So: How is that 'New Office' Working For You?
So, how is the new office working out for you? Our inboxes have been flooded with good advice from astute marketers around how to remain connected as a team, ensure we stay focused while working from home, and lots of other survival tips.
As someone who has worked remotely for nigh on two decades, I feel I have an edge on this. And I’m not alone. A Gartner report from last year indicated that 43% of US workers “spend some of their time working remotely.” Those numbers have changed.
It’s lucky that this is all happening in an age characterized by digitalization. We’ve got amazing technology at our fingertips. All we need to do is bring the right attitude forward. And a bit more.
The challenge is we’ve had no time to prepare. And while on the operational side teams are more or less smoothly slipping into gear, there needs to be a game plan to keep everyone aligned. Maggie Craddock, an executive coach for Fortune 500 CEOs and senior management, says there are two different mindsets to manage: “The Big Ship mindset urges you to move fast, stay busy, and play your part. On the other hand, The Lifeboat mindset reminds you to pause under pressure, built in periodic breaks for strategic thinking, and align with your genuine values.”
What people are finding is that in order to be genuinely valuable to others they need to figure out where they stand, first. Loyalty, motivation, and resilience, Maggie says, are the most critical resources right now.
So, how to keep the wheels turning? Let’s take it in stages.
1. The Individual (You)
The obvious thing is to find a space that is yours, has all the plugs you need, room for your monitor(s), and is quiet. Not always easy depending on your home set up, your neighbors, and your fellow housemates. For the younger generation sharing apartments this can be a challenge but it’s one they are managing admiringly. In addition, I’ve noticed that those in their 20s seem to suffer less from distraction around them. They are born with different DNA.
Prepare yourself. Get dressed, as the BBC so charmingly reminded us this week. It’s true, though. Working from bed, working in PJs… even in Yoga gear can bring a certain fuzziness into your day. So: brush your teeth, drink your coffee, and dress. It will psychologically prepare you for work.
Do consider how you dress, though. I remember when “casual Fridays” were a thing. We’ve come a (very) long way since, but the point is, shiny shoes and a clean shirt really do make a difference.
That’s especially true as videoconferencing is having a big moment. Consider how you look and what your space looks like. Try to sit in front of a plain wall (rather than big open space), which offers little distraction and doesn’t show any ‘background traffic.’
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Boundaries are important. Let’s start with hours. What you’ll find working from home is that you never leave the office. While this may seem impressive, it’s really not. It may be difficult to draw the line in the first week or two, but you’ll need to, in order to function effectively. Of course, these days, we’ve all been used to near-24-hour availability and responsiveness. But if this remote working is to be the norm (even in the short term), we’ll need to create boundaries.
The great thing is you’ll experience flexibility as a quid pro quo. Need some time out in the early afternoon to grab some sun and fresh air? It’s not quite about clocking minutes anymore. You’ll make it up later. This is what is meant about work / life balance. (And you might not want to give it up again, in future.)
Let’s talk about radio and TV. I know it seems like you can keep an eye on the news, or listen to your favorite radio program … and still take an active part in that conference call. But you can’t. Turn off and tune in. Another distraction is lunch. Or coffee. These can easily morph into other things. At work, you ordered in or ran out for a bite. Now, you’ve got your kitchen … a happy place but possibly distracting. If you can, prepare meals at night in large quantities, so lunch is ready “on demand.” Remember, eating out isn’t much of an option these days.
Dogs and cats, by the way: perfectly OK!
Your office should ideally be a bit like your bathroom. When you are working you really don’t need people barging in at random. A lock might seem extreme, but a sign could do it too. Or some “honest and clear communications” to family members about the do’s and don’ts of visiting your office.
The added challenge for many right now is that schools and childcare facilities have closed to prevent further spread of the virus. This puts already stressed parents who are trying to keep up with work in the same space as children requiring attention. And alternate options like sharing childcare seem to be out of reach as families are encouraged to isolate. We will need to work through this.
2. The Team
Practically overnight, enterprises across the world have seen their workforce transform to what HBR calls “newly” remote. Most have been caught offguard, unsurprisingly, but are rallying admiringly. The challenge is that there’s been no time to test and deploy technology environments. At the same time, agility is critical, so opt for the lowest hanging fruit – tried and tested cloud-based products – to get you going. In fact, if you’re going to prioritize tools to help you through this, then start with a video conferencing app, a messaging app, and a collaboration platform.
