There are a number of companies that offer remote working or work from home as an option to their employees as a perk. This could be pertinent to single mothers or disabled people, or simply because the nature of the job does not require the use of resources at an office space. Either way, there are some people who have the experience of working from a remote location, and so are quite familiar with the etiquettes and uses of online workspaces, conferencing apps, and collaborative tools.
But on the other hand, there is a vast majority of people who were thrown into the deep end when countries were locked down due to the pandemic we now refer to as CoViD-19. Typical office goers who were used to spending 8 hours a day at a desk in front of their desktop computers, or walking into conference rooms and having face-to-face meetings with their colleagues, suddenly found their world turned upside down. They were (and probably are) now at home, trying to work on a laptop at a dining table with kids running around, dishes in the sink, a broom in one hand, and Switzerland on video conference. The bottom line is that this whole experience is unprecedented.
The skill of remote working
Whether you agree or disagree, remote working is a skill. And like all skills, it needs to be learned over time and practised. There is a learning curve, which means different people will attack the curve at their own pace – and as employers, we need to be aware of that. If you’ve never allowed your employees the opportunity to work from home, then this is going to be a brand new experience for a lot of people. In fact, as an employer, this may even be a new experience for you.
Instead of walking into this blind, however, treating remote working as a skill will put you in a better position as an employer or an employee, to set accurate expectations, personally and for your teams. Some of these expectations could be
- Understanding that this is the only option we have and need to make the most of it.
- Accepting that remote working can and will be difficult for some members.
- Allowing for members to get frustrated, but most importantly, overcoming those frustrations through empathy.
- Providing support and time to overcome the learning curve regarding online tools and collaborative systems.
- Dedicating time towards upskilling employees in the art of remote working in order to become more productive.
- Being attentive to the needs of fellow employees and team members.
Making remote working inclusive
Once you’ve accepted that working from home is now your modus operandi for the foreseeable future, you’re on your way to becoming more productive – regardless of where you are. The onslaught of this pandemic has already forced us to become resourceful in many other ways like learning to cook, being frugal with essentials at home, or setting expectations with children. It’s now time to apply some of those techniques in your new-found professional dilemma.
There are three major areas that most people struggle with when it comes to working remotely. These three areas also form the basis for most remote working scenarios can be seen as the pillars of a successful remote team. Regardless of how far-flung everyone is, if you are able to build a strong foundation, then you may find yourself making remote working a permanent arrangement for some teams. Let’s take a look at these pillars right now.
1. Remote Meetings
You may not realise it, but on a daily basis, you meet a lot of people! While some of these meetings are formal round table conference style meetings, many of them are stand-up meetings or conversations at a colleague’s desk. Regardless of how or where the meeting happens however, they are important because no one can deny that it is easier and safer (in terms of communication) to meet and discuss something face to face. It clears ambiguity and creates certainty.
This same security needs to come across while meeting remotely if it is to be successful. So in order to make sure your remote meetings meet their purpose here are a few things you can do.
1.1 Make use of the chatbox to issue instructions
Maybe you want to inform the group who is to speak next, or who’s presentation needs to be shown after the current speaker is finished. A great way to do that without cutting through the mix is by using the chatbox. All remote conferencing tools have a chatbox, so make the most of it. As a participant on the call, you can also virtually ‘put your hand up’ if you have something to say. While this feature may be baked into some tools, for those that don’t have it, you can simply type in the word ‘next’ into the chat box to inform the moderator that you have something to say.
1.2 Share note-taking responsibility
This is pretty self-explanatory. Most people hate taking the minutes of a meeting, so in order to keep things fair, you can try making a rotation list.
1.3 Acknowledge family members
This is a strange one, but admittedly, these are strange times. You probably won’t need to do this is in an office setting, but if you’re working from home, it may help to introduce your co-workers to family members in the background. Kids will be curious to know what’s happening, so showing them what a remote meeting is and then setting expectations with them might actually make things easier.
1.4 Make use of remote conferencing controls
All remote conferencing tools have a few minimum controls, the most basic of which are the mute toggle, and the camera toggle. If you’re not going to be participating actively, it’s best to proactively mute yourself. Additionally, if bandwidth is an issue, opt to turn your camera off in order to prioritise audio.
2. Schedule management
It’s easy to schedule team meetings and other conferences when everyone is at work. But things change drastically when everyone is at home. Differing family situations means everyone is now on a very dynamic calendar, and it’s important to be understanding of these changes. So how do you overcome these challenges as an employer or an employee? Here are a few tips.
2.1 Encourage the use of a calendar app
For this to work, as an employee, you need to be mindful of your home situation. In the same way, you organise your work life, you will now have to organise your home life as well. This will mean blocking time for specific tasks around the house and keeping to it. By doing this, you will be able to use your calendar apps effectively by blocking personal time, and indicating to others that you cannot be disturbed during those slots.
