Remoting in the time of corona

April 7th, 2020 Posted by Michelle Mpofu The future, Employee Experience, coronavirus, family

Okay. Shit is real. We are on lockdown. Now what? Working remotely is no joke: your kids are bouncing off the walls, switching to Netflix from that educational video you left them with along with your best intentions, while you scurry off to try to be valuable to your company before you get retrenched. It’s no joke.

Our president’s announcements so far have hit hard, and they’re going to have serious Ramaphosifications, but we really ought to take just a moment to be grateful for the class act that is Cyril and his executive. Truly, we congratulate your proactive, responsible approach to this thing – for the first time in many years, it feels like we have a leader who truly cares about his people.

Okay, what we’re here for: remote working is for some of us nothing new, for others, a total and utter shock to the system that we’re trying to adjust to in a hurry.

There are a whole lot of companies across the world that will come out of this pandemic as fully remote businesses. No doubt, this phenomenon is changing our world – have we ever witnessed a quicker paradigm shift? And we can take this opportunity with both hands. Most of us, when change comes knocking, cling nervously to our comfy chairs and hope it will pass us by; but change is a good thing, even when it feels really bad; it’s a chance to grow and become a better us – to shed that skin and start anew. That’s exciting.

But while we’re embracing this new version of ourselves, we still need to work out how to function each day as individuals and as part of a remote work team.

At Tenaka, we’ve been partly remoting (one or two days a week) for some time, so there are things we’re comfortable with, like meetings where up to half of the team is online and using communication and shared content platforms. However, there are areas that are new to us: this is the first time every one of us is remoting and meeting from our homes. It’s the first time anyone has seen me on camera in my bedroom.

So here are some tips to make this rapid transition a little easier and make sure that you are efficient, organised, but also still able to laugh with each other and be real in a time when we need it most.

Tips for employers

Choose, test and align on the right platforms

Remote work experts, Mural, suggest that a team needs to consider five areas for remote working:

  1. Meetings – video conferencing software that enables group conversations: Zoom, Google Hangouts, Google chat, Skype, Microsoft Teams, Facebook for Business
  2. Ongoing communication – chat threads where you can reply later: email, (we love and live on) Slack, Monday, WhatsApp, Messenger
  3. Content sharing – a place where you keep documents, code, videos, images, etc, that people can access from anywhere: (we depend on) Google Drive, Dropbox, WeTransfer
  4. Getting organised – coordinating work and making sure everyone is accountable for their work: Trello, Asana, ClickUp or localised agency project management software such as Magnetic 
  5. Co-creating visually – a space where everyone can share ideas through words, sketches and media in real time to come up with solutions: (we’re growing in) Mural, Miro

It’s important to choose the right platform for your team: 

  1. Try as many as you need until you find the right one. It’s okay to fail and try something else.
  2. Make sure everyone knows which platforms to use and can access and use them (at least basic functions)
  3. Hold a test session for the platform before you use it for work. This way, you can iron out issues before you start truly relying on the platform to get stuff done.
Allocate roles for remote work

Who’s going to: 

  1. manage the admin around remoting and make sure everyone knows what they have to do by when? 
  2. take care of technical issues? 
  3. be responsible for putting together a helpful communications approach, now that you’re not in the same space? 

Giving people roles that they can get stuck into is giving this new way of working the best chance of running smoothly. But it’s also hugely important in helping people feel purposeful in their disjointed isolation. Everyone wants to feel they are contributing, and this is a great opportunity to achieve that and make remote working effective. 

Map out the tasks involved, decide who’s going to be responsible for each, and make sure you allow time in the daily schedule to carry out and refine those tasks.

Experiment and be okay with failure

This might just be the future of working. Thousands of companies across the globe are making it work already, and there are many benefits. So try different things, learn what works and doesn’t and make changes until you have the right solution for your business. Keep a record of your failures and successes – it will come in useful.

Establish and communicate guidelines

Working differently means a new set of rules – approaches that were okay in the office don’t work so well remotely; others are irrelevant: 

  1. Decide what your new guidelines are, then take the team through them and allow questions – this is better than simply sharing a document and assuming everyone will read it
  2. Post the guidelines in a public place so that everyone can access them freely in their own time, and allow for a review later on to chat about how people are doing with them

Guidelines should cover internal behaviours as well as how we deal with customers, and should include areas such as communications, work schedules and management, dealing with technical or other unforeseen issues, even what to do if someone gets sick. 

Boundaries that were once clear become blurred when you take your work into your home: people forget to switch off, to take time for themselves, to not message a colleague at 10pm with a random idea. Do everyone a favour by being clear on what’s acceptable and what’s not.

