The freedom to work when and where you choose is a huge draw card for today’s workforce. But what happens when we don’t choose, and remote work is thrust upon us? That’s the situation many workers are facing with the onset of work from home and self-quarantine policies designed to slow the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19).
In the face of such sudden and often unprepared-for changes to our working environments — how can we help newly remote workers to stay connected?
- Embrace transparency and authenticity
- Make video communication a BAU activity
- Become video conferencing experts
- Use team messaging apps, better
- Learn from the best
Embrace transparency and authenticity
Contrary to many assumptions about working from home, you are probably going to learn a lot more about your colleague’s personal life, a lot sooner, than you would with regular water-cooler conversations at the office.
I’ve been given a tour of a team member’s new flat, admired their freshly mown lawn, squealed when their pets and kids make an appearance and watched them preparing dinner — glimpses into the personal lives of my colleagues that I’ve never had in my other office jobs.
Some people might not be comfortable with this level of transparency, and there are ways to control how much of your home life you reveal if this is you. For example; a designated room or back-to-the-wall position for video calls and filming, a sign on your door for kids and roommates to let them know when not to interrupt (sadly this doesn’t work for attention-seeking pets).
Even in a regular ‘bricks n mortar’ workplace communication can be a challenge, but with asynchronous communication, there are even fewer cues to help you understand context and tone. The glimpses of your working environment, and most of all your face and your body language, can really help to avoid the crossed-wires often related with text-only communication.
Which is where we find video invaluable. Whether it’s a project update, an executive decree or someone taking the time to explain a new policy — video helps to improve understanding and build empathy. With a little context, a lot of ums and plenty of background distractions (pets, baristas, lawnmowers) communication breakdowns and misunderstandings can often be avoided.
Make video communication a BAU activity
You don’t need fancy tools to take advantage of proxy face-to-face communication channels like video. Every one of your colleagues owns a smartphone or a computer, at the very least they can film a message on their device and send it via your team messaging app, email or SMS.
Here’s how we use video at VideoMyJob to help remote employees feel part of a close-knit team — no matter how far apart they may be.
Become video conferencing experts
Aside from one-way video, we also try to get on video calls as often as necessary. Every Monday we have an all-hands team call, and smaller team and cross-team video meetings are happening every day.
We also record all of our Zoom meetings so colleagues who can’t attend, or teammates who could learn from the discussion, can catch up in their own time.
If you’re new to video conferencing, here are my quick tips for mastering the VC
- Ask yourself, is it necessary?
- Use headphones (reduces background interference)
- Turn on your video (empathy is established so much quicker with faces)
- Speak up, don’t be afraid to ask questions or interrupt — it can get a bit weird on VC with lags and jitters, persevere, we’re all experiencing the same challenges, don’t let it stop you contributing
- Respect time, just because there’s no one knocking on the meeting room door to kick you out, it doesn’t mean you can go over your allotted meeting time.
Use team messaging apps, better
Most companies now have access to Slack, Microsoft Team, Yammer and other team messaging services.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t always mean we use them well.
Suddenly having an all-remote team will really put your team’s messaging habits to the test.
At VideoMyJob we use Slack, I'm definitely no Slack black-belt but here are my top tips for beginners for using it productively:
We’re all more than a little addicted to the ping of notifications. If you’re in a meeting, deep in a concentration-heavy task or you’ve clocked off for the day — pause notifications to stop getting distracted or pulled back into work after-hours.
Set your Do Not Disturb schedule so that it reflects your normal non-working hours.
Similar to above, if you’re commuting, off sick, on leave — use your Slack status to let the team know at a glance where you are.
If a tree falls in the forest ...
If you’re posting a group message in one of your team’s channels, use @here or @channel to make sure those online receive a notification. If you want to ensure a specific individual gets a notification, use @name in the message.
Remind me about this
Possibly one of Slack’s best features. I use this when I receive a message or request that I'm unable to respond to or resolve immediately.
Simply click ‘Remind me about this’ and create a reminder for a time-frame that suits. You can review all of your reminders in the #Slackbot channel.
Often you can resolve things quicker by just picking up the phone. If you’re having a lengthy Slack conversation, ask your colleague if you can call (you get a choice of voice or video). The benefits of using the app are not having to fumble around for your mobile, find a colleague's number in your staff directory or leave the conversation thread you actually need to refer to.
Depending on your plan, you may have access to Slack’s Group video calls, another great way to stay in the same tab and have a quick team video catch up.
Learn from the best
We regularly check out resources created by other companies who have been doing remote for a while, I’m a massive fan of GitLab who operate an all-remote workforce and have some of the best resources around — which they happily share —for successful remote work.
- GitLab All-Remote Company Handbook
- Google Distributed Work Playbooks
- Zapier The Ultimate Guide to Remote Work
With many of us dealing with remote work ‘en masse’ for the first time, it’s wonderful to see some leaders really stepping up and sharing policies, handbooks and other useful HR documentation with the community. Lars Schmidt has done an amazing job of crowdsourcing the resources in the document below.
- Lars Schmidt, Amplify Talent Public Coronavirus Company Communications
Until now, running a remote workforce has been inconceivable, a crazy idea reserved for Silicon Valley startups. But with the availability of high-speed internet, high-quality video call software, great team messaging apps and the ease of smartphone video production, employees have all the tools they need to be productive, from anywhere.
Perhaps Coronavirus will be the start of a worldwide trend towards working from home. If we do it right, just think of the positive impact this could have on the environment, work-life balance (no more commuting) and company overheads.
Stay tuned, stay connected, stay safe.