When everyone is WFH

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Quick Tips to Keep You and Your Team Flying High in the 2020 Workplace
Apr 12, 2020
Written by Mark Chadbourne, Solutions Architect and Manager of Technical Development for Solü Technology Partners.
Whether we are loving it, hating it, or somewhere in between, most of us in IT find ourselves working from home these days. Odds are most people we work with are, too, and will be for a bit longer.

Check In

Ever heard ‘Out of sight, out of mind‘? Like most sayings it’s borne of more than a little truth. Our teams may be full of productive individuals, but it’s important to remember that they are just that: a team. No one can succeed day after day in a vacuum. 

Even if you have a normal daily checkpoint such as a standup, consider setting up a dedicated time for your team to just “check in” with each other and share anything they may need to discuss. Of course we all can, and should, check in whenever necessary — just consider this the wakeup call we all need on occasion when we get a little too heads down.

Keep it short and light and watch the effect it has on your team’s ability to realign to address day-to-day issues.

Video-First Meeting Culture

Most of us are familiar with the oft-referenced science that communication is largely non-verbal. Downgrading methods of communication — from face-to-face to audio, or from audio to text — sacrifices important contextual cues that keep our interactions efficient and ensure that the message we intend to send is as close as possible to the message our audience receives. 

When everyone is remote, video chats are usually the most expressive medium available to us. Help lead the charge by turning your video on in meetings, no matter what your role is, and encourage others to do the same. If you can, designate some critical or recurring meetings as “Video On”. 

Think of WFH as a communication blackout — every webcam we flip on is another light bulb screwed in, allowing us to see more clearly.

Find the Right Communication Analogy

Every day in the office, you make decisions on how and when to deliver impromptu communications, usually based on the complexity or urgency of the information to be discussed. You send an IM instead of an email when you need an immediate response, and you grab a whiteboard for a face-to-face discussion with a colleague when you know things are too complicated to explain through text. 

With everyone WFH, some of these tools have been removed from our toolbox, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have others to replace them, or that old ones can’t be used in new situations. The trick is stopping ourselves from reaching for what’s readily available — IM — and never pursuing richer methods. If you would send an IM in the office to communicate something, go ahead and send that same IM when you’re remote, but if you wish you could turn your chair around and have a discussion, that’s your cue the situation calls for something more. Pick up the phone, fire up a video call, or use screen sharing and whiteboarding software (maybe all of the above) to get as close as you can to sitting in the same room with your audience.

Bottom line: ask “How would I communicate this in the office?” and select the remote technology that matches it best. Don’t simply rely on IM.

Quiet Time

We’ve talked a lot about keeping communication flowing and choosing the best communication method for the job, but we can’t (and shouldn’t) be always on. Everyone needs uninterrupted time to focus, get into a rhythm and reach their peak efficiency — quiet time. Much like how truly deep, restorative sleep doesn’t come when we first close our eyes, we don’t do our best individual work until we’ve had an opportunity to settle in. WFH can mean a flood of different types of distractors, including more IMs, that make quiet time more difficult to come by.

When we need to dig in and focus to get through a complex problem in the office, most of us put in our headphones — it says “please don’t interrupt me unless it’s important”. Don’t forget to use your virtual equivalent: set your status to DND, send a quick message to your team letting them know you’re going dark, and turn on “focus mode” in any tools that support it. If your team can work it out, schedule a block of time where everyone is “heads down” unless a critical need arises.

It’s important to team productivity to stay engaged when you’re remote but don’t forget, just like in the office, we all need time to address individual deliverables as well.

Be Kind and Have Fun

There is a lot more at stake here than just productivity at the (home) office. It’s a trying time for the world, our country and all of the people we work with each day. With challenges comes change and with change comes stress — everyone has been and will be affected in some way by this experience. Now, more than ever, it’s important to work together, to exercise patience, and to keep in touch. Not just so we can get our work done, but so that we can support one another and maintain and strengthen relationships that may be more important than we realize.

Don’t cancel meetings on the calendar that traditionally require deeper human interaction to be effective — highlight them. Sprint retrospectives, one-on-ones, and happy hours don’t need to “wait until we get back to the office”, they just need to look a bit different. Take a minute to laugh at the cat walking across your co-worker’s keyboard or wave at your boss’ daughter when she brings him lunch. More than once, we’ve heard someone genuinely say “It was nice to see all of you”, and it truly is a difference maker.

Don’t lose the human element — there are people on the other side of that monitor! Take the time to connect, have fun, and make the best of a challenging situation as a team. Your colleagues, and your cabin fever, will thank you. 

Stay safe, stay healthy!


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