Keep your clients in the loop

It’s important to let your clients know how changes you make might affect them: we do a lot of qualitative research that involves sitting face-to-face with a person or a group of people for an hour or two. Other than getting out the face masks and gloves, we’re likely to be facilitating these conversations online. Our clients need to know that the way we work is changing, but the quality of the output won’t. Keep your clients in the loop; invite them to have a say in how they would like to have meetings or how they prefer to receive information. It’s not only the right thing to do, but also a chance to nurture those relationships and let them know that you are there to support them through these crazy times.

Get smart about meetings

Meeting (online) when you are remote working is even more important – this is a time when we need cohesion, someone to share thoughts with, and a chance to make sure we are all aligned. But meetings in this new digital space are a different story to getting together around a table. Here are some tips:

  1. Share the agenda before the meeting – if all participants know what the meeting is about, nobody is put on the spot and there’s less time thinking over issues
  2. Start every meeting with a warm up or check in – do something simple and fun that gets everybody smiling, like making shapes with your hands, charades or drawing. Google remote warm ups to find lots of helpful resources.
  3. Consider what you are trying to achieve and whether a meeting is the right platform to achieve it: is it more effective to communicate through a platform like Slack or would it be better to just get on a call quickly and resolve the question?
  4. Start the meeting with the objective and revisit the objective at the end – stating the objective at the start of the meeting (the person who called the meeting should do this) helps you stay focussed and productive. Always check before you close the meeting that the objective has been reached.
  5. Practise having one decision maker for each decision – this reduces the risk of diverging into irrelevant topics and becoming unproductive
  6. Put video on when you can and always be engaged – this is important both for making sure everyone is aligned and for that human connection

Take helpful minutes and share them with whole team, including anyone who couldn’t make it; use an interactive document so that others can add their thoughts afterwards

Maintain informal communication

Your team is used to having a quick chat in the kitchen while they make tea, wait for the photocopier or just pass each other’s desks. These informal opportunities to connect simply disappear with everyone working from their own homes. Structure online sessions where colleagues have a chance to chat informally. This might seem strange at first, but we humans are versatile creatures and we’ll get the hang of it soon enough. You might want to try a ‘happy hour’, where you meet on Zoom or Skype to chat about non-work topics, or you may decide to have breakaway sessions after company meetings, allowing employees to have their own calls in small groups. Encourage them by suggesting topics if necessary, or even give simple games to play.

 

Tips for employees and employers (for humans)

Stuck at home; kids screaming in your ear; wondering if you’ve got enough supplies for lockdown; wondering if you’ve got enough sanity. Adjusting is tough, but there are things you can do to make this easier:

  1. Start a routine: as much as this is out of the ordinary, imposing a little of the ordinary onto it will help us keep our sanity. Get up and go to bed at the same time every day, as much as you can – it’s good for healthy sleep, but it also going to allow you to settle quicker into this situation and be more productive.
  2. Do some goddamn exercise: start every day with a little bit of something that gets your heart rate up. If you have space, run around your property; if you don’t, run on the spot or find something on YouTube – who’s is today’s Jane Fonda? – that’ll get you sweating. I can testify from experience: starting your day out of breath – from exercise, not lung complications – is going to mean a brighter day.
  3. Be kind to yourself and others: the more human we can be for ourselves and each other at this time, the easier the transition will be and the better we will come out the other side. We are in this together, even though we’re apart.
  4. Set boundaries: if you live with any other humans, or even non-human creatures, make sure they understand where your workspace is and when you can and can’t be disturbed. Trying to flap off an unwelcome interruption while maintaining a professional facade in a client video call is distressing for everyone (if a little funny for observers); setting those boundaries before you start will help everyone to understand what’s okay and not.

Speak up: even though your team seems far away, don’t be afraid to speak up if you need help or are not coping with work or the way remoting is panning out. Reach out to a colleague or flag your boss for a quick chat about your concerns. You will feel better; your boss/colleague will likely be able to help and will be grateful that you cared enough to speak up.

Be thankful that you still have a job

No-one said this was going to be easy, but it’s happening right now. It’s going to suck sometimes, but at those times, keep in mind how lucky you are to still have a job. This is an iterative process, and mistakes will only help us to learn the right way. So keep these overall tips in mind as you navigate and refine your remote working approach:

  1. Delegate a remote working management team or person
  2. Tweak your approach until it works
  3. Document the process
  4. Keep your employees and their needs in focus
  5. Be transparent with employees and clients
  6. Treat this as an opportunity to learn and progress
  7. Remember that we are all humans and that we’re in this together

Adversity presents opportunity

In these trying times, remember that everyone is going through the same thing, and that we can take the business challenges we face as opportunities to grow and position ourselves for future success. If we think carefully and learn from our mistakes, we are bound to emerge from this experience as stronger, more agile businesses.

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