Category Archives: People Matters

Posts related to the people side of strategy and operations

WORK FROM HOME PRACTICES THAT WORK

With COVID-19 driving so many to work remotely, we want to share tips and best practices collected from having worked remotely almost exclusively over the past few years as well as from recent research. Our goal is to maintain high performance for members of our community while fostering safe, productive, and sustainable working conditions for everyone.

WHAT

This document provides insight and data on “evidence-based” practices from personal experience as well as from researching a variety of sources including Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and The American Psychological Association. Our guide is organized into four sections:

  • Security & Privacy
  • Productivity & Communications
  • Team Dynamics
  • Leadership

Security and Privacy

Since the primary goal of remote work is to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus for both individual and community safety, make arrangements to work from home, rather than in public locations like a coffee shop or even a public library. So doing increases your safety, the safety of others, and the security of sensitive information you may be working with.

  • Provide a Virtual Private Network for employees to access if resources permit, along with requisite software and configurations.

  • Do NOT use public wifi

  • Set up strong home WiFi passwords that are different from the default router setting.

  • If you can arrange it, use a wired connection for increased stability and speed. An internet data transfer speed of at least 20 Mbps down / 20 Mbps up is recommended, but as low as 5 Mbps is okay.

  • If anyone can see your display screen, including  roommates, use a privacy screen and/or reposition yourself and/or your display so others can no longer see your work.

  • Lock your screen when you step away; even if at home and even if for just a moment. NEVER leave your laptop unattended in a public place.

Productivity & Communications

  • Share with your team (e.g., via Slack status and/or Google Calendar) how you plan to spend the day and to indicate when you may be available to connect in real-time. 

  • Communicate proactively with your team. When in doubt, over-communicate. Using a team slack-channel is encouraged.

  • Document work, processes, updates more than normal. 

  • Stay responsive during working hours. If you are unclear as to your managers’ and/or team members’ expectations of you when working remotely, ASK, and document the reply in a team charter.

  • Follow meeting best practices
    • Prepare and share an agenda ahead of time in the calendar invitation.

    • Take and promptly post meeting notes.

    • Pause frequently to allow people to engage and not talk over each other.

    • Keep your video display on in your Hangouts and/or Zoom meetings. 

  • Online video meeting platforms have soared in terms of ease of use, quality, and functionality over the past two years. While the experience is still improving with ever more features, it is already hard to see the advantage of meeting in person anymore. If you haven’t tried it, now is the time.

    Follow these online meeting best practices for the best experience:

    • Use your own (vs. a shared display) laptop or desktop computer (vs. a phone or pad).

    • Set up with a light source in front of you and not behind so you will be well-lit and not appear in silhouette due to an open window letting in daylight.

    • Video camera technology has come a long way recently. Get and use a good one (such as this one); they are not terribly expensive and make a huge difference. 

    • Minimize distractions;  be comfortably settled in an ergonomic posture in a quiet place (i.e., not in a coffee shop or while commuting).

    • A good microphone is a big plus but not essential. You can use the microphone and speaker that comes with your computer for regular, non-production use. If you are a major presenter/speaker or if you are being recorded it would be good to get a not too expensive decent quality microphone.

    • Use a headset with built in microphone primarily to hear better and more clearly in noise, but also so that what you are listening to will not be a bother to others near your. Here is a one that has served us well.

    • Join via computer audio so your voice and video will travel together to breakout groups in which you participate.

    • Test your microphone, speakers, and video display; update your display-name, if needed.

    • If Zoom (or equivalent) is already downloaded on your PC, check for updates to have the latest functionality as such applications are updated frequently.

    • Dedicate a primary tab/screen to the visual display; use another to access other resources during a meeting. 

    • Close all other browser tabs and apps for ease of use and speed.

    • Practice to get good at using available functions and features such as screen sharing, emojis to silently express feelings, annotation tools, white boards, chat, polls, breakout rooms, and managing participants.

    • Assign meeting roles, especially when the stakes are high. For example, it is a good idea for the meeting leader, in the role of Host, to assign a Co-Host and someone to monitor Group Chat for questions and responses, as well as someone proficient in technology to help those who are less equipped.

    • Ask for permission to record if so inclined and able to do so. While recording, it may be appropriate to pause or stop, while adjourning to online breakout groups, for example. Assign someone to remind the meeting host to restart the recording as it is common to be swept away in the moment and forget.

    • Set up the online meeting to allow those joining to convene ahead of the official start or when the meeting owner arrives in order to allow people to greet each other and say a few words…just like in an in-person meeting where it is abundantly clear that every meeting starts BEFORE it begins and ends well AFTER if is over!

  • Schedule more frequent than usual one-on-one and team check-ins.

  • Ensure no one else can view and/or overhear your work.

Team Dynamics

  • Remember to look for, and to provide, non-verbal cues as they are still the strongest way to manage communications and positive impressions.

  • Practice video call best practices:
    • Look directly into the camera when speaking. It’s uncomfortable at first but gets easier with practice.

    • Employ active listening . For example, repeat back what you heard before giving yourself permission to speak.

    • Mind how you show up. You don’t want to look like you just got out of bed (but don’t overdress either). High quality cameras show every stray hair on your face or head, so take time to neaten up and look your best.

    • Participate but don’t dominate.

    • Your environment is a reflection of you. Don’t have a distracting or disorderly background.

  • Minimize distracting, background noise.
    • Leave your video on to show others you are engaged, paying attention, and ready to actively participate.

    • Mute yourself when not talking especially when in a noisy area.

    • Turn phone off or on silent so as not to be disturbed.

    • Silence other app notifications (see how to silence Slack).

  • Consider time zone differences for meeting attendees. 
     
  • Be present. Do not multitask. If you have to respond or type to someone, mute yourself and turn off your video so people don’t hear or see you.

Leadership

  • Meet with your direct reports and/or your team. Build a plan of action for the next two weeks with clear owners, deadlines, and operating principles.

  • Build rapport by setting aside time in the beginning of  a meeting for casual, social conversation. These are normally “non-work related” topics (ice breakers are a great example).

  • Make sure everyone on the team has appropriate access to documents/folders to keep work moving.
  • Agree on the primary communication platform for how the team will stay up to date and make decisions.
  • Set a recurring cadence for team check-ins as needed.

  • For meetings, have an agenda ahead of time in the calendar invite. 

  • Get into the rhythm of documenting more than normal. Meeting notes and status emails, for example, strengthen alignment and help offset some of the communication lost from in-office working. 

  • Create (or modify any existing) status reports and make sure all team members have appropriate access.

  • Regularly revisit your agreed-upon action-plan and/or charter;  iterate as necessary.  

  • If you are a manager of managers, cascade your approach down through your organization to keep your approach consistent.  

  • Stay calm, focused, and optimistic. Remember that teams model their managers.  

If you have tips and best practices to add to these please let us know in the comments section below. Good luck with remote work and stay safe and secure!

About the Author

Ian Sander is an accomplished Organization Development & Leadership Development Partner with 5+ years operational and consulting experience at organizations ranging from Series B (60 employees) to global, Fortune 50 industry-leaders (14,000 employees).  

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