Employers will also need to be mindful that their team members have personal commitments overlapping with professional ones and will have to work around them accordingly. Using a calendar app effectively will help team members find more common ground.
2.2 Schedule everyone required
In the interest of time (given that working from home often means conflicting personal and professional commitments), schedule all of the people you think may be required for a project so as to avoid having to set up multiple side meetings. Information also needs to be disseminated in a concise and effective manner.
2.3 Mutual respect for everyone’s schedules
This is probably the most important of all and follows from the first two points. Every member of your team will have differing schedules unique to each person. It’s important to understand that when individuals are working together from home specifically, there will always be a number of conflicting priorities, especially with regards to home and family duties. These priorities usually don’t crop up when working from an office setting. Being sensitive to these changes in schedule is an essential part of being inclusive. Not taking these factors into consideration can lead to internal conflict and frustration. It’s also a significant part of the learning curve that needs to be overcome. The sooner all members are able to find common ground while accommodating persona schedule conflicts, the easier it will be to reach the same level of productivity.
On a side note, it’s important to understand that a pandemic such as CoVid-19 effects different people in different ways. Apart from just transitioning to a remote working environment, some team members will be dealing with reduced pay, housing insecurities, restricted access to essentials, children or elders, family members with advanced health care needs, less space at home, and many other factors. It’s important to understand that not everyone may have the same privileges as you, which makes it imperative to respect each other’s boundaries and be sympathetic to the differing situations. One thing you can count on for sure is that times are hard for everyone in varying degrees, hence we need to proceed with empathy and compassion.
3. Remote Communication
When we think of remote communication, we usually draw the line at video conferencing tools such as Google Meet and the now popular (and controversial) Zoom. We often forget that there are many other forms of communication such as email, message boards, one-on-one and group messengers, and of course, text messaging. How we use these methods of communication also changes during times like this, and needs to be met with inclusivity. This is due to the lack of a physical presence, facial expression, or tone of voice. In the absence of these ‘features’, sometimes what we write, may not translate to what we meant to say. Here are a few things to keep in mind
3.1 Go slow, be mindful
Considering that you may be texting more than talking, it’s imperative that you keep in mind that it’s often very easy to be misunderstood in text. So before sending out a DM (direct message), SMS (short message service) or Email, think about how you can make sure that your intent matches the impact of your words. These are stressful times, and as mentioned earlier, different people are being faced with different circumstances. Inclusivity means remembering that impact is more important than intent.
But this is a two-way street. Even if you receive a text message that you feel is offensive, take a step back. Assume that the person sending the message had good intentions, even if the nature of the message seems negative. We have already assumed that sometimes intent gets lost in translation, however if you’re still unsure, you can always seek clarification. Knowing where ‘the line’ is, is a collective responsibility. This means that if indeed there are instances of intentional negativity, then it needs to be called out and reported so that action can be taken.
3.2 Use language tools if available
Certain collaborative work tools allow for inclusive language. A great example of this is the language detection features of the popular group messaging service, Slack. Slack allows admins to set up the ‘Slack Bot’ to detect exclusionary or abusive language and make substitute suggestions. For example, you can have the bot set up to detect a word like ‘lame’, which can be derogatory, and instead provide suggestions such as ‘boring’, or ‘uncool’. This may not be an absolute solution, nor is it easy to set up, however, people can continue adding to the list over time in order to help foster this move toward a more inclusive setup.
3.3 Encourage acceptance of change
If there’s one thing this pandemic has taught us, it’s that we can’t predict the future. Companies may have ended last year with promising growth projections or optimistic expansion plans, but the universe had something else in mind. Startups and small businesses who usually thrive on their ability to encourage close communication in their small teams have now found themselves split across multiple locations. Suddenly, remote working is the norm – so how do you deal with that on a company level? If your organisation did not already have a common place to be open and share employee suggestions, now is a great time to encourage this level of communication. Employees need to understand that change is inevitable because it is necessary to adapt. If there exists a portal or a message board where your team members can leave suggestions or make recommendations for a more inclusive work atmosphere, they will feel a greater connection to the organisation.
Remote working as a concept is not new, far from it. But for many, it is a brand new experience, especially if it means working from home during a viral pandemic that is killing hundreds of people. It’s almost as if the world is living a Steven Spielberg film. While many are coming to grips with it, employers need to encourage their employees to put the safety of themselves and their families first and allow for patience and understanding during these difficult times. By practising inclusion, we will be able to work remotely in a healthy and productive manner, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Let us know your thoughts by dropping a line in the comments below.