Remote working has been a thing for many years now, but for some companies, it’s always had an air of distrust about it.
For example, during my career, I’ve heard things like;
“They need to pass their probation before we can let them work from home.”
“I messaged Dave 10 minutes ago, and I’ve still heard nothing back.”
Or I’ve had to over-explain the reasons why I need to work from home and the continuous ‘jokes’ about what you’re really up to when working from home.
Fortunately for me, these situations and comments are from quite a few years ago now, but I’m sure there are many people experiencing this in the last week or so.
I’m passionate about creating an empowered workplace, so this change to how we work is a real opportunity for us to improve how we work together and treat each other.
Just being one week into remote working, I’ve learnt a lot but here are some tips to think about and try, some practical others focusing on the teams well being.
For many of us parents, we're dealing with not only a change to our work environment but now having to share that environment with our children.
Keeping the children happy and educated at home is challenging enough without having a day job to do.
So be prepared for your colleague's children to be making guest appearances on conference calls or video calls. Introduce them, and parents don't worry about this as they will make an appearance at some point, they always find a way!
Let your children say hello as they'll probably lose interest after that and give you some peace.
If you're the facilitator of the call, recognise the fact there are kids around and even invite them to come and say hello. It's a great ice breaker, especially if you have a new client on the call.
You also have to consider the impact on staff who never would have wanted to work from home if they had the choice. The work environment for many is a sociable place where they not only work with colleagues, but these are their friends in and out of work too.
Some of your team may not live with their family, friends or flatmates so could be home alone all day and night if they're self-isolating.
Don't assume the regular work meetings with video calls is enough to stay connected. Arrange more 121's to check-in and have a chat, create moments in the week where you can switch off and chat like you would in the office.
Stay Connected, but not too much
As good as tools like Slack and Teams are for communicating, they can quickly turn into a constant distraction and your productivity will take a hit.
With remote working, we need to be even more aware of how distracting they can be, but at the same time make sure we use them for what they're good for.
Use the Slack/Teams status to let everyone know your current working situation, on a call, do not disturb etc.. Seeing these statuses might stop from you from calling at that moment, sending a particular message and just waiting.
This is all helps with reducing the feeling of being overwhelmed for your colleagues.
Whenever possible use video calls for group meetings as it will be so much easier to facilitate as we naturally stay more focused when we can see each other. If you need to speak just raise a hand rather than everyone talking over each other
If you send an email or Slack/Teams message, just because someone is working remotely, don't expect to get an immediate answer, they're job isn't to continually monitor Slack/Teams or their inbox. If it's that important that the question needs a quick response, then call them!
Be wary of having too many notifications turned on and don't think you need to either. Your productivity will be impacted if you're constantly distracted by notifications all day.
A tip to help with the above is set scheduled times for when you'll check your messenger apps and email.
If you're struggling with separating work and home life, turn off all work-related notifications on your mobile. You're on your laptop at home so why double up with the notifications?
When you do finish up in the evening, you won’t see a work email or message pop up and get that a shot of anxiety or a reminder.
Reduce the emails!
Struggling for inbox zero? Don’t worry this is normal and also not that important. It’s more important that you focus on reducing the emails you receive.
To send and receive fewer emails to follow these steps.
- First of all, if you send fewer emails you'll receive fewer emails 😀
- When sending or replying to an email, rather than sending another question or just one answer, think about how you can make it easier for the recipient to only send one more email back? For example.
- Add multiple actions the recipient could pick from when replying.
- If you’re requesting a meeting or a call, send over some days with time slots rather than just say "We need to meet on this"
- Add more context to your request, so put yourself in their shoes when it comes to the understanding of the topic.
- By spending a little longer replying to an email, you'll save yourself so much more time in the future.
- Not every email is vital in that it warrants an immediate reply. Flag emails that need a response that day versus that week. Emails that can be placed into the later that week bracket may well get answered via other means during that time.
You can still have meetings, just make sure you’re clear on why you’re having them.
All of these tips apply if you're not implementing remote working, but it's even more critical now we don't have the option to meet face to face.
The change to remote working is likely to reduce how many meetings you have and how you run them. It will also take some time to adjust, especially for those colleagues who call meetings continuously.
You can create simple guidelines to help with changing the meeting culture we have.
For every meeting, you book make sure you do/know the following.
- Have a clear purpose for the meeting.
- Ask yourself, do I really need this meeting, can it be solved in other ways?
- Share what you need to cover, whether that's a standard agenda, points to discuss or a problem to solve.
- Think hard about who really needs to be in it. It's even more critical now if we're all on the phone.
- If you're invited to a meeting, and it's not clear what it is for, push back and ask for this information.
- Empower your team to be able to say I do not need to be in this meeting if it's apparent they're not required once the meeting commences.
- If a meeting/call is scheduled, make sure you dial in on time. You don't have the option of a friendly nudge F2F anymore when running late
- I recommend reducing your notifications in this post, but make sure you have your meeting notifications on.
- If you're happy to use video on a call with multiple people, use the hand up technique if you want to speak rather than talking over each other.
Start the day with focus
If you're not used to working remotely, you may find it hard to get started in the morning as you're still in the 'At home' mindset. Don't worry, this is normal for a lot of people I've spoken too who have been remote working for a long time.
Here are three suggestions to help with this if you need it (one quick tip, it's best not to stay in your Pyjamas ☺)
- If you're working a lot with one colleague in particular, schedule a call at 9 am (or whatever your start time is) to align on your plans for the day. Just 10 minutes as it's not a status meeting, just what you're planning to do and any help you might need. This also helps reduces Adhoc questions later in the day on messenger apps and Email
- Book stand-ups with your team every day first thing. Run them like stands up through to keep them efficient.
- To help plan your day out, follow these quick steps to keep you productive and focused.
- Note down the key things you need to achieve that day (10 or so)
- Write down your day in 30-minute slots 09.00, 09.30, 10.00 etc..
- Alongside each one write down what you'll work on from your to-do list.
- If you're struggling for motivation that day, start with some easy actions to get momentum. ☺
- If you're usually more productive in the morning, plan more work time (stuff you need to do) in the morning, then schedule more meetings for the afternoon.
- If your company allows it, adjust your working hours to suit when you're most productive
The Bottom Line
We’ve still got lots to learn when it comes to remote working and for many, we’re literally learning on the job which is exactly how it should work when you move this fast.
Learning by doing is the best way to learn, you learn what’s working and what isn’t fast. There is no hiding behind a long drawn out company process, as you don’t have time to define everything.
Focus on the guidance and decisions you need to make now, as things will change fast, so you need to be ready to adapt.
No one is expecting you to know it all, as there are no books describing how a company goes into remote working with little or no notice.
What is reassuring is there are hundreds of companies and individuals that have been doing remote working for years and they have been doing just fine.
Relax. We’re all adults and it’s just work and we’ll work it out. Let everyone do their jobs and give them the tools to do it. Focus on the outcomes and happiness of your staff versus what they’re doing every 30 minutes.
Don’t be that Micro Manager!