Many of us have been used to working with global teams already. That part continues. But now we need to turn those lessons back on our local team. Success depends on how connected these teams feel. And while we’re all working from home for valid reasons, we need to remember it’s actually physical distancing that’s keeping us there, not social distancing. Socially, we should be even more connected than we were. WhatsApp chat groups are fantastic for this, as are existing IM options. Many of us are also rediscovering Skype, having abandoned it a decade ago. It’s actually brilliant. And free.
Seeing is believing
Video conference companies like Zoom or Uberconference have been quick to jump in with tips on how to hold meetings most effectively. Plenty of good resources there. Again, the power of seeing someone versus hearing someone is significant. Given that we’re all working alone, seeing others is really important. The same goes for sharing documents. Google docs, or whatever you’re used to, reinforce togetherness and collaboration.
Supervision and access
But there are challenges. Primary among these is lack of face-to-face supervision, and the lack of access between managers and their employees, which creates concerns for both parties.
This is about trust, too. Suddenly, staff are being entrusted to do work that might otherwise not have left the office. A time to shine.
Obviously this shift to remote working wasn’t planned and there was no time to roll out a robust infrastructure. Got your laptop? A desktop? A tablet? Okay, how about a phone? Start with what you can get your hands on, and work from there – that’s been scarily common. The big challenge of course is accessibility. One reason companies don’t like home-based workers is the security risk this poses. Home devices don’t have the same security standards as work-based laptops. In some countries there has been sufficient warning to supply staff with the tools they need. China was not so lucky in the early days.
Even more importantly, perhaps, communication lines are not always encrypted (WhatsApp is!). Concerns around security breaches, always key, are critical right now. This is where IT, shared services, and HR need to work together.
This is the glue to keep you connected and aligned, and the team is going to look to its leader for this. It’s closely connected with structure, which is also missing, as everyone isn't sitting down at their desks at the same time, indicating “we're starting.” Establishing structured daily check-ins is a really good idea to counter this. It can be with the entire team, via a Skype message, videoconference, or email; or with individuals, one-to-one. But establish that structure and timing, and stick to it. It helps everyone find their place.
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Similarly, encourage the team to establish rules of engagement, which allow everyone to highlight when they are / are not available, and how best to reach them. At the same time, recognize that we’re missing the social interaction that goes with work and supports healthy teams. Build social chit-chat into your conference calls and exchanges.
There are other issues that suddenly become important. To keep things flowing, you’ll need to empower workers so they can make decisions regarding when, where, and how to complete their work. At the same time, you need to ensure accountability – which requires transparency. Check how well your systems are prepared for this.
A lot of companies are suddenly running into bandwidth issues as videoconferencing chews through availability. In addition, the technology infrastructure capability is being massively tested. Be patient and make friends with IT as you work through these problems.
And, while you’re making friends with IT, remember HR is going to be working overtime to navigate the treacherous unknown of off-site staff. Workplace safety and compliance concerns don’t disappear, just because office accessibility does. HR is trying to figure out how to support and manage your critical talent, while also guiding it through a very anxious time.
This is an opportunity for your brand to shine. Or to disappoint. Corporations are learning this quickly. Who doesn’t know about the Whole Foods fiasco? Or that supermarket chain Kroger is offering to hire thousands of out-of-work restaurant staff?
While remote working has been creeping into corporate life, the rush of it right now is unprecedented. We will stumble, but we’ll overcome, because we’re all in this together.
Remember: if Robert Kelly could get past his live TV interview kerfuffle, we’ll be fine, too.
We don’t know how long this new normal will last. Or whether remote working may stick around. After all, if things go well, how clever is it to tie up your cash in expensive real estate? What we do know is we need the technology to function, the business continuity objectives to guide us, and the team spirit to get us through it.
If anyone can, Shared Services can ;-)
P.S. Someone recently shared an interesting, somewhat funky, resource called The Coronavirus Handbook. Full disclosure and warning: it appears to be an open resource, and very interactive; a kind of Wiki for what's what right now. It's raw and very much of the moment, but I found it useful and wanted to give you the chance to have a look, so tucking a link quietly at the end.