, Slack etc, make sure you're logged in and your status is up-to-date. Many systems like Teams and Skype are synced to calendars so they will show your availability status.
Check-in with team members, message and call each other - it helps you from feeling isolated and continue the chat how you would normally in the office. You can always reply to online messages when you have time so really it's less disruptive.
Why not try dialling in to a call or 'virtual room' then leave the call running whilst you work to feel like you are in the same room together! Zoom rooms can do this where you can pop in and out or simply a conference call on WebEx, Teams or Skype. Just keep yourself muted when not chatting.
The tone is often misread in communications - pick up the phone to talk or arrange a meeting instead. Be more proactive especially if you are blocked from moving forward with a task.
Create or engage in online interest groups e.g. to help you connect with those you wouldn't normally connect with like a 'Ferret Lovers Group' in your work systems - Yammer, Slack or Teams can support this. These social areas to chat build relationships and help with introductions to those you may not always work with, in numerous locations.
When hosting an online meeting have audio, visual and interaction to accommodate the three different VAK learning styles so everyone gets the most out of it.
Be contactable and transparent
Add your contactable number in your email signature or forward your office desk phone to your mobile. Forwarding to your home number can mean you get business calls out of hours and if you have a child like my two and a half-year-old - they will pick up the phone!
Using task platforms like Trello, Asana, Teams and Basecamp are great ways to keep an eye on your tasks, manage deadlines and have conversations related to specific projects. Most of these have free versions with paid team subscriptions. Personally we use Asana as we find this works best for us but have used Basecamp, Teams and Trello.
Host and attend virtual meetings
Just because you're not physically in a room with each other, doesn't mean you can't have a meeting in a similar way. Use video in meetings to see each other and keep the more personal element.
You can keep in touch with key stakeholders by arranging quick 10-15 min catch up calls often. It's great if you can find common ground and have a five-minute' chat' before starting a call, as this helps give a mental break in the day and builds your relationship.
Recording online meetings so those who are unable to attend or don't speak or understand English well can help keep everyone informed.
Take the time when you email/online message someone to say hi before, and ask how they are, before jumping into work stuff straight away if you haven't spoken to them today.
Alternate meetings in different timezones and record the session so it's a more fair approach for everyone. E.g. often APAC have to attend late-night calls every time when attending a US organized call.
Include an icebreaker at the beginning of a call to either introduce team members to each other or create a positive start to the call.
Deal with interruptions
You're guaranteed that something will happen when on a conference call at home - the chickens walk in the house and start squawking (yep that happens to me), the doorbell rings, the dogs bark, or the cat jumps up on your desk whilst on a video call.
Work in a space where you can close the door during conference calls, keep yourself on mute when not speaking, and let people know if you step away from your desk by message or stay - people understand as it happens to them too!
Be respectful of your colleagues and take a more considered approach when on a call with a team that is dealing with a challenging situation/environment. For example, have someone chair the call, everyone is on mute and the chair will go round and ask each attendee their opinion with no interruptions from anyone else. Go round again so everyone has a chance to respond to the first round replies, and then on the third round open up the session so everyone can talk. This helps stop over talking and interrupting, as well as keeping the team more focused and the feeling that they got more out of the meeting. Everyone gets the chance to input, even if they are usually quiet on calls.
Dedicate a working space
Set up a dedicated space to work - make sure you're comfortable and have correct posture. It's important to have a dedicated space - an upright chair and desk. If space is limited, create a standing workspace. Being able to shut a door can be really helpful too on calls to remove distractions. You'll need to be able to get up and move around.
Ultimately, you need to be able to shut your computer down or shut the door on your working space when work finishes and not allow it to overlap into your home life (says the person who is terrible at this!). It helps you to define where is work and where is home. I have an office which I go to every day at the end of my garden and I love having a dedicated space. However, when I leave for the day I take my laptop with me and work late at night at home so I'm not the best role model here!
Accommodate different time zones
The same as being in the office, be considerate about your staff being in different timezones. Just because they are working from home doesn't mean they are more accessible outside office hours. Record your calls so those unable to attend can easily listen to them on demand.
And remember, be respectful to each other - be sympathetic to cultural differences and personal styles - not everyone works the same way. Once you start, you can share as a team to learn from your mistakes and work smarter and better. Working methods like agile are very helpful in these environments to ensure work is delivered and transparent - check out our Agile webinar to discover more.
with permission from Lou Peck, founding director of The International Bunch