Lessons from a remote work lifestyle
I am grateful to work for an employer who offers flexible work arrangements.
In my first four years at ISM Canada I worked directly with local clients and delivery teams coming into the office almost every day. Once I moved into a new role that required me to work with teams outside of my primary geographic location, I started working from home much more frequently.
It took some time to adapt to this new work culture and I learned some lessons very quickly both about work effectiveness and retaining the very essential social aspect. As many organizations are suddenly facing the prospect of a remote workforce for a prolonged duration, I wanted to share some of my learnings over the past two years.
I want to start with the personal and social side, as it often takes a back seat to more immediate concerns directly related to accomplishing the work.
Be deliberate about actively participating in social channels. At my work we use Slack although I’m sure there are other instant messenger and group chat options out there. I don’t just use it for work related conversations. I participate in a number of channels and groups that include pet photos, current events, thought provoking articles, general chit-chat and more. I get a lot of joy out of using gifs, sending and receiving cartoons and videos, and otherwise engaging with my colleagues around the country.
Web-based video is not just for formal meetings. If you need to have a quick conversation and would normally swing by that person’s desk, don’t just pick up the phone or send an instant message. Open your webex/zoom/etc and have a quick video conference. You can use it to connect with colleagues during coffee and lunch breaks to catch up on life outside of work like you normally would in the office.
Speaking of taking breaks: working from home can be a blessing and a curse. I often will sit down at my desk first thing in the morning and suddenly it’s 1PM and my back and eyes are telling me I haven’t taken a break yet. On the flip side, sometimes I find it hard to focus when the dogs start barking or I walk by the pile of laundry waiting to be done. While it can take a while to find a good balance and get into the groove, ensuring I have a consistent schedule that works for me has been key. In the early days of working from home I would set blocks of time in my calendar for a variety of items including breaks and set reminders to ensure I was taking advantage of them. For me a break might include walking up and down the stairs a few times, standing outside in the sunshine with a cup of tea, or taking my dogs for a walk around the park near my house. I admit I still eat lunch at my desk more often than not, but I try to use some of that time to participate in Slack channel chats or catch up on the news.
As for actually getting the work done and not losing loads of productivity, here are a few pointers for adjusting to the new work environment.
Use video chat for meetings that would typically be in person. Turn on your webcam and participate fully – don’t multitask just because you aren’t physically in the room. And, just as you would for in person meetings, if you have a more pressing task to accomplish consider asking for the meeting to be rescheduled or send a delegate. I personally find that online meetings require more preparation and focus and can be very frustrating if people talk over each other or otherwise don’t practice good etiquette for the venue. There’s a painfully funny video that shows if a video conference call was actually in person that I often think of when I’m on back-to-back remote meetings. If you are not used to meeting remotely you might want to take sometime to familiarize yourself with the technology as well as the etiquette around video meetings.
Group brainstorming can take place remotely. There are great tools like Mural that facilitate brainstorming activities including features like virtual post-it notes. I enjoy participating in sessions that utilize these tools just as much as I enjoy white boarding with small groups in person.
Over communicate with your teammates and manager. You might not realize it until you aren’t in the same workspace together, but a lot of information is shared when you are working in a pod of cubicles with your teammates or able to grab a coffee with your manager. Think about how you are communicating as well as how often. Some teams find a daily stand-up (what I did yesterday, what I am working on today, help I need) is integral to keeping the information flowing. Others send regular email or Slack updates. You can also host a video conference and share your screen so that you are all looking at the same thing in real time. There are many options for communicating with your team. Explore them all and find the right combination that works for you!
These two short lists are just scratching the surface but if you start with these, you’re already a step ahead of where I was when I first started working from home. What are some of the trials and tribulations you have encountered as you transitioned to remote work? If you have more tips and tricks, I’d love to hear them!