For many of us, working remotely used to be a rare occasion. But, this new work-from-home transition means we all have to rethink how we interact with our team members and clients to maintain our relationships during this unprecedented time.
Our team at Shift Collab works in a hybrid environment. Some of us work in-person together, others work remotely and see each other periodically, and others are purely remote. Through these experiences, we have distilled some tactics that work for us in maintaining a connection and well-being as a team on a day-to-day basis, and this has helped prepare us for what we need during difficult times as well, like this COVID-19 pandemic.
I’ve broken down some of our work-from-home do’s and don’ts that have proven effective for our team. First, let’s talk about some things to consider during this transition.
Working From Home “Do’s”
Keep a Normal Schedule
Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean that it’s helpful to ditch your routine. Try to maintain a consistent schedule as if you were at your office. If you have flexibility and your typical office schedule doesn’t sync naturally with you at home, make some small adjustments. In either case, determine a clear start and end time for your day. Similarly, it’s important that your team agrees on when the workday ends so that you can respect each others’ boundaries.
Schedule a Daily Check-In Over Phone or Video with Your Team
It’s easy to just rely on Slack (or another messaging tool), texts, email, and impromptu calls to collaborate. However, the problem with these touch points is that they are typically about solving problems or making decisions. You need time to speak with your team about how each of you is doing and discuss the ongoing adaptation to remote working. A short check-in will do the trick. Some great ones to try might be, “On a scale of one to ten, how’s your anxiety level and why?”, “What went well for you yesterday and what’s something you struggled with?”, and “What do you need more or less of from your team?”.
Create Communication Boundaries
Great remote teams will tell you that they have set in place explicit boundaries that govern communication. It’s far too easy to just go on Slack and inadvertently disrupt other people with little or no regard for what they’re working on or where their focus is. You can solve this in two ways. Either you can adjust your notification settings on Slack (or whatever messaging software you use) to block off solid chunks of time for focused work. The second option is to agree that non-critical communication will take place in Slack and that your team can answer whenever they have time before the end of the day. This leaves important messages for email only.
Co-Work by Using Muted Video
If you’re used to working with colleagues nearby, consider using video chat muted so that you can see each other work. This is a good idea provided your collaborators are comfortable with it. It sounds a little eerie, but here’s the logic. Just like when you are in the office and you can look over to the next desk and make eye contact with your colleague, you want that same impact. Not only does this serve as a way to keep that human connection alive, but it also is a part of accountability. Best of all, by having the audio muted you won’t interrupt each other constantly but you will be able to unmute each other at any point for a quick chat. You can easily use Google Hangouts for this, though Whereby is fantastic for up to four people.
Create Time for Non-Slack One on Ones
It’s very easy for Slack to become your default way to communicate with a teammate or manager in a one-on-one style. The problem with that is there is no set time for the conversation to begin and end. In practice, that means that neither party will be focused on that conversation with the same intensity at the same time. That’s why you need dedicated check-in time over video or phone to discuss important issues and keep connected not just as colleagues, but as people.
Over Communicate Everything
Most challenges on any team come from ineffective communication, and the risk of this goes up as teams work remotely. The key is to over communicate the most functionally critical parts of your work with your team or manager. Just like face-to-face communication, just because you say something once doesn’t mean it was fully received and understood.
Consider Using a Project Management Tool
Many teams delegate tasks and plan projects by having meetings. When you work remotely, it won’t be as easy to just hop into a meeting room and work through a timeline or figure out who’s doing what. That’s why using a centralized project management software tool like Asana (free), Monday (not free, but great), or Basecamp (free for small teams) could be very helpful. Even just learning how to use Google Task is empowering and encourages a new way to get organized.
It will help especially if you are a manager that’s used to lots of in-person contact with your team, or if you have an old-school manager who relies on lots of meetings, you might feel a little lost or confused about the priorities without a tool like this.
