WFH: Lessons Learned and Tips to Take Forward

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We’re now about two months into the ‘Rapid Remote’ WFH movement, and while some of us may be living our best lives, others may be feeling one step away from becoming Michael Douglas in Falling Down. While I’m hoping we’re closer to the fourth quarter than half-time, I’m calling this our WFH Mid-Point Check-In just in case—because honestly, who really knows?

To get out of isolation (metaphorically) and help renew collaborative efforts, I’ve put together a collection of thoughts, stories, and strategies to empower teams to remain creative and productive, do our best work no matter where we are, and turn this situation into something in which we, as a collective of industries, succeed rather than cope.

Mental Health

First and foremost, we are humans and this is a unique and stressful time. Try to be considerate of everyone’s situation and be as flexible as able with how and when your team works. Whether it’s kids, partners, roommates, pets, parents(in-law)—we all have additional responsibilities and relationships on top of our day-to-day work life.

There is a widespread myth that productivity drops when employees WFH—that people will be inclined to do other things and not work as hard as when they’re physically in the office. In fact, the opposite is more commonly true. Employees WFH tend to over-work themselves to prove they’re doing their job.

It’s important to log off. You are not on call 24-7. Of course, we’re all conscious of the struggles across our industry and beyond, and while any extra hustle is surely appreciated, be confident your team can manage to do their jobs. The greater concern is burnout, so be sure to communicate. Speaking of which…

Communication

Effective communication is always essential, but even more so now. If you haven’t already, look to establish availability norms. What are the core hours you want to set within your team? For example, no meetings before 9:00 AM and after 4:00 PM may allow team members to organize the rest of their lives. I recommend daily (or every other day) ‘Stand Ups’ to get important human-to-human facetime, figure out priorities for the day/week, discuss issues, and reduce emails.

Talk to your colleagues and figure out how best to communicate. Maybe there’s a certain time of day when someone is more readily available, or maybe your introverted colleague would prefer a Slack instead of a call, whereas your extroverted colleague may prefer the opposite. Check in with someone if they’re being extra quiet; there could be something wrong or they’re just trying to give you space if they think you’re busy! Look out for each other, and make sure you’re all on the same page—or Slack channel.

Structure (and Flexibility)

One thing that has helped me during this time has been following a routine. Obviously, we can largely get away with wearing pajamas well past the morning. It’s important to try and retain some structure, as if you are physically going to work. This helps you transition from sleep state to work mode.

You should also get away from your desk (or kitchen table) regularly and intentionally. Set timers to remind you to get up and move around—stretch, make a coffee, or go outside. You wouldn’t sit in your chair in the office for eight hours straight, don’t do it at home.

However, it’s just as easy to get distracted in at home. On top of the pings, dings, and chimes of Slack and Outlook notifications we’re now contending with kids asking for Goldfish or partners asking what you want from Specs. Try to block out time slots throughout your day dedicated to focusing on your work. Tell your cat to leave you alone between 1:00-3:00 PM and block the time in your calendar to prevent colleagues from scheduling meetings.

Your Environment

While not all of us are lucky enough to have a home office, you don’t need an entire room to create an inspiring workspace. Your “office” can simply be a corner of a room, but it’s important this space is reserved solely for work. This helps keep your job from creeping into other areas of your home and life. It also trains your brain to be in the zone while you’re in this space, and to ‘switch off’ when you’re in other areas.

Ways to personalize your workspace and set the right mood for Deep Work:

Clear the clutter.
Clear desk, clear mind.

Display meaningful pieces.
Whether a Bob Ross Chia Pet or a photo of loved one, pick something that makes you happy and soothes your psyche.

Surround yourself with plants.
They help us feel less stressed and connected to the outdoors.

Motivate with music.
Play whatever you need to get in the zone.

Candles can also lighten the mood.

Invest in a comfortable chair!

Maintain Culture

Try and remain connected with your teams during this time apart. Our team has coordinated happy hours and trivia sessions rather successfully and are trying out team coffee and lunch breaks. Eating together promotes bonding, and many companies that pride themselves on having a strong company culture do this at least once a week. It’s something we’re hoping to do more of when we’re back in the office, but, just because we can’t physically be in the kitchen or at our favorite eatery together, it doesn’t mean we can’t arrange some Zoom lunch dates.

You could also try Virtual Show & Tell to see what everyone’s life is beyond the confines of the Zoom window. Whether it’s your home, yard, workspace, child, pet, or just an object that’s important to you, it’s a fun way to connect.

Run Effective Meetings

We’ve all been involved in some inspiring and productive meetings during quarantine but also, frankly, needless ones. Be extra thoughtful when hosting. First, acknowledge that it’s different than meeting in person, and second, ensure you’re adequately prepared. Here’s a (variation of) a tried and true checklist before scheduling a meeting:

1. Do I need a meeting to begin with?

2. Is the agenda set? (5 P’s)

Purpose
Why are we meeting. See above.

Product
What’s the outcome you’re after? Be specific. This could be sharing feedback on two ideas, an action item list for next steps, etc.

People
Avoid “tourists” – people who are there to just listen in. You can send a recap later. Invite the smallest group of the right people to achieve the outcome efficiently.

Process
What’s the best way to facilitate the discussion or reach the outcome?

Pre-Work
What can be done ahead of time to ensure a concise, engaging, and productive meeting? Optimize the meeting time to collaborate and position yourself to best achieve the outcome.

 

Distance Bias is also something to be aware of. We generally place more value and importance on things that are closer to us than those further away. If someone is out of sight then they are generally ‘out of mind’. Be mindful of being inclusive. Some tips to consider trying on your next call:

Camera On
This not only helps us be more engaging and do a better job of holding attention, but helps us pick up on non-verbal cues that are essential in gauging people’s moods, level of interest, and reactions to ideas and proposals.

Segue Story
Ask everyone in the meeting to open by sharing something positive from their lives right now. This gets everyone talking, feeling good, and offers a little insight into each other’s lives.

Press Pause
Pausing occasionally to check in with the group; stop to summarize what you have discussed more often.

7th Inning Stretch
Sometimes meetings can run long. Recognizing this and getting people out of their chairs is a quick way to perk up energy levels and set the stage for collaboration.

Recap
Save the last five minutes of the meeting to recap action items. Sending a recap after the meeting via email is also helpful, encourages accountability, and prevents work from slipping through the cracks.

 

Mid-Point Check-In Recap

  1. Be patient with yourself and others
  2. Set a structure and follow a routine
  3. Separate work and life
  4. Use your calendar to your advantage
  5. Communicate often

Lastly, make your time outside of work count. Whether that’s trying new things like baking or birdwatching, doubling down on exercise, or movie-marathons and SNL YouTube Spirals. Stay positive and stay connected.

Isolation is what we make of it. Let’s try and make the most of it.

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