Holding the Team Together While Working from Home
10 ways to communicate effectively in a working-from-home environment
By Bill Zolis
I’m working from home during the Coronavirus situation, and I’m guessing that many or most of you are, too. In the past, I did this when it was convenient or when I was off-site for travel and business, but now all of a sudden it’s taken on a much more important role, and that’s what I’d like to talk about today.
I think most of us have experience in working off-site, and I won’t repeat the basic stuff like keeping regular hours, not wearing pyjamas and turning off social media. I’d like to look at it from a communications and team perspective.
Here are 10 things I’ve learned that I think can make a difference.
- Make sure you have a start-of-day routine for communicating with your team. It helps to put everyone, including yourself, in start-mode, and it helps to reinforce a sense of structure to the workday. It is also an opportunity to do the remote equivalent of greeting your colleagues at the office with a “Good morning,” — which also says, “I’m here if you need me.”
- Many of us use software that lets you sign in, display your availability and schedule, chat, file-share, teleconference and so on. But whether you have these systems up and running or whether you are relying on e-mail and conference calls, I think it is extremely important to make the extra effort to ensure that things run smoothly. It’s easy for people to get frustrated by the inevitable software glitches and hiccups in the system – especially if they are not yet comfortable with the technology. I see this as an opportunity to lead by example, remain positive, work through the glitches, and support other members of the team in making it work.
- Tailor your workday to your best productivity cycles, but also try to stay in tune with the best times for others in the group. For example, a 1 PM teleconference might catch a lot of people at a low ebb in their daily cycles and might not be the best time. You may find that you are most creative first thing in the morning, and schedule one-on-one calls for the afternoon. I find that getting the routine admin stuff taken care of right after lunch gives me a lift that makes the rest of my afternoon more productive – but it may be that you prefer to get these things out of the way first thing in the morning. Whatever works for you.
- Make a quick list of things you want to accomplish today and pencil in a rough schedule. Things like calls and teleconferences may already be scheduled, but I find it useful to sketch out what else I need to do. At the office, work often tends to come to me. Working from home, I often find that I have to sit back for a few moments, think it through, and decide where I need to reach out to make sure I’m covering all the bases.
- The same applies to people I need to stay in contact with. I find that it’s a real time-saver to reach out to people with a quick note at the start of the day to schedule phone conversations. This is very helpful for staying in touch – or, to put it another way, to avoid that vague uncertainty that maybe we’re not in touch.
- Communicate the little things. Within reason. At the office, we have lots of 30-second conversations on little things that usually don’t amount to much. But they do also serve the very important purpose of leaving both parties with the clear understanding that “we’re all good here.” And sometimes they lead to more important conversations on things we might not have realized we needed to discuss. Let’s not ignore that need when we’re all off-site and out of sight – a good reason to send a note or make a quick call might be as simple as “We haven’t talked all week.”
- Don’t forget the social aspects of work. At the office, we greet one another, chat during breaks, and have “blue sky” discussions – that often turn out to be the most productive time of the day. On a teleconference or group chat, we might be tempted to think “strictly business,” which is fine, but… we do rely on the social interaction to keep us on the same page, and we should not overlook it.
- If much of your “normal” communication with co-workers, clients and other contacts is face-to-face, keep in mind that you have to adapt your communications style. In a word, over-communicate. It’s much easier to not understand or to misunderstand if we’re not face-to-face. Express yourself clearly and fully. Ask for feedback: “You see what I’m saying?” or “Are we all okay with that?”
- Provide some subtle support to people who may not be as experienced in working from home just to keep them in the loop and connected. I’m still often surprised when I call people and they tell me, “I’m glad you called, because I wasn’t sure of what I should do.”
- Sign off and report at the end of the day – and not just along the usual reporting channels, but to other members of your team. I think this applies especially if you’re in a leadership role. The sign-off and/or wrap-up for the day clearly says, “Okay, we’re off-line now, and you’re not expected to be tied to your smartphone for work again until tomorrow morning.” Oddly enough, work-life balance is as important – if not more important – when people are working from home as it is when they’re in the office 35 or 40 hours a week.
Coronavirus has certainly kicked working from home up to the next level. Just three weeks ago, it was a convenient and occasional option. Today it’s the only game in town. Of course, it’s only one aspect of how our country, and indeed the whole world, is dealing with this pandemic, but I wonder if we are looking at the new norm for work in general. It may well be that when we get through this – and I’m certain we will get through this – we will find the ways we work together changed forever.
In the meantime, keep safe, stay healthy… and carry on.
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