COVID-19 and Remote Work: Tips for Working and Collaborating Remotely
With the current COVID-19 pandemic impacting almost everyone these days, many organizations, groups, and people in general are trying to find ways to maintain business continuity very quickly. Almost everything is more difficult when you have less time to make it happen. Since more than half of our team permanently works remotely and much of our business and customer efforts are completed remotely, we have been doing this for a while and thought the timing was right to share some of our tips and tricks with everyone out there.
Select a Technology / Tool
If you can standardize one tool for your company to use, it makes the effort a lot easier. Trying to use various different technologies to maintain continuity can be difficult. We are a Microsoft shop, so we use Microsoft Teams. Recently, Microsoft offered to give this tool away for free to help companies struggling with recent events.
In short, Microsoft Teams provides a platform for calling, video chatting, conferencing and recording, written and verbal discussion areas, file storage, document co-authoring, tagging, notifications, and more. Teams even allows for the compartmentalization of workstreams and security so you have context when collaborating in a certain location. Instead of one giant, open phone line, Teams helps streamline what you are working on and notifies when you people are working/discussing other topics.
This one is tough, but we recommend you think twice before emailing people within your organization. Email inboxes can be difficult to search properly, tedious to keep organized, and can make it hard for users to keep track of timelines and files.
In Microsoft Teams and other similar technologies, users can post documents, allow for collaboration on those documents, and determine who can and cannot edit those documents. If your team is working on a document without you, you can still hop in whenever you want to see the progress, add comments, or review updates. When you aren’t viewing the channel the document was added in, you won’t get bombarded or distracted as you might with email.
Reducing internal emails reduces clutter and distractions, and lets you choose the topics and virtual work locations that are important to you.
Talk to People
Schedule time to actively reach out and talk to your team throughout the day. We strongly suggest video chats (most laptops are equipped with a camera) so you can see their faces, look at their inflection, and remember there are human beings on the other side of these conversations. The biggest risk in remote work is the human isolation component. Now more than ever, with the recommendation to physically isolate, it is imperative for our mental health to stay connected, involved, and actively engaged in not just social activities, but also productive/work social activities.
Create Multi-Person Chats
A great way to encourage a positive online culture is to create and participate in chats between more than just two people. Go out of your way to respond, and others will follow suit. It’s inspiring to see people responding, helping, and moving the ball forward together in a way you can see (rather than just hoping it’s happening).
Consider an even wider audience chat instead of emails for major communication and news. Company-wide channels allow for responses and interaction from all the folks on the team — not just those in one department. Staying connected and cross-pollinating are the names of the game here.
Go one step further! Modern tools can securely invite people from outside your organization to participate with almost all the available activities for collaboration. Your contractors, vendors, support personnel, and partners will all be able to continue working with you — possibly better and more efficiently than they have up to until now.
Since email, chat, and just about anything except a phone call or video chat are asynchronous, it’s important your technology notifies you of activities and changing information. In the old world, we called this “toast” because a small window in the lower right would pop up like a piece of toast, with just enough information on it so we knew what was going on, but not so much that had to interact or do anything about immediately unless we wanted to.
By using these notifications, you can continue working on your current efforts and glance quickly at notifications coming in. Emails and phone calls do not give you this level of anti-distraction capabilities.
Don’t Keep Documents Locally
Use the modern workplace tools to work on documents in a specific location where others can join in. When you get to the “can you take a look at this?” moment, you can easily ask and notify the group that you need some feedback. All work on the document(s) can be tracked, saved, and available for everyone at any time — without using ANY email.
Keep a History
One of our biggest issues with email is when we need to go back and look at a series of communications or activities and try to piece it back together. It feels like we must be a detective. Choose a technology that keeps a running tab of contextual communications and documents so all you have to do is go look, maybe scroll a bit, and can view any version of the document at any time. Then, when you add someone else to the workstream, you don’t have to try to find all the correct emails to forward to them in order to get them up to speed on the project — they can simply go look in the channel for themselves.
Logically Segment the Work
Don’t use an advanced tool and treat it just like email. A singular Teams setup with one big channel where all your work, chats, meetings, and interaction occur is essentially the same single steam firehose that email gives you, and is not valuable.
Break up your work into logical areas, departments, projects, teams, and efforts. Don’t choose so many that you must jump around for absolutely everything, find the balance that best suits your company’s needs. If you need assistance making this determination, our specialized consultants are here to help. We are willing to help at no cost to you during this pandemic, so don’t suffer because you didn’t budget for an emergency. We are happy to have a quick call with your team to pass along best practices and get your remote work started off on the right foot.
We hope this helps trigger some thoughts, ideas, and actions to make you and your organization more effective as you find you may have no choice but to work from home.
CEO, Timlin Enterprises