As the coronavirus progresses, we need to brace ourselves for a “new normal,” at least for a while. But perhaps this is an option which your employees or management has been considering for a while. (Wouldn’t it be great to have this option at any time, not only when a snowstorm or a health crisis hits? One of our employees regularly works from his family’s summer camp on the coast of Maine!) So, we thought it would be helpful to address how to help your company continue to work no matter what is happening in the world. This article is based on our March 19, 2020 webinar, the recording is available below.
We recognize that not all jobs can be physically done away from the workplace. However, if your situation is suitable, we need to ask ourselves why wouldn’t we try it? As with any change, it can be overwhelming and difficult to get our heads around. But if you head towards telecommuting, there are two important aspects to consider: the social aspects and the technical aspects. The good news is we can tackle both areas easily. Given the advances in technology over the past several years, working from home (or anywhere) is much easier. We don’t need to invent new solutions; we just need to implement the existing ones.
Social Challenges to Working from Home
Working remotely can have benefits. As a manager, you might enjoy some peace and quiet and reduced interruptions. But, on the other hand, it might be hard to virtually lose control of your employees. Your mind goes to imagining employees are not working. This is probably not the case, but this can cause anxiety. As an employee, you have a sense of newfound freedom and extra time which you gain from your commute. But you no longer have that mental preparation time before or the decompression time after work.
I have been successfully working remotely in one form or another since the late 1990s. Our company employees are able to be just as effective working from anywhere. It doesn’t matter where clients or employees are. However, the most difficult aspect is how we interact with each other and the added challenges that brings. These include:
Communications and Availability.
While we’re away from each other, we need to ensure we have open lines of communications. Think of a contractor scheduling a home repair. We want the contractor to clearly communicate when the work will begin and how long it will take, as well as periodic updates even it’s to inform us of delays and problems. If you expect something to be done, if it doesn’t happen and you aren’t warned about it, it’s not a good feeling. We need to get in touch with each other in a timely fashion and keep information flowing since you can’t just stop by a person’s desk.
The emphasis on communication helps us to manage our collective expectations. We need to set and manage expectations, both as managers and employees. The important part of expectations is there are always at least two people involved.
If you are a manager and expect your remote employee to be available every second (or really just at the second you need them), you will probably need to adjust your expectations. Maybe they had to use the restroom, or get some water, or deal with the dog or their children. Or imagine someone, under normal circumstances, trying to tighten a nut on a bolt. It’s one thing for an employee to do that in their regular office environment. It’s quite another to try and do the same thing while wearing a space suit. We need to remember that this may be how it is for an employee now working from home. We as managers have two responses to this situation: 1) be gracious and wait patiently, or 2) get upset. Getting upset is not going to help. If you have expectations, keep them reasonable and make sure you communicate them clearly. When employees don’t meet your expectations, have a calm, one-on-one on how they can do better. Give details of how people can be successful.
If you are an employee, over-communicate! Let your manager know that you stepped away and will be back in 10 minutes but be sure to be back in 10 minutes! (This can be easily indicated through the technology I’ll address in a bit). Meet the expectations you set. Or take the time to notify folks if you’re going to be later than you said. You want to give clear insight into what you are working on; err on the side of overcommunicating. Be transparent about what you’re working on. Make sure that you are available for an emergency; keep your phone with you. Sometimes a manager needs to get in touch right away and we need to make it simple for them to contact us. (However, managers should not overuse this.)
We, as managers and employees, must all have new, reasonable expectations from each other. We also need to help each other. No one is exempt from dealing with the stresses of the news each day. Ask each other, “What can I do to help you?” This is a key way to be productive, build up the team and be successful. We are all in this together! We each have a special charge to keep up the morale and culture as we work remotely.
It can be difficult for someone working from home facing challenges of a new work environment, perhaps with people and pets interrupting as the day goes on. We need to be gracious and give people leeway. (After all, we are somewhat invading that person’s home.) Try to set up a designated workspace with a door to keep distractions to a minimum. If that is not possible, embrace the fact that we are at home. Say hi to a coworker’s family that is nearby–they are sharing them with you! Make it easy to feel ok with those interruptions.
