Remote work is a new endeavor for a lot of companies right now, so I thought it would be a good idea to post some perspective on Dos and Don'ts. Why me? Our group of talented people, and I, have been working in some remote capacity for the last couple of years. I've seen some things that work well and things that do not work well at all. If we had a list of things to look out for before going remote, this is that list I think I'd want. So here we go.
First Things First
First off, if anyone on your team does not enjoy their work, and is generally disconnected, then do not expect a list to fix this problem. In fact, any remote work will exacerbate the underlying issue here. Unfortunately this is something that has to be working before going remote. If your team has been forced into an immediate remote work condition with team members that don't like the job, then this guide will not help. It's probably best to figure that out, not as a remote work issue. Now for our list.
Establish a Consistent Schedule
It's essential to set a standard and enforce it. This does not mean to enforce against individual people, but rather implement the system as a whole consistently. If there is a regular meeting at 9a every morning, keep the meeting at 9a every morning. Don't start early sometimes and late sometimes, unless there are extenuating circumstances that require an exception. This is for you to judge.
Being consistent tends to help the human psyche when dealing with limitless possibilities for the day. Yes, when you wake up at home and stay at home, there is a greater sense of endless possibilities you could spend each minute on. When there is a consistent and regular system to wake up and work in, it helps ease the mind and provide a sense of direction. It provides an anchor. Things included in here would be weekly meeting routines, establishing consistent systems to use digital tools, and points of contact for fluid communication.
Keep Group Meetings Informal
Group meetings are for humans, not business. I cannot stress this enough. There should not be a shift to regular business meetings because everyone is digital and working from home now. Also noteworthy is that there will be less socializing in the physical world and human beings are social creatures for the most part. Therefore, it's essential to have any regular "because we're working remotely" meetings be an informal discussion between people. This does not mean everyone has to make this meeting all of the time, nor does it mean we break professional boundaries and everyone just become friends.
We set ours in the mid-morning, for 15 minutes every day. If someone needs to miss the Tuesday morning meeting, that's ok. Sometimes it goes for 45 minutes, sometimes we're all busy and chat for 5 minutes. We do generally discuss operational tasks for the day, but there is no plan other than people talking about their day with other people. Most of the traditional meeting schedule should be kept in place, and adjusted based on actual need.
There is another thing to keep in mind here. Do use video. We used to mainly do calls without video; however, I think we've found that seeing faces is necessary. Especially for those times when we get together and discuss the day. We do not have a dress code, everyone stays sensible here, but a dress code could be useful if you have one already established. I find getting up, getting a shower, and getting dressed in a collared shirt, more often than not, helps keep my subconscious mind in the right place.
Have a Real-Time Messaging Application
This is important, and it also has a critical "do not" list. So critical, in fact, I will list them directly and address each individually.
- Do Not Use for Time Tracking nor Availability
The messaging app is not your tool to make sure people are working. If output is not a sufficient indicator for work, then there should be some other methods employed. Going back to the first section, however, if the wrong people are in place, supervising remote work is your micromanager's worst nightmare.
Spreadsheets, time trackers, and other means of accountability should be used for their intended purpose, and messaging apps should be used for their intended purpose. Real-time communication with team members that need to be informally contacted in real-time. If they're busy, their app will be set to "Do Not Disturb," and they will get back to you when they can. Sometimes even that setting is not enough, and the app needs to be shut down. This is important, especially for engineers, or any focused work, and precisely why this is not a time tracking tool. The messaging app is better than email for informal dialogue, not as cumbersome as setting up a video call, and not as intrusive as text messaging.
- Do Not Use for Debatable or Other Important Matters
Do not fall into this trap. Again, DO NOT use your messaging app for debatable matters. I stress this because even we still fall into this trap. It's a slippery slope because informal dialogue turns into a strategy debate and turns into what could be perceived as an argument. Messaging apps are great tools but they do not capture enough nuance to be used for these sort of issues. The best way to get past this is to recognize whenever this situation begins to present itself and then set up a call. It can be as simple as "Hey, can I call you real quick." Or as formal as "let's set up a video call to discuss this tomorrow," and end the conversation in the messaging app there.
- Do Have Private Rooms and DMs
Having sizable open chat channels can be counterproductive because numerous conversations do not involve everyone. This tool should not be used to micromanage conversations, and controlling dialogue within the team. If communication needs to happen, and you should be privy to details of a thing, then that's a team discussion and a set of standards that should be set outside of this tool. Messaging apps are a super flexible method of communication and should be wielded as such.
Adopt New Tools Quickly
Working away from each other creates a set of challenges when trying to take on coordinated activities. Shared notes and on-premise tools are no longer available, so new tools that can share tasks and assignments over the internet need to be adopted. This includes shared task managers, calendars, and digital whiteboards. Be sure to pick the right tool for the right people and jobs. A task manager that works for the engineering team may not work for the marketing team. So if you need to use two task management platforms, accept this fact and let each group have the best tool for them. Obviously, you don't want to be fragmented across many disparate platforms. Do this within reason.
Set Aside Time for Email
You may feel inclined to use and check email more and more. If there were productivity issues because of too much email before, email will continue to cause productivity issues. Email habits within the working team should not really change that much. The new environment should include all of the tools previously discussed, and email should remain in its rightful place in your day.
Ultimately, as with most things, there is no "one size fits all" solution to remote work. What works for you may not work for anyone else. It's best to allow new ideas to enter team discussions and, when decisions are made, remain decisive on the system and stick to it for a reasonable period. After that time, if someone is regularly missing the group chat, or particular tools are not working well, recognize the fact and make adjustments
Finally, Do Not Take Advantage of the Opportunity
For those who have always dreamed of this opportunity, and finally got it, remain wise and vigilant. Taking advantage of remote work and allowing yourself to slip into bad daily habits may feel great for the first week. And if they're especially indulgent maybe the second. But the long term consequences of allowing that to happen will be detrimental to you and probably your team. This is a great opportunity, and you should set some solid personal boundaries that will enable you to thrive in it.
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