We’re living in extraordinary times. The last several weeks have witnessed dramatic changes as the world responds to the global COVID-19 pandemic — among them, a move by much of the workforce to a remote working environment. For employees, suddenly shifting to a new working model can be difficult, both from process and mental standpoints. Be empathetic; be aware of the change curve your team is experiencing and find manageable ways to close the gap virtually.
If you work with a team, as many of us do, maintaining modified collaboration channels and processes will greatly increase stability through this unique time. Importantly, better remote collaboration isn’t just a productivity boon. It can also provide a reliable source of human interaction and support for everyone on your team.
There are many excellent tools for virtual interaction and collaboration; however, the best tools are the ones you have access to now. As we progress through this crisis, additional investments may make sense to ease the working model for our team members but, for now, focus on building upon tools your team already understands. And, where possible, provide additional support to those teams that are used to physically working together and collaborating regularly, as they might experience the greatest potential disruption.
Here are a few tips we’ve gathered from groups across the country who are making working from home work well for them:
1. Daily Team Coordination Meetings
Start with an Agile scrum concept of daily stand-up meetings, which can provide regular checkpoints where your team members can interact and gain both visibility and a sense of normality. This supports the ongoing notion that business continues, we are still making progress, and no one is alone. For example, consider holding a daily stand-up or check-in meeting with your team. We strongly recommend doing this at the same time every day and using video teleconferencing if available. WebEx, Skype, and Microsoft Teams are all potential solutions you may already have at hand.
2. Office Hours
Set working hours aside for team members to engage with leadership or with others in collaborative activities. This lends structure to the day, creates opportunities for active group work, and provides an opportunity for team members to schedule other support activities they need to manage. Working from home, especially when schools and other services may not be available, is not conducive to constant availability, and a published but flexible schedule creates a more ideal working environment for everyone.
3. Encourage Quality Interaction
Email is an important part of business interaction; however, it is a low-fidelity, lower-quality means of communication. Take every opportunity to increase messaging effectiveness and provide homebound team members the interaction that may be found in higher quality messaging modes, such as video conferencing, instant messaging and other team collaboration tools. Encourage your team members to talk and engage with one another using the highest-quality tools available to them. However, keep in mind that everyone is working from home, in personal spaces. Be sensitive to privacy concerns and allow your teammates to adapt to the new reality at their own pace.
4. Create Clear Expectations and Structure
No matter how connected your teams are, change is difficult and can lead to miscommunication and confusion. In addition to regular points of communication, be especially precise in setting expectations and responsibilities. This will help your team members understand how they can be productive and what they can expect from each other. If you are using a daily stand-up or check-in meeting, use that time to clearly agree upon priorities. Regularly communicate the key projects and “backlog” of work so that every team member knows what to work on and in what order. This agile delivery principle can be useful for any team, on any day.
These best practices have been shown to provide consistency, visibility, and structure for virtual and remote-work teams. Above all, remember that each person on your team is experiencing this international crisis from their own perspective. Maintain awareness of stress levels. Be flexible. And look for opportunities to support each other in this time of need.