With the media abuzz with information about COVID-19, the need to self-isolate and potential school closures, many companies are starting to think about how they can continue business-as-usual while staying safe. One popular answer to that question is sending staff home and remote working.
At Bid for Success, we’re advocates of flexible working because an improved work/life balance helps keep our team ready for anything. Along the way, we’ve discovered a few things about remote working which we thought might be useful to you, during this uncertain period. These are our ‘things to consider when working from home.’
Working from home can be isolating. If you’re used to working in a busy office environment, suddenly finding yourself spending your time mostly alone is going to be an adjustment. Introverts may love it, at least at first, but even the most reclusive of us need social time. Try reaching out to people in new ways; Facebook messages, texts, anything that replaces your normal social interactions and maintains social relationships along the way.
The general advice for remote workers is to try and schedule some outdoor time into your days, such as a visit to the gym or a walk in the park. That might be hard to achieve with self-isolation, but there are still YouTube videos with free workouts as a gym substitute or why not spend an hour doing some gardening?
Separating Work and Family Life
If you can, create yourself a home office, or carve yourself out space in a room where you can close the door and focus on work. If you can’t do that, and you’re going to be working from the dining room or kitchen table, then have some sort of ritual that starts your working day. It might be brewing your first coffee of the day, or putting on some music that helps you focus, but set cues so your brain knows it’s time for work.
If there are other people at home during the day, resign yourself to the fact that they are going to disturb you sometimes, no matter what. This is going to hold particularly true if schools are closed, and you have children at home too. Also, if you have a cat, you can expect them to get between you and your keyboard all the time. Take deep breaths and make regular notes if distractions throw you off course.
Video conferencing will take the place of face to face meetings. If you haven’t already got the software to handle this, then popular options are Zoom and GoToMeeting which both have free subscription services. When going on a video call, try and have a blank wall behind you so artwork/wallpaper/collectibles don’t draw attention from what you’re saying. Lighting is important too, try to have as much natural light as possible and/or use full-spectrum light bulbs so you can be seen.
Most laptops come with an in-built camera and microphone, and if you’re only working from home for a short while these will do fine. However, investing in a separate webcam and headset with microphone will improve the quality of your video calls and help make sure you don’t miss anything.
Work is work, wherever you do it, but you can make the process a little smoother when you’re working remotely if you just keep communication at the forefront of all you do. It’s a lot easier to misunderstand text-based communication, as we don’t have the context of the tone of voice or body language. A lot of remote teams use Hanlon’s Razor, which is: ‘never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity’. Or in other words, if it seems like someone is being rude or obtuse, they probably just haven’t understood properly. Rather than taking offense, try to determine any gaps in that person’s understanding, or communicate things differently.
If you’re the team leader, then the single most important thing you can do to make remote work run successfully is to communicate more. Fully remote teams started with software developers and many of them use the Agile Development Methodology that has daily ‘stand-up’ meetings where the whole team checks in on progress and sticking points. This might not work for you, but it still pays to over-communicate with distributed workers. But don’t micro-manage. It might be an adjustment not to be able to see who is at their desk, but trust that your team is still doing their job as diligently as they do in the office and resist the temptation to check in just to check-up.
There are tools out there to support collaboration just as effectively as if you were all sharing a room. Here are some you might consider.
One of the most commonly used is Slack, but there are alternatives. These are instant message programs, which give the flexibility of setting up team chats as well as direct messaging. Make sure you set up a ‘water cooler’ chat for the exchange of banter, jokes, and general socialising.
Here are some of the tools that help teams work together even when they’re separated by distance:
Govisually allows you to upload images for review and have team members annotate with ‘sticky notes’ and scribbles.
Lucidchart is mind mapping software that can be worked on by multiple team members.
Miro is an online, collaborative, whiteboard system.
Screen sharing can also be extremely useful when working remotely. Many video conferencing packages support this as part of their standard package.
There’s no doubt that there are a lot of potential distractions when you’re working from home. It might be the lure of Netflix, or cry of chores undone. You need to be stronger than your distractions! Try setting yourself targets with rewards, for example, if you get your work finished then you can watch another episode of your favourite show at lunchtime.
If you find that social media apps are getting the better of you while you’re at home, then you can always use a service like ColdTurkey, which will allow you to lock down anything that isn’t productive during your working hours.
You’re Not Alone
Remote working can be isolating, and that’s going to feel even more the case if you’re self-isolating due to coronavirus. That’s why having social outlets, even when you’re removed by a distance is so important. This is the time to look up old friends or colleagues (refresh your LinkedIn contacts!), check on elderly neighbours, and find new ways to come together. If you fancy a chat with us over this period you can send us an email or you’ll find us on LinkedIn or hanging out in our Facebook group.