by Jason Robey
Recently, many of us have been presented with the opportunity to work remotely, and with that, managers now have the challenge of keeping their teams moving forward on organizational priorities. Within the software world I live in, working in a virtual office is not new. In fact, we have been doing this comfortably since we were able to get that first high-speed internet connection piped into our house! Drawing on my own experience, here are some of the tips and tricks I have gathered over my career.
BUSINESS AS USUAL
First and foremost, keep things “business as usual” as much as possible! Don’t cancel that meeting on your calendar and put it off until you can meet face-to-face. Take advantage of the tools technology offers us to still meet even when in different locations. Yes, some of those tools may take some investment to learn how to use them, but spending the time now will yield a sizable return on your efforts going forward. In the long run, this will lead to greater productivity, and who knows, you may opt for more virtual meetings in the office! It is important that business carries on and the backlog of work continues to be attacked. Yes, prioritize, but don’t push off meetings unless you don’t have a choice.
OPTIMIZE YOUR HOME WORK AREA
Necessities for working from home: A monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Laptops and portable devices are fantastic, but if you want to get serious about being productive, a larger second screen, and a full-sized keyboard may be needed. Many laptops have integrated microphones and speakers, but sound quality varies. An inexpensive headset for video and voice calls can help eliminate this variation. As a bonus, snag some noise-canceling headphones with an integrated microphone – this can allow you to escape within the room, if things get a little too distracting!
While you may have had your own designated work area at home, many of us are now sharing that home office with a spouse, who is now also working from home, and maybe even children who are continuing their studies remotely. To help cope with this new togetherness, plan for some distance to be allowed. As needed, have each person prepare both a primary and secondary work area. Your primary space will have your monitor and keyboard, and is where you will be most of the time. A secondary work space allows you to remain productive when unavoidable distractions occur or when you need a change of scenery.
Communication is always important for a team, but when you are working remotely, the need for communication is even greater. I would take advantage of one of the feature-rich collaboration platforms on the market today, like MS Teams and Slack, which enable teams to work together and communicate almost effortlessly.
Communication is always important for a team, but when you are working remotely, the need for communication is even greater.
While using these tools, be sure to update your status so others know when you are unavailable. In addition, including a status like, “I stepped away for 30 minutes to grab some lunch. Be back at 12:30 pm” can help your team know that they should expect a short delay in your response. When you are talking with a coworker, try to use video as much as possible to maintain connections. Video chatting is much more personal and helps those in the meeting stay engaged.
My team and I have recently implemented daily standups, which is a quick group video call (15 minutes or less) where each person provides an update focused on three topics:
- What they did yesterday
- What they plan to do today
- What concerns do they have about accomplishing their goals for the day
These quick updates allows the entire team to know what each other is working on and allows connections to be made if or when someone needs help. If you have a large team, consider breaking into multiple smaller teams, with one person from each of those teams getting together as a group after the main meeting to share a quick update.
My last point on communication: don’t be afraid to have a social call with coworkers. When in the office, you probably have a couple of random conversations throughout the day; you should still do that when remote! Whether it’s a video call to talk about the latest news, or participating in a conversation in your collaboration platform, find a social option that works for you.
Technology has given us a host of options to help with productivity when working in today’s virtual office. Be quick to share your screen with others in a meeting when you are trying to explain something. If you are working on a PowerPoint, Word document, or an Excel spreadsheet, take advantage of the real-time collaboration features built into products like Office 365 and Google Drive. Most collaboration platforms have integrations that allow you to edit these files directly with the tool. If you like to draw, there is a host of online whiteboard tools available as well. Try something new!
Most people who advocate for a work/life balance believe that you have time dedicated to working and time dedicated to the rest of your life – the two are separate, but equal. As someone who loves what he does and also truly loves spending time with his family, I’ve always had an issue with this concept. In today’s world, this concept is even more challenging, since work has literally followed me home, and there is a need for me to assist my children with schooling during the day.
Personally, I strive for a work/life integration. This viewpoint creates a framework to flow from work to life and back to work again in a fluid motion. We need to make sure our jobs are getting done on both sides, but we need to be okay with flowing back and forth. This includes our need to step away from our desks and take some time for ourselves.
A helpful method to encourage balance is the Pomodoro Technique. Here is how it works:
Pick a task, set a timer for 25 minutes and work on that task. When time is up, set a new timer for 5 minutes and take a break. Once your break is over, start a new 25 minute focused session. After four sessions, take a 30-minute break. Let those around you know that you are going to focus for 25 minutes at a time and ask that they hold questions for you until your 5-minute break. Your 25-minute session can be work-related or family-focused like helping with homework. Just stay on task for that 25 minutes.
TIPS FOR MANAGERS
Be sure to check in with your team members on a regular basis. Our daily stand-ups provide one touchpoint, but it is good to check in with them on an individual basis as well. Again, use a video call if you can. Ask them if they are running into any friction working from home and do what you can to remove that barrier. Be reassuring and let them know that life interruptions are going to happen. If they need to have their child or pet on their lap for a call, that’s okay. We all have new unique challenges to work through right now. Last, but not least, encourage them to continue communication and work with their teammates. It is very important they keep nourishing those connections and don’t make decisions in a vacuum.
EMBRACE THE OPPORTUNITY
This is a new world for many of us, but I don’t think it is all challenges. We have been presented with a number of opportunities too and we should take advantage of those. Try out a new technique, give a new tool a test drive, pick up a new headset, and above all, communicate often with your team.
As VP of Technology Solutions, Jason has a passion for bringing highly-collaborative teams together to build user-focused software that solves business problems and leads to more efficient and streamlined workflows.
Sources: Feature Image – ©djile – stock.adobe.com