To help us all along, we sought out the advice of change consultant Nicole Reilly and wife of our Head of Ecommerce, Sean Reilly, to get some tips to best practice when working from home.
As someone who has worked independently for several years as Principal Consultant at Growth Through Knowledge, the current remote working situation isn’t too much of a shift for me. My clients range from multinational corporations through to single person start-ups, and many of the big change programmes I’ve worked on have had geographically dispersed teams across multiple time zones - so even if I’m in an office during my own working day, others aren’t around at the same time so I have to be mindful of what, how and when to communicate.
Even so, there are definitely a few extra things even I have learned since the world moved online, as part of our global efforts to combat COVID-19.
Take care of yourself
Find some space
Having children and pets around constantly (particularly cats that like warm laptops) isn’t great for concentration, so if you can carve out some quiet space even if just for an hour or so, do.
In our house, if a door is closed and someone is in the room, then it means check before you enter. Our teenaged boys are very used to either of us being on calls, but smaller ones may need more help to understand this.
Are you sitting comfortably?
Kitchen or dining room chairs are fine short term, but longer term you’ll need to think about workspace ergonomics to make sure you don’t emerge from Coronavirus lockdown with some permanent back issues!
Extra padding is crucial – roll up a big jumper for lumbar support, try to keep your feet flat on the floor, and your hands “floating” whilst you type on your laptop. A cushion on your seat will certainly help to ease the pressure on your spine and lower legs.
Make sure you’re raising your head and looking forward more frequently too – your head weighs several kilos, and that’s a lot of neck strain over time from hunching over a laptop.
Watch that balance!
Many remote workers report doing longer hours, without the daily commute or interruptions in an office environment. Timebox your tasks, set reminders for breaks and make sure you eat properly - don’t just grab snacks in front of your screen.
One of my long-term remote working colleagues recommends NOT checking emails or notifications first thing, otherwise he finds he’s lost half a morning just reviewing and responding. He prefers to schedule an hour mid to late morning, when his energy dips and he can tackle these with a tea or coffee in hand.
In the UK we’re still allowed to get out once a day for some exercise; a walk round the block that coincides with a visit to the corner shop for another pint of milk covers several bases at once.
Set boundaries, for yourself and others.
It’s very tempting to “just check” messages in the evenings, or to cram back-to-back calls into your day. You may also find that once friends, relatives or neighbours discover you’re “working from home” they will call, ask you to run errands or even expect your house to become the local parcel delivery drop off. Just.say.no.
Working as a team
Sometimes it’s difficult when you can’t see or perhaps haven’t even met those you now find yourself working with. Good communication is absolutely crucial.
Remote first behaviours.
By having meetings on a remote first basis, the people who are not physically present are not placed at a disadvantage. You’ve probably experienced this when you’ve dialled into a session where there’s a mixture of people in the room and elsewhere. A bit easier right now as everyone is remote, but one to bear in mind for the future.
An example: I’m a big Formula 1 fan, and during the team debriefs shown on TV my eldest son has asked me “why do all the people have headsets on in front of their screens, when they’re all in the same room?”
What he didn’t realise is that not ALL of the team are physically present. There may be up to 20 people in the room at the track - but there are many people back at the factory who also need to participate in the debrief on equal terms.
Clear, concise messages that are understood.
Daily Stand Ups work well for project teams – although be sure to pick an optimum slot for those joining across multiple time zones. Stick to the same time/place every day, and make sure everyone understands that attendance is not optional. It will help to establish a regular cadence, quickly.
Keep the stand-up focused and short; anything more than “what I’m working on today” and “what I need help with now” needs to be addressed separately. Good teams can get these done in less than 15 minutes! Do try to stand up too – it keeps focus and energy levels high. Think sports teams when they huddle to work out their next move on the field.
Follow up remote meetings with notes and actions, checking directly with anyone you think didn’t quite get everything during the main session.
Don’t neglect social time.
It’s becoming increasingly apparent that people need informal as well as formal opportunities to connect with their teams. Practices like Virtual Campfires, Coffees or Watercoolers are great ways to spend some less structured time with colleagues online, sharing what’s going well (or otherwise), or just asking each other how they and their families are doing.
Maybe its something you could do on a Wednesday afternoon, when many feel the slump. I’m trying out #BringABrew with some of my colleagues!
5 Quick Tips for Conference and Video Calls
- Camera ON, find the Mute button and use it; If others are complaining of an echo or other interference but you can’t hear it - it’s YOU, so drop off and re-join.
- Use a virtual background on Zoom, or the background blur function on Teams to hide your personal space behind you from prying eyes.
- Half an hour is probably long enough; things happen quicker virtually than in person, and what might usually be an hour’s meeting in person will probably be shorter once everyone shows up on time and is more focused than usual.
- Dial in a few minutes early, to check your audio and video settings; Conference Call Bingo will get very tiresome after several weeks of remote working.
- Use a headset with a microphone; if you can get a dual channel Bluetooth one, even better as you’ll be able to switch almost seamlessly between computer and phone calls.