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In a past life, I run three development centres Kula Lumper, London and Seattle. The London and Seattle teams had a number of remote workers. Projects could be run locally in one centre or be run 24 x 5 across all centres. Keeping everyone on the same page was quite a challenge not least for the remote workers. To help others avoid the pitfuls and tribulations I experienced I have produced this Working From Home Survival Guide

The following Reflects my experience of managing and being one of the remote workers.

The Working From Home Survival Guide

Workspace

Not everyone has appropriate space at home where they can concentrate or attend online confidential conversations that can be set aside for work during regular office hours.

Available space may become unavailable for various reasons from School holidays, visiting family or neighbour refurbishing their kitchen.

Home is a family environment. Presence is associated with availability which is not always compatible with work. A way of indicating to others that you are not currently available, a personal “Busy Light” helps reduce interruptions.

An alternative location such as a coffee shop with good WiFi is advisable as a short term alternative for the unexpected such as failure of home internet.

Internet Connection

Speed is not everything. Contention ratio also affects real-world usability. The contention ratio is the number of users that share the same connection and is dependant on provider and area. Typical contention ratios for the UK are 50:1 if all 50 users are streaming video at the same time your connection speed is not going to be great. For more info see https://www.broadbandchoices.co.uk/guides/broadband/what-is-contention-ratio

WiFi Speeds

WiFi speeds can be very misleading. There are a limited number o channels and if everyone in your house and nearby is using the same channel performance can be quite poor. Connecting to your router with a cable if practical avoids this issue but your internet connection bandwidth is still shared with all the WiFi users in your home.

Communication

Office work has a rhythm which people pick up on and is absent when working from home. No one suggests going for a coffee, and they don’t meet at the coffee machine. The home working rhythm is more personal, with interruptions such as a child arriving home from school.

Keeping synchronised with co-workers so that they know you are present even though you cannot be seen is important. They don’t see you are away from your desk, so don’t know you can not see the important message.

Communicate regularly, tell them “going for a coffee” when you leave your desk and don’t forget to tell them you are back!

Maintain healthy hours

When the commute to the office is waking from one room to another, it is so easy to lose the boundaries between work and home.

Be aware of starting work when you would normally leave the house and stopping at the normal time of returning.

Though the stress of the commute is no longer endured, concentration uses up mental energy which takes time to replace, as it runs down performance reduces, more hours working does not equal more production.

Make sure to take breaks, stay hydrated, and give yourself opportunities to “clock out” from remote work at the end of the day.

Create new normal – for example, a working day from 7 am to 3 pm or split into two parts 8 am to 12 pm for meetings etc. and 6 pm to 10 pm for writing the reports once the kids are in bed.

Managing your day can significantly reduce work-related stress and simultaneously increase performance. This may only be possible for none client-facing workers.

Ensure meetings have an online option

Most meeting waste most of the time for most of the attendees. It is very easy if a meeting is online to work while the meeting is in progress, less time wasted but increased possibility of missing that vital piece of information.

Attendees should be video present, not just audio so everyone can interact face to face and feel more connected.

When attending video meetings, be aware not only of what is behind you but what may appear there!

Be mindful and inclusive

In a fast-paced and noisy meeting, it is easy for remote attendees to feel ignored and fail to get their point across. Pause frequently to allow time for questions and comments make sure before the meeting closes no one has anything left to contribute.

Record your meetings

Unless there is a good reason not to record your meetings, it can be made available to attendees or achieved.

Alternatively, the audio can be processed by software to produce a transcript.

This can reduce scheduling issues and enable staff not able to attend to see later.

The virtual  Watercooler/coffee machine

People stand around the watercooler/coffee machine sometimes chatting about their weekend and other tines about a problem they are having. In this informal environment, ideas can flow more smoothly, and many solutions found that would not have considered otherwise.

Don’t let them drift away from us

Working remotely can feel a bit isolating. It’s essential to create opportunities for the whole team to get together regularly. Where this is not physically possible then virtually, but even then there should be opportunities less regularly, say quarterly for a get-together or “day in the office”.

General Tips

  • A quick video call can save many more minutes and significantly less disruptive than a long back-and-forth email chain. Body language is transmitted to an extent phone calls are not as good as video, but they ARE better than endless Email or instant messages
  • Your webcam on calls – helps you know when people have finished speaking or want to speak.
  • Use an online system to track and record updates NOT EMAIL! Centralising the updates and statuses keeps the team really focussed and aware also enables team members to check at any time without the possibility of missing and update or it getting lost in someone’s inbox!
  • it’s really hard to judge what the general mood of a distributed team, so introduce a low-key way of sharing general feelings – Working from home for some can be a lonely experience, mood affects performance and poor performance from a team member can affect the whole team. Make it the teams responsibility to ensure every one feels engaged.
  • make a bit of time social chat – people are not machines, nobody wants or can be on the go 100% of the time. Being social withing the team improves communication and mood.
  • People do not multitask! They task switch – Task switching disrupts concentration work and home are different mental places moving from one to the other throughout the day can be tiring.
  • Do make tea/coffee/stretch your legs – Essential to stretch the legs, circulation will be hindered if you walk less than in the office, and it’s surprising how much movement is reduced when its only 10 steps to the kettle or a family member is only being helpful in bring you a tasty beverage of your choice. It can have an impact on health, which isn’t good considering the circumstances.
  • if you feel a bit lonely, a bit confused by some work, or feel like you’re making no headway – ping somebody to share a feeling or frustration. When nobody can pick up on your furrowed brow or sighs of annoyance, it can feel like you have to fix it all yourself, but we work in teams for a reasons

For assistance or a no sales conversation on how to support your people working from home please do get in touch