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Working Remotely

March 17, 2020

Millions of employees are working from home now and most haven’t really done it on the reg or work at companies which have little infrastructure, training, or policies for working remotely. No one knows how long this will last so this post will go through some tips on how to be more effective at working remotely.

Kuali has been a remote company since its founding. We now have 100 employees and about 80% work at home most of the time. 70% work at home all of the time prior to covid-19.

Here are some things we do to improve the remote experience:

Management

  • Get the right people and trust them. Effective remote work is impossible if you don’t trust the people you work with.
  • Every employee who comes into the company gets trained (by me) on what our expectations about remote work are.
  • We rely heavily on video conferencing. Zoom is great, and I’m sure others are great, too.
  • We require people to keep their camera on for meetings (we leave exceptions up to the employee, but continually remind people that cameras should be on in meetings). We don’t do meetings in person right now, but if there’s ever a meeting with people in the same room, and at least one person is remote, everyone in the meeting has to be on a screen with a camera.
  • Don’t overwhelm the team with meetings. You can get a lot done with a simple document explaining something or a video posted in a Slack channel for comment.
  • Talk to your teams frequently (video, messages, whatever). Say good morning in Slack. Send out a video once in a while, talking about the state of things. Whatever. Just be an anchor, reminding your team that they’re not alone. That there is a direction. And that they’re doing fine.
  • Consider using a shared task/goal list with a project management tool like Monday.com or Asana.
  • Do regular one-on-ones. Make it a priority. Ask the kinds of questions you might ask if you went out to lunch together.
  • Encourage people to take the time they need to do personal stuff and to be open about it. Because people are practicing social distancing right now, there is likely a heavy load of attending to personal and family business at home—school packets, attending to small children, going for a walk, etc. Even when they’re not dealing with a pandemic, you don’t want people to feel like they need to sneak around to take care of the personal stuff they want to do. Give people the space they need and encourage them to be open.

Teams

  • Our teams meet together for a short time each morning (standups). Most do this over video conference, but some do it virtually in Slack. We keep the meetings short and focused on accountability and establishing what roadblocks need to be removed.
  • Multi-tasking is a big issue with remote work. It’s so easy to tab over to another window and work during meetings. If meetings are so lame that people don’t need to be there then cancel the meetings. But if you’re holding a meeting, it will be much more effective if everyone is involved. Establish a norm that people shouldn’t have other windows up during meetings. I try to literally keep my hands in plain sight so the other people don’t think I’m secretly working during the meeting.
  • Have a Slack (or the chat tool of your choice) channel for just chatting. Set an example by saying good morning, good night, have a good weekend, here’s what I did yesterday, we made this for dinner last night, etc.
  • Consider playing online games on some regular basis (some of our teams do it on Friday afternoons). Yes, I’m serious. It helps with bonding. One of our teams plays a different game every week. It might be a board game like Secret Hitler or computer game like Minecraft or a card game or whatever.
  • Remote book clubs can be great. These take management and organization, but they’re a great way to learn and also to socialize a little.
  • We’re trying a new thing. We created a working-together-quietly Zoom room which people can come into throughout the day. The rules are that people don’t talk as they come in or out and don’t talk in the room, generally. We take a break at :25 and :55 after the hour for five minutes. Some people just come in at the :25 and :55 to say hello and then duck back out. It’s an experiment, but it’s kind of nice so far.

Individuals

  • You will be surprised at how much productive time you free up! At first, some people don’t know what to do with their time. They’re waiting for someone to tell them what to do or what meeting to attend. Say no to unnecessary meetings and relish the quiet, thinking time that you now have!
  • Have good headphones and a good mic.
  • Turn off notifications or minimize Slack (or Facebook or whatever) to get more done.
  • Write down what you’re going to do at the beginning of the day. At the end of the day, consider how you did and think of what you want to do the next day, and get the satisfaction of checking things off the list—even making the to-do list in the first place. This seems really obvious, but it’s a huge deal for productivity when you’re surrounded by distractions.
  • Get up and get dressed as if you’re going to an office.
  • If possible, keep your physical workspace separate from your living space. Keeping them separate helps you have a different mindset. If I’m not careful, I wake up, grab my laptop and I’m working in bed before 6am. I suspect that people work longer hours when they work from home and I don’t see this as a good thing. Having a separate physical space allows you to go someplace where you start work and then also leave work by walking away. It’s really critical that you also make clear boundaries for those you live with that your work space needs to be respected.
  • If possible, separate your digital work environment from your digital personal environment. Environment affects focus. If you can use a different computer, that’s great. Or you could use a different desktop (instructions for Mac and Windows). If you have notifications turned on or Facebook just a tab away, it becomes so much easier to become defocused.
  • Try to develop healthy habits. Exercise, meditation, and sleep help to keep good routines going and with clarity of mind. These activities help you keep up regular routines when you’re practicing social distancing. Think of how you can be more productive and happy and create habits to help you do it.
  • Set up a timer to take breaks. A friend uses TomatoTimer. She sets it for 25 minutes and takes a five minute break.

Covid-19 will change a lot of things for all of us. One positive change may be that we will all get better at working remotely, as individuals and as organizations, which I see as an incredibly positive change.

Hope this is helpful.




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