It's been a rough week. Coronavirus has spread to 120 countries, infected over 137,000 people, and killed over 5,000 people (at the time of writing). It has been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, and it looks like things are going to get worse before they get better.
Reacting to news of coronavirus’ continued spread, stock markets in numerous countries have entered into bear markets. The United States’ Dow Jones Industrial Average experienced the biggest single day loss since 1987.
Across the world, companies have reacted by asking their employees to work from home and avoid unnecessary contact with other individuals. This practice is being called “social distancing”, and is vital to helping slow the spread of the virus.
Where do we go from here?
More than ever, work is being done remotely. According to Owl Labs, 54% of U.S. workers work remotely at least once per month, 48% work remotely at least once per week, and 30% work remotely full-time. With the spread of coronavirus, employees who previously were unexposed to remote work will be asked to do so for the first time. While this is clearly important to helping mitigate the spread of the virus, working remotely can be more of an art than a science for both employees and their managers. While employees are being asked to practice physical “social distancing”, it’s more important than ever to come closer together digitally.
In this article, we’ve compiled some successful strategies we’ve seen for working remotely on the employee side. On the employer side, building and maintaining employee engagement in a remote-first environment can be challenging but rewarding. Later in the article, we’ll discuss some top-down company strategies we believe will be critical for the future of remote work.
Structure and Organization is Your Friend
Working remotely means the line between your personal life and your work life can become very blurry. Without proper structure and organization, individuals can fall into the trap of letting important work priorities slip for short-term household priorities. Many employees can actually find themselves longing for the rigid structure that they once had in their physical offices. There are a few important tips to help maintain optimal productivity when working remotely:
- Designate a Workspace. While working from underneath your blanket in bed might seem like a good idea, it is certainly not optimal for productivity. Setting a specific location to work is always helpful when it comes time to hunker down and work -- your mind will switch into productivity-mode. Whichever space you choose, keep it consistent and let others around you know this is your “office” during regular working hours.
- Set a Schedule. Treat working remotely just the same as working in an office. You should not show up to your remote office later than you would your physical office. On the flip side, knowing when to leave work at work is equally as important. Working remotely does not mean that employees are expected to be “always on”. Set time to have dinner with your loved ones, just as you would on a regular work day. Find time to get outside to break up staying in one location for too long.
- Dress For Work. When employees first start working from home, the allure of always wearing pajamas can be very real. But just as working from bed is a bad idea, so is wearing clothes that tell your brain “I’m not in work mode”.
Be Extra Social and Communicative
Being a part of a great team can be one of the most rewarding aspects of any job. When working remotely, it’s critical that everyone errs on the side of being extra social and over communicative. This is equally important for you as it is your team members. Here are a few tips that help improve digital engagement:
- Be Active on Internal Communication Channels. While it might go without saying, being active on the software that your company uses to internally communicate should be a top priority. Lean into and embrace features that companies like Slack and Mattermost offer. Let other employees know you have seen their messages by responding in a thread, even if it seems like you don’t need to. React to every important message with an emoji (thumbs up, 100, etc) to let others know their message hasn’t been unread and sent out into the void. By doing this, other employees will feel like their thoughts are being valued and will be more receptive to your messages. Have a channel specifically dedicated to non-work related topics; employees working remotely should also feel encouraged to talk about their lives the same way they would if they were in a physical office. At Promoted, we believe companies should be actively incentivizing good digital behavior like this -- it’s crucial to building proper team dynamics.
- Be Active on One Video Conferencing Service. In order to avoid confusion on how employees should talk to one another, it’s important to choose one video conferencing service and stick with it. We have by far seen the most success with Zoom, but Google Hangouts can offer a cost effective alternative to smaller organizations. Whichever video conferencing service your company chooses, stick with it. There’s nothing worse than having audio issues or confusion over which link to use cut into time that could’ve been spent being productive. Moreover, schedule more video conferences (even one-on-one sessions) than you think are necessary. Some of our most important conversations happen organically and it’s vital to plan conversation time that otherwise would have occurred in the physical office. One successful strategy is to schedule “virtual team lunches” where members of your team collectively eat lunch together. It sounds silly, but can prove to be valuable and fun in the long-run.
- Make Good Use of Shared Calendars. Even if it is blocking time that you have scheduled for lunch, showing other employees what your day looks like is beneficial for a number of reasons. It helps to keep your own day organized when an abundance of distractions can be present at home (“maybe I’ll just take 30 minutes to clean the house”). Secondly, it helps show the rest of your company precisely what you’re working on. There never is any question of what you accomplished, even if you accomplished it from your living room.
- Organize Daily and Weekly Stand-ups. Hold a video conference every morning between members of your immediate team. Highlight what tasks everyone is prioritizing, and make sure everyone is on the same page. Hold a video conference weekly with your broader team with the same goals in mind. This helps to establish a cadence to the start of the work day and unite everyone around common goals.
Remote work is here to stay and, due to the spread of coronavirus, more people than ever are being introduced to it. While remote work can be incredibly freeing, it’s helpful to keep the above tips in mind to remain productive and engaged with your broader team. At Promoted, we implement these practices ourselves and build software that helps other companies incentivize their employees in all the right ways. If you're interested in learning more, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org