It’s sinking in that I take working from home for granted.
Having worked remotely for the better part of 15 years, it’s become just part of who I am.
Now I’m putting myself in the shoes of so many others for whom it is a very new territory. I went through this transition a long while ago, so I’d like to share what I hope is some tangible advice. I hope most find it helpful and others find it reminiscent of their work-from-home experience.
With that in mind, I’m going to provide three perspectives on the following three topics: Working from home, leading from home and collaborating from home
Working from home
I have five crucial pieces of advice, especially for those that are brand new to this. These are things that will ensure that you can actually not just succeed, but excel, at this.
Do not get out of your normal routine, with the exception of driving into the office! Set your alarm. Get up. Shower. Get ready. Get Dressed. And get it into your head that you are going to work.
If you would normally have coffee, eat breakfast, read the news and so on, continue to do that. Just don’t let it consume all of your time. Your new routine might include others (kids, spouses, significant others, pets, etc.) that require focus and attention as well. Make sure to factor that into your new routine.
Create a schedule of your time each day. You’ll probably have standing meetings or other obligations. But besides those, block time on your calendar to get things done. Hold yourself accountable to your schedule.
One thing I’m terrible at is actually scheduling lunch and exercise. Make that part of your schedule like anything else. Especially if you’re used to walking each day or grabbing lunch with colleagues.
If you don’t already have an office, you live in cramped quarters, or your house is simply packed with everyone else who has to be home, you need to set up a dedicated space. Make sure wherever you set up is comfortable, but not too comfortable. Take heed of all of the recommendations you’ve heard about ergonomics and screen height and posture as well.
You need to set up a space you can “go to.” Treat as if you’re away. It’s your office. I tell my family when they’re home that “I’m at work.” You need to treat wherever you set up your workspace as if it’s your office.
Avoid distractions! (He says as he pleads with you to read this). It’s easy to get sucked into the news, the thousands of articles about COVID-19, and the billions of Facebook posts about toilet paper. Keep yourself focused and don’t fall victim to the insane volume of distractions that will be all around you.
That’s not to say that there won’t be legitimate ones. Your kids may need your help. Your spouse may need to discuss real-world challenges you’re both facing. But ask yourself if you’d be getting distracted by this if you were in the workplace. Urgent matters, especially under the current circumstances, are always urgent.
Devote time to learning. Over the years, I’ve organized my time so that first thing in the morning and the last hour of every day, I try to set aside for learning. That can be reading a book, article, research report or series of articles. It can be watching videos that will expand your knowledge. It can be taking online courses.
Think of it as an investment in yourself during the times that you’d normally be commuting. Don’t squander an opportunity to improve yourself.
Leading from home
When you’re working from home and are leading a team of people who are also working from home, you have a new set of challenges and opportunities to contend with. Not the least of which is, you certainly can’t “manage by walking around.” Regardless of what your functional role is or how your team is structured, there are a few things you need to excel at.
It’s one thing to “manage people” and it’s another thing entirely to be a leader. Over the years I’ve fielded many questions related to having people work remotely such as: “How would I know people are actually working?” “What if people don’t do what they’re told?” “How can I trust that they’re doing what they say they’re doing?”
I have some responses to all of these questions and usually, they’re not G or even PG-rated. So let me just pose my own question…
Do you trust that you’ve hired qualified and competent people?
If the answer is “yes,” then the questions above should be the farthest thing from your mind. If it’s no, I’d do some introspective soul searching to find out why. For now, let’s assume you have been smart and surrounded yourself with great people.
Now, as a leader, especially under current circumstances, your job is this:
- Set the tone – Let everyone know that you’re there for them, that you’re all going through this transition together, that you know everyone (including you) has been disrupted, and that you’re all going to continue to work to accomplish what needs to get done as best you can. Your team needs to know that you’re human, compassionate and understanding. And that there’s still a job to be done.
- Inspire your team – A major part of keeping people inspired and motivated is keeping in touch. I don’t mean lurking, sidling and peering over people’s shoulders or even the digital equivalent. What I mean is maintaining a tempo of checking in with your team as a whole and with individuals. And it’s not just about what they’re doing, it’s about what you can do for them.
- Inform often – Your openness and willingness to keep people informed is not just a great way to give people comfort, it’s also a great way to build trust. Trust is a magical ingredient for high performing teams.
Your schedule may be more full than usual. Set regular check-ins with your entire team as well as individual team members. Find a time that works for everyone or make a time. Having worked in technology for so long, another thing I take for granted is stand-ups. But these work wonderfully no matter what line of work you’re in.
Get in the habit of quick, 15-minute stand-ups where you can all catch up on three important things.
- What did you work on yesterday?
- What are you working on today?
- What’s blocking you that you need help on?
Stand-ups are even more effective when everyone posts their items in advance so you don’t have to re-hash everything you could have just read. These should be about “what do I need to know about and what impediments are there to success?”
