Times are changing and they are changing FAST! By now, COVID-19 has likely impacted the way you live and the way you work. With so much uncertainty and change, it’s important to stay focused, nimble, and flexible when it comes to working. Many businesses are being forced to transition from a traditional office setting to working from home, and it can pose several challenges for both managers and employees.
We’re here to help! Although headquartered in Santa Ana, California, for many years Smarty Social ran as an entirely virtual agency and still has employees both near and far, so we’ve learned a thing or two about how to work from home as a team and want to share some of our tips and tricks with the rest of the world adjusting to the new norm.
If you’re a manager trying to figure out how to rally your team and get organized, the single most important thing is consistent and clear communication. In the words of one of our favorite authors, Brene Brown, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” To help you navigate the waters, here are the four most important things for a remote team to function from a management perspective.
1. Clear Communication
This is the time to over-communicate, and not just through email or text. Our hero, Simon Sinek, has some wise words to say about it in his latest IG post. So much can be lost with written words, and with so many emails flying around outlining what every single company is doing about the Coronavirus, things will get lost and wires will get crossed. It may seem difficult or not efficient, but daily huddles and check-ins with your team go a long way, especially as things are changing rapidly. Sending out regular communications and updates, laying out clear expectations at the start of each week, and prioritizing work daily is key right.
2. Efficient Work Systems
Staying organized enough to get work done while you are remote can be hard. Developing clear processes and ways of managing them are vital. Using a project management tool (our favorite is Asana) to keep projects organized virtually, assign tasks, and see how everyone is doing against those tasks is what keeps things moving efficiently. Instead of wonderin
3. A Solid Suite of Communication and Management Tools
Working remote requires multiple channels of communication. Our team could not survive without Slack and Zoom video conference meetings. Using management and organization tools like Asana and Airtable are also lifesavers. It has become more important than ever to know what your team members are working on each day, so using a time tracking app, like Harvest, can give you lots of insight on team bandwidth or burnout.
4. Human Connection
This can make or break a remote team. When you’re sitting behind your screen all day without anyone to laugh with, vent to, or the ability to read your team’s body language, it’s all too easy to misinterpret things. We require our team to turn their camera on for our video conferences even if they aren’t looking their best, and we have Slack channels that are reserved simply to share shout outs and have a little water cooler fun.
If you’ve been asked to work from home and don’t know where to start, don’t stress. With a little bit of planning and focus you’ll be in a groove in no time. Here are some of our top tips from the trenches.
1. Stick to Your Normal Routine
It may seem easy to begin the workday at home without sticking to your normal routine. Here’s our simple response to that: don’t. Wake up, exercise if that’s what you normally do, get dressed and stick to your morning routine. Not only will this make you feel better physically, but it’s also going to put you in the right mindset to get work done and be productive. If you start the day how you would on a Sunday, your mindset for the rest of the day will likely follow. Fun fact: so many fitness companies are offering free online sessions right now. Our team just signed up for Obe Fitness to take virtual classes together and keep up team morale.
2. Create a Dedicated Workspace
From people who have been doing this for years, it’s essential to create a space for you to work in. Trust us, separating work and home is a necessity. If possible, try to utilize a desk in a quiet space and avoid places like your bed or couch. Even if it’s just your kitchen table, try to find a space where your laptop can sit on a flat surface and you have to sit up. This is also a great way to have your kiddos working nearby, allowing you the freedom to help with schoolwork as needed. When the day is done, leave that space (or clean it up) as a signal to yourself that the workday is done.
3. Take Breaks
This is one of the hardest things to do, but something you should try for every day. Just as you would get up and walk to a co-worker’s desk or get coffee during the day, you should continue to do this while at home. Some ideas…go outside to get the mail, take pets outside, or go up and down your stairs a couple of times. Another good idea is to take a walk around the neighborhood while on conference calls to keep your body moving. Trust us, sitting in one place for an extended period of time doesn’t contribute to productivity and creativity. You might also get a little cranky, so get up and move!
4. Understand How You Work and Communicate Often
Most of us are likely working within a team at our jobs, so it’s important to understand how you work best and can contribute while working remotely. If you normally touch base with a manager every morning to get your to-do list in order, continue to do that via email, instant message or phone call. Our recommendation is to conduct more phone calls than not so that you hear a human’s voice and can understand their tone. The same goes for team meetings. If you’re on a team that meets daily or even weekly, continue to have those meetings to ensure everyone is on the same page. The more communication, the better. Smarty’s go-to’s are Slack for messaging and Zoom for video conferencing (don’t forget to turn on the “touch up my appearance” feature!) On the flip side, if you know you need quiet time to work without so much stimulation from communication, tell your coworkers you are putting yourself as “away” to work on projects, answer emails, etc. Even doing this for just an hour or so will help you get through your to-do list.
5. Set an End Time and Stick to It
When working remotely, it’s easy to fall into the trap of “I’ll just get online for another hour to finish up that project”. Unfortunately, what typically happens is that you end up online for 3 hours and the project still isn’t done. Our recommendation to save your sanity is to set an end time and stick to it. If you’re used to getting off work at a certain time, try to adhere to that so the rest of your life can remain on schedule.
6. Have Compassion and Understanding
We saved the most important for last. You and coworkers may find that children, dogs, spouses and more find themselves in the same room for conference and video calls. Try to understand that everyone is doing their best to make this situation work. Don’t be surprised if unexpected noises make their way onto calls or if someone has to take a break to help their child with take-home schoolwork or to fix lunch. Schedules may have to be flexible too while folks are at home, so overall let’s all just try and put ourselves in each other’s shoes during this time and not be so quick to judge or get irritated.
For more advice on how to stay productive, check out our 12 Apps for Productivity blog!
Funny, real-life tips from our team:
- If your dog starts barking, you better find that mute button on your phone real quick!
- Babies are always invited to join video conferences – because let’s be real, it’s just going to put everyone in a good mood.
- Pajamas are not a work outfit, so take a few minutes each morning to think about what you wear. Putting on jeans, slacks or even a dress can help boost your confidence and help keep you from feeling bad about yourself. That said, on some days leggings are just as good as pants.
- Take another few minutes in the morning to dress up your hair and makeup. It will make you feel so much better about yourself every time you hit the bathroom and look in the mirror throughout the day.
- Too many days without showering and getting dressed isn’t doing anyone any favors. Clean up and help yourself feel human.
- Airpods are a godsend. Trust us, your spouse can only take you having so many conference calls on speaker before they freak out.
- Coffee is not breakfast and lunch. Make yourself some food and actually eat.
- We’ve already talked about the “mute” button on your phone, but let’s bring that back up. If you’re willing to risk using the bathroom on a call, TRIPLE CHECK that thing is on mute. Fun fact: people can’t tell if you’re in the shower though, so muting is not necessary. 🙈