Fundamentally we need to trust each other. We do need to hold each other accountable for what we need to get done, but we need to do that by coming alongside each other to get the job done. Ask as often as possible, “How can I help? Are you missing details?” Open a conversation and don’t let a bad situation grow and get out of hand.
And Finally, Technology
Today there almost too many “work from home” solutions out there. Please be very careful selecting or implementing the first suggestion you come across. It is very damaging to have false starts with technology. It wastes time, but more importantly, it makes employees skeptical that the technology can actually work. We don’t want to just throw people into the deep end of the pool. We need to keep our technology as simple as possible because people will disengage if there are too many changes. (For example, I am involved with a local university that has been scrambling to implement online learning over the past few weeks. The Deans are giving this option and that option. This is dangerous especially in light of the difficult news stories we are all forced to deal with every day.)
There are two major solutions: Google Hang Outs and Microsoft Teams. While we support both the Microsoft and Google ecosystems, in this article we are going to focus on Microsoft Office and Teams. Most business users are familiar with Microsoft Office, and we believe there is one significant benefit for the Microsoft solution that sets it apart—context. (As an example of context, consider when you’re driving a car. You see everything that’s going on with a simple glance in your peripheral vision.) Microsoft’s solution gives you clear and continuous context with both visibility and communication to your team and your information with real-time collaboration. With Microsoft Teams, you can easily see what is going on, right now, keep up with everyone and everything without going into another app. You’re able to find what you’re looking for and look at it at the same time with the person you’re talking to. It’s secure and in one place. Microsoft Teams is a tested and stable foundation for the current 56 million users and organizations, up from 30 million a week ago.
Rather than describing the live Teams demonstration (which begins at 20:00 into the linked video), let me briefly highlight a few basic features. Teams includes all employees, telephone, video, chats/reactions, files; also, an activity feed which gives you a good idea of what’s going on. Employees can also set their status (available, busy, away, be right back, etc.) from their computer or phone. If an employee has stepped away, the latest Teams activity is noted in bold in their chat feed; offline/away activity will also be sent via email to their computer (Mac/Windows/Linux) or phone (iPhone or Android). The core of Teams is organized around a Team. People are invited to join a Team. You can add more people, add a channel to discuss subtopics for the Team, collaboratively update files in real-time (ex. updating Excel even if you don’t own it.). You don’t have to change the tools you’re used to working with. You can view all your files and their status (when they were last edited) and who has worked on them. The demonstration in the video is done within the Microsoft ecosystem, and Microsoft supports a tremendous number of third-party integrations. For example, you can easily add Google Drive, Box or Drobox to access files as well as many other tools that you may need or already own.
A ‘plus sign’ shown within Teams allows you to add other functionality. You can add many various apps, etc. One of the most useful included apps is Planner. Planner adds a “Kanban/swim lane” board, you can add tasks to Planner with lots of details for the task including assignee, due date, and progress. Then you’re able to see everything people are assigned and working on – and this all integrates with each user’s calendar. Calendars, meeting scheduling, complete video chat are all available within Teams. You can also integrate your phone system as well. Also, an included app called ‘Delve’ gives you a bird’s eye view of what everyone is working on. It is an excellent tool to keep tabs on how work is progressing and if expectations are communicated effectively.
So, now you have some background on Teams, a robust, tested and stable foundation for your company to be working remotely as soon as possible. The good news is that this can deployed for you right now. But don’t just implement this technical solution, you need to add onboarding and training to allow your people to become comfortable, relax and trust.
We also have some handouts available (for managers and employees) that give some additional tips on how to manage or work from home. Send me a quick email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Link to the Webinar recording https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V12ulwlHp5A
If you need help – rest assured that SaviorLabs can help you make good choices and help you and your people actually use the technology to be productive. SaviorLabs is ready to help immediately. Our support products are called TeamCare because we focus on making your team more effective. We provide training to our customers (even virtually) on how to use these tools to do your job.
We would love to talk further with you about this and other solutions which can help you keep your company working. Please reach out to Adam Mullen via email at email@example.com or me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can call us at (978) 561-6025.