With many businesses in the Seattle area mandating work-from-home policies in the face of a rapidly evolving coronavirus outbreak, now is a good time to revisit best practices that can make working remotely as productive as possible.
Many of the key ingredients of effective remote work are not new concepts to most people, but they bear repeating given this sudden change in workplace rhythms.
One of the biggest enemies of productivity when out of the office is a lack of imposed structure and business atmosphere that can impact the work mindset. For this reason, it’s important to take steps to mentally prepare for the workday, which may only involve moving from the kitchen table to an adjacent room.
Separating work and home life takes a deliberate approach given the vast number of available distractions that can compromise productivity. Create a designated workspace that is quiet and will allow you to focus.
Communicate your schedule clearly to family members who may be in the home during the day. And make sure to build in breaks that will allow you to briefly step away and clear your mind. Doing chores or taking a walk can be great mental breaks that will also ease the burden when you return to home life.
Working remotely can leave people feeling out of the loop, so err on the side of over-communication. Team leaders can consider beginning each day with team-wide communication to create a sense that the collective workday has begun.
Taking steps to let colleagues know when you will be available during the day is another important step as visual cues, like a closed office door, may be reduced. Setting “busy” or “in a meeting” status notifications is a good practice. This will help ensure you are able to carve out time for work that requires deep focus, but also allows you to remain accessible to others.
Microsoft Teams and similar workplace collaboration tools are used in most workplaces, and while the degree of use varies, these tools are critical for maintaining connections when people are working remotely.
BitTitan uses Teams’ chat and call features for quick questions, check-ins or simply to connect in an informal way. The company also uses Teams to ensure efficient communication to specific groups of people, such as messages from HR to department heads. The sales and marketing groups use Teams for project updates, meeting summaries, tracking customer activity as well as sharing emojis and short videos for fun, team-building respites during an otherwise busy day.
Using video-conferencing technology to conduct team meetings also can enhance a sense of accountability and presence that is often lacking during audio conference calls. Most people are accustomed to conducting video conferences with small groups or when only a few people are remote.
But video conferencing works for large gatherings as well, so there is no need to postpone important business meetings until employees return to the office. Having the ability to record important meetings can be helpful for employees who are juggling the challenges of child care and other disruptions brought on by the current environment and who may miss a meeting.
One of the drawbacks of remote work is the reduced opportunity to have face-to-face interactions with colleagues that are the foundation for connection and camaraderie. Relying entirely on written communication comes with the drawbacks associated with the absence of tone and body language to help decipher meaning.
Simple actions can help maintain positive connections, such as using humor and friendly banter with colleagues. It also can be effective to engage virtually for informal gatherings, such as team lunches, to help maintain positive group dynamics.
While the sudden mandate for employees to work remotely can present challenges, it need not disrupt the normal flow of business. Perhaps in the process, companies will learn something new about remote work dynamics and can use this as an opportunity to adopt new tools, enhance communication and improve policies.
PAM CORY is vice president of global marketing for BitTitan, a Bellevue-based cloud-services provider.