Put on Some Pants

April 2, 2020

Hey everyone. I'd like to welcome you to the new normal, at least for the foreseeable future.

As the world, and the US in particular is coming to grips with the fact that "Social Distancing" is going to be key to managing the COVID-19 outbreak (and likely other similar problems in the future), many companies are putting more thought, effort, and action into empowering their employees to work remotely when possible.

WatchTower is in an interesting position where a large part of the company has been working remotely full time, but we also have an office that the Business Team tends to congregate in day to day. Recently, some of those full-time remote team members shared some insights to help the typically office-bound employees stay as effective and efficient as possible. This, coupled with my own previous experiences working remotely made me think others new to this arrangement might appreciate some tips as well. Some of these may sound obvious, but hopefully you'll get at least one or two good tips that are new to you, so here goes nothing!

Put on some pants - Not only will this put you in a "working" mental state, it can save you embarrassment when you stand up on a video conference.

Be aware of your surroundings - Related to the pants above, check what’s in view of your camera before getting on a video call. Make sure there's nothing you would feel awkward explaining to your customers or coworkers.

Set up a designated work space - Preferably this is a place with a door, and that you have to make a small effort to get to. My home office is in our attic. The "commute" of walking outside, and up the stairs helps me get in the zone. Your situation may vary, but try to replicate the idea, if not the specifics.

Leave your designated work space at the end of your day - Just as important as having a designated work space, you’ll want to physically leave this space at the end of your normal business day. If possible, sign out of communication tools, or set them to do-not-disturb mode. Now that your office is in your home, it's important to define work time vs. home time to prevent burnout.

Consider daily stand-ups – This is something that many developers do, but when you are distributed, it becomes more important as a thing for your whole team. This doesn’t have to be a big deal, just a quick update on:

  1. What you accomplished yesterday.
  2. What you're planning on tackling today.
  3. Any issues that might get in the way.

This helps others know how best to help you, or whether it’s best to just get out of your way and let you concentrate. As an added benefit, this keeps you accountable to yourself.

Take breaks throughout the day - In the office, you might not notice the time you spend getting a coffee, or talking to your coworker about their latest business idea (Socks, Socks, Socks!) but those times are actually important. Not only is it good for your mental well-being, it also helps you maintain focus throughout the day, and jump starts your creativity.

Face-to-face communication is important – Even if it’s virtual, working on projects becomes easier if you can see the person you are working with. Explaining nuanced situations or collaborating on the best way to do something is made more efficient when you have visual cues to go off of. This can drastically improve your understanding and absorption of the topics you're discussing. Just be sure to follow up in writing with notes, and action items so everyone is on the same page at the end.

Be realistic about what you can accomplish - Most likely, working from home isn't something that you've been planning and preparing for. Especially as schools close and children are stuck at home, you're likely to be dealing with more distractions and interruptions than you’re used to. Whether it's from fighting children, your spouse visiting to take a break, or the dog knocking over everything on your dining room table, there will be new problems to deal with. It's understandable if you can't be as efficient as you were in the office, especially at the beginning. Prioritize things that are business critical vs. things that are nice to haves. Keep revisiting this with your manager and coworkers, so you can be on top of changing priorities.

Tools - And now for the obligatory "tools" discussion. Of course, you can send e-mails back and forth or pick up a phone but when people are stuck at home, other tools might make more sense. In my time working remotely at previous companies, and talking to others in a similar situation, the social isolation and the difficulty staying in the loop are some of the hardest things to deal with. There are tools available to you that help on those fronts more than a simple e-mail or phone call.

Slack or Discord - are easier ways to carry on a real-time conversation between two or more people. They are also helpful for keeping discussion on different topics organized. As an added bonus, you can use emojis and GIFs to convey emotion. These platforms also have application integrations that can make your workflows easier to manage.

Zoom or Google Hangouts - can help you feel like you're still part of a team. Use it for work meetings, use it to catch up, heck you can even use it for a virtual group lunch or happy hour. Yesterday, we had a virtual coffee break and it lifted the whole teams’ spirits. That alone is worth the effort of using a tool like this!

Google docs - allows for collaborative document editing. When working in a group, having multiple people able to make edits at the same time ensures that changes don't get lost in version control. This is also a great way to virtually collaborate as you would on a whiteboard in an office.

I hope you find value in at least one or two things on this list (if not, I'm sure you'll find thousands of other tips in the similar posts that are popping up everywhere these days). I have saved the most important thing for last though and that is this:

Everyone is different, and everyone will adjust to this new normal differently. Find out what your co-workers or clients prefer while in person meetings are not possible - phone calls? E-mails? Video chats? Keep your lines of communication open, so you can adjust to be as helpful as possible to the people you are working with or working for.

Now go put on some pants. Goodbye, and good luck.

 - David Hahl, Business Operations Strategist

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