It’s hard to believe, but we at Trillium are already almost exactly a month into working from home. Some of us are seasoned work-from-homers; many others are only now doing it for the first time. While it’s been remarkably smooth and good-humoured on the whole, we’ve also learnt a few things the hard way.
No one yet knows how long social distancing measures will be in place, and there’s no getting away from it – it’s new, a bit strange and sometimes surprisingly stressful. Keeping our company culture strong and ensuring the physical and emotional wellbeing of our team during this time is therefore just as important as maintaining productivity. We’ve compiled some key recommendations from our experience below.
This is the obvious one, but it’s worth spelling out anyway: increased communication is essential right now. We take a lot for granted in an office environment, such as being able to see whether our colleagues are at their desks. Now the Trillium team are all in different places, we’ve learnt that we have to put in a little extra effort to communicate our whereabouts more clearly.
Update your calendar and make sure your team has visibility of it. Many people will require extra flexibility and daily schedules might look a little different to the usual. Add any scheduled breaks – such as a walk or time spent setting up children to do schoolwork remotely – to your calendar and remember to check others’. Utilise status features of chat tools, such as in Microsoft Teams, to tell colleagues when you’ve stepped away from your desk and when to expect you back.
Sharing formal updates is clearly important, but don’t forget to include the positives and celebrate successes that would normally be shared informally within an office environment.
Leadership and team productivity
If you have direct reports, it’s important to acknowledge that a different approach to management might be required. We all know the rules for working in an office environment, but working from home is unchartered territory for many teams. Clearly communicate your expectations for how your reports work remotely, as well as how you plan to schedule your own working time. Also make sure they know which channels are best to reach you on and when.
If you don’t already use one, consider creating a shared to-do list that visibly outlines each team members’ priority tasks for a set period (day, week, etc) as well as those to do in future, those underway and what’s been completed. Don’t forget to declutter and remove completed tasks after a fixed period. This ensures everyone has a good understanding of what others are working on and that you’re all working towards a collective goal. Free tools such as Trello or Microsoft To Do are brilliant for this. Here’s a list of tools for task management from Hubspot.
Make sure to clearly define the structure of your day. It’s remarkably easy (and not helpful) to work extra hours just because you’re close to your desk. Set yourself strict working hours and embed activities into your routine that act as markers for your day. Go for a walk or run in the morning when you would normally be commuting. Do something at the tail end of the day to mark the transition from workday to evening, such as changing into comfortable clothes.
Working with children at home is likely new, even for those who are used to working remotely. Communicate with you manager if you have trouble juggling work and childcare. Sometimes creative solutions can be found just through having a chat; other times flexibility will be needed in dividing your day into manageable chunks.
Consider setting up a remote office space via a tool such as Teams. This is as simple as having a chat window with a colleague ready. It isn’t a meeting – the space doesn’t need to be filled with communication. It’s simply a window to the team or a work buddy that’s there if you need it.
While none of us is likely to be nipping off to the Costa del Sol anytime soon, it’s still important to take a break. If you had annual leave scheduled for a holiday you can no longer go on, consider taking at least some of the time regardless. Everyone needs some downtime.
Not everyone will have access to a home office. And even if you do, your setup might be better suited to short bursts of desk-based activity rather than a full working day. Review what you have and take actions to make your workspace as ergonomically sound as possible. Use this workstation checklist from HSE as a guide.
You might not own a desk, but the key thing is to make sure you’re seated (or standing) somewhere that allows you to be upright and comfortable. Just make sure it’s not your sofa, which is almost certainly an ergonomic nightmare. Having all the right equipment makes a huge difference and will prevent you from slumping over a small laptop screen. If you don’t already have them, source a keyboard, mouse, extra monitor and monitor riser if required. If there are additional things you need to create a good workspace, speak to your employer.
Creating a remote community and maintaining company culture
It’s amazing what a difference seeing your colleagues’ faces makes. A disembodied voice on the other end of the phone is nowhere near as personal as a video call. This isn’t just true for meetings – we’ve found a lot of value in creating regular and varied opportunities for the team to do things together. From a company-wide pub quiz every Thursday evening, to a chat stream in Teams for fun and off-topic posts, to a (highly competitive) running league in Strava, there are a multitude of ways we’ve been able to recreate the in-person social activities that bring us together as a team. We even get together for a virtual beer o’clock on Fridays – with strict no-work-chat rules, of course.
If you’ve historically had a strong social scene, think of ways you can recreate popular activities remotely. Even if this is something your organisation has never had before, it’s never too late to get started. Don’t make them compulsory though – no one likes forced fun. Focus on creating a space in which everyone can connect, be sociable and have fun if they choose to. Get it right, and you won’t need to make anyone’s attendance required.
Maybe an unexpected positive outcome of this situation is that it forces us both as individuals and as organisations to examine our working practices, underlying company culture, team dynamics and management approaches. You might find improvements throughout this experience that can have a lasting impact into the future.
At the very least, we’re certainly finding this whole experience an opportunity for continual learning. Even if those lessons are primarily around remembering to mute your mic before talking to your cat in a silly voice, or how to switch off that darn potato filter on Microsoft Teams…