Yes, sometimes over-communication can be overbearing and downright annoying. But at times like this, communication is imperative. Keep in mind, I don’t recommend this style all of the time, but with what everyone’s dealing with right now, these things are top of mind:
- Don’t assume everyone knows what you know when you know it.
- People need frequent and consistent reassurance.
- Timeliness is more important than completeness: As a manager, there’s a tendency to want to have all the facts before communicating. But right now, it’s more important to get out what you know, when you know it. It’s okay to say ‘I don’t know’. Don’t go dark.
- Everyone could use a little levity: No, you don’t need to practice your stand-up routine. But it’s okay to throw a little fun into communication.
- Use a consistent communication channel.
There’s a fascinating post on the Doist blog all about the communication pyramid, synchronous and asynchronous communication, what tools to use when and loads more. I can’t do this topic justice in the confines of this article.
Collaborating from home
A lot of articles have focused almost fully on the technology you can use to work from home.
Of course, many have focused on things like Skype, Zoom, GoToMeeting and other video conferencing apps. Unsurprisingly, that’s led to a run on many of these applications and also a dramatic slowdown in everyone’s services.
Leverage what you have
Starting with what systems you may already be using. I find that this generally falls into two camps: Microsoft or Google. Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t other choices, but these are the two “platforms” that many businesses run on today.
I’ll start with Google and specifically GSuite. There are also nonprofit, public sector and school versions of these. GSuite comes with a powerful set of capabilities for document sharing and collaboration. Email, calendar, documents, spreadsheets, presentations, file organization and sharing. You’re hard-pressed to find something missing here. But in addition to all of this, you get some things that I find people don’t take great advantage of:
- Chat – GSuite provides an integrated chat feature based on Hangouts that you may or may not be familiar with from your personal account.
- Meet – Also based on Hangouts but way more robust is the Meet product. Essentially, it’s integrated video, voice and chat for handling internal and external meetings.
- Groups – Another handy product is Groups which lets you create discussion in groups so you can get people communicating with each other in a shared environment.
- Sites – Google has essentially given you a content management system, integrated with your files and docs, to create websites and pages for collaboration. It’s pretty feature-rich, ridiculously easy to use and may offer you one of the best ways to keep people informed on a shoestring.
- Forms – This product gives you the ability to create forms to capture information and then actually do stuff with the data. Now think about how you can use this to send out surveys to your employees, customers, vendors, etc., to quickly get a read on anything.
Similarly, Microsoft has an impressive suite that’s all part of Office 365. I won’t go into all of the details here but this handy matrix will tell you everything you get in their various versions. If you’re on any one of these, you already have an arsenal at your fingertips and, again, chances are you’re not fully leveraging it.
I can’t tell you how many companies I’ve worked with that don’t even know that they’re paying sometimes two or three times for redundant services. Great collaboration tools are essential for keeping teams motivated, productive and informed, but you don’t have to go out and spend an additional fortune to get them when many of you have these offerings already.
Ways to augment
While I’m a huge proponent of leveraging what you’re already paying for, there are some great point solutions out there that absolutely make collaboration that much better. I’m just going to highlight a few that I personally use and like, and give a few reasons why.
First, collaboration is not one-way or even two-way, collaboration is about getting everyone within a team department or company working together toward common goals. So the tools you choose have to facilitate that or they’re working against you.
One awesome thing about Slack is that you can create channels to control the flow of information. I’ve seen some companies create way too many channels so you have to be careful. But used properly, Slack channels can create amazing collaboration, boost community and provide incredible efficiency. There’s also the ability to call, direct message, connect to loads of other apps, search through conversations. If you’re looking for a fast, affordable way to help your team collaborate, this is a good place to start.
Zoho is a bit of a curveball in here because they’re way more than collaboration. They’ve not only built out an impressive suite of solutions, but they’ve also managed to help loads of companies cost-effectively scale with capabilities that were once reserved for the largest enterprises. Today they have an offering called Remotely which combines what they feel are all of the capabilities you need to effectively work remotely. Productivity, communication, collaboration and a host of other goodies that facilitate integration and automation.
Specifically targeted at collaboration is a newer application called Workplace by Facebook. I’ll be the first to admit that I was extremely skeptical when I was first introduced to this. But over the past two and a half years, it’s grown on me and it’s also matured immensely. Based on the core Facebook platform, but tailored to the needs of businesses (security, administrative controls, branding, integration, etc.), they’ve created an environment that allows people, teams, departments, divisions and entire organizations to work together in ways that most couldn’t have imagined.
Ready to get things done?
If you remember, I said avoid distractions in the first section of this and I just distracted you for at least 15 minutes. But I hope I also gave you some things to think about and learn from.
These are the things that have helped me effectively work, lead and, most of all, collaborate with team members all over the world. No, this is by no means an exhaustive list of how to be successful at it, but if you follow even a little bit of this advice, I think you’ll find it will help you.