Be Mindful of Others’ Differences
While it’s one thing for a startup company to work remotely, it’s quite another for other, more established companies to make that same transition under the pressure of COVID-19. Remember that not everyone will feel comfortable being on video nor will everyone have the same level of comfort with technology. Respect the unique situation that everyone lives in and the stressors that are on their plate. The key is to find what works for you and your immediate team while remaining flexible and accommodating.
Maintain Social Connection
While after-work trips to the local bar may be off the table, texting and calling coworkers is not. While initially this may feel awkward, know that community breeds immunity. Those social times are great for our health and while they may look or feel differently for a while, they still matter. Maybe your friend and you decide to do a yoga workout video at the same time and chat about it afterwards, or maybe you continue to read your book for book club knowing that you will have a virtual meeting this time, wine included.
Additionally, setting a time every couple of days for a 15-minute chat with your office pals about a shared interest or hobby is a very important part of working remotely.
While there are restrictions and precautions to follow, it’s still important to get fresh air and Vitamin D. Whether it’s a quick trip to your condo balcony or backyard — get outside. Just be sure to follow your hygiene and social distancing precautions before and after to reduce risk. If getting outside isn’t an option, get a happy light and use it daily!
Working From Home “Don’ts”
Now, let’s highlight some things to avoid when working remotely.
Working Everywhere in Your Home
It’s important to have a dedicated place for work so that you can train yourself to naturally associate a room or place with “work time”. Don’t work in every room, as it can give you a sense that your work is taking over your entire life vis-à-vis your home. This is especially true for your bedroom. Associating your bed with work is a massive killer of relaxation and impedes your ability to get a good night’s rest.
Succumb to Endless Meetings
Some people you work with might overcompensate for being remote by having endless, meandering meetings. Demanding attention through live meetings is a way to feel in control. Whatever you can do to ensure that your calls are brief and effective is critical, so that you can then schedule in time for social connection (see above) without shame.
Doing Personal Chores During your Working Hours
It sounds obvious, but it’s very easy to convince yourself that doing your laundry while on a call is a completely legitimate, if not a hyper-productive thing to do. The problem is that it will divide your focus and interrupt your productivity, and it’s very easy for one task to lead to another, then another, then another. Before you know it, it’ll be 3 pm and you’ll have barely anything done, and you’ll be left feeling overwhelmed. If anything, save your errands or housework for designated breaks or your lunch — just as you would if you were working from the office.
Poor Office Set-Up
You do not need to order a new desk because you are now working from home. What you do need to do is consider how you are sitting and whether it’s supportive of a healthy working posture. While it’s super tempting to work from bed, without the correct set-up you could be giving yourself a backache in no time. Now, it’s extra important to be mindful of ergonomics.
Ignore Video-Related Anxiety
If your colleague suggests that they prefer a phone, respect that. They may be working from a shared space, a relative’s home, or may have housing instability that you aren’t aware of. Respecting what people ask for is important in these situations.
Not Voicing Your Needs
In any time of transition, it is critical to your well-being that you feel able to ask for what you need from your teammates. Your needs may be logistical (i.e. scheduling a project meeting), organizational (i.e. keeping shared directories well labelled in the cloud), or emotional (i.e. expressing gratitude to a peer). Each of these are legitimate needs to identify within yourself and to voice, especially in the current circumstances. This also applies to working with clients too, as they may also be adapting to these changes.
Put Off Any Wellness Needs or Employment Discussions
If you have any upcoming or ongoing discussions with your team, manager, or human resources do not put them off. In times like these, it’s very easy to put off discussions of compensation, professional development, work accommodation, or time-off requests. Even though the business is undergoing a temporary change, it’s business as usual. Your company should be set-up to handle this regardless of remote work.
Jordan Axani has a long track-record of bold acts that move and inspire people. Whether becoming one of the youngest people to bike across Canada, or being at the centre of the most viral human-interest story in the internet’s history (the tale of a Canadian man giving away a plane ticket that earned 4.5-billion media hits), he now uses that entrepreneurial and creative spark to attack the biggest problems facing our mental wellness.
Jordan is currently the co-founder of Shift Collab, one of Canada’s largest therapy and mental health education firms.