With millions of workers globally now working from home in the wake of #covid19, it’s important to reduce confusion and set people up for success during this new normal. That not only includes your team but also clients, vendors, cross functional partners, and any other stakeholders with whom you typically communicate. In this episode, I share 6 tips for working remotely, largely based on my nearly five years of experience as COO of an all-virtual company that had been brick and mortar for 30 years prior. Tune in for specifics on clear communication protocols, professionalizing virtual meetings, sustaining your organization’s culture online, being a coach and being coachable, and managing energy. This big shift in global context calls for new and creative ways of doing business and connecting with all the people in our professional and personal lives.
Episode 43: 6 Best Practices for SHIFTing smoothly to #WFH
Shani Magosky: Is your team not performing well? Is morale low and turnover high? Are you falling further behind the competition? I’m here to help. I’m your host Shani, and this is The LeaderShift Show where business strategy and culture finally meet and we make the long-awaited shift from rhetoric to results. I promise I am not your typical boring leadership consultant, and I will help you get your shift together. Let’s do this.
Hey, Leadershifters. Welcome to another episode of The LeaderShift Show. Many of you have shifted to work-from-home arrangements, some of you now for close to a month since we first had COVID-19 creeping onto US soil. I have been working virtually or remotely for over 13 years now. In fact, I used to run a company that when I became the CEO of it, we transitioned from being a brick and mortar company to an all-highly distributed organization with employees all over the country, in Canada, and even a few in Europe. I’d like to share some of the wisdom that I developed during that time with those of you for whom working from home is a new thing.
Because the problem is not everybody knows what are the best practices for working from home, you’ve been used to being in the office for so long. I have come up with six tips, six tips, to make shifting to working from home hopefully, easier and as productive as it can possibly be for teams and organizations. It’s important because people are confused and maybe even ill-equipped to be productive when they’re working from home.
I know you may be thinking, “Oh, we got this covered. I know how to do this.” Well, do you? Does your entire team know? Do your clients know? Do your vendors know? Do the cross-functional colleagues with whom you work really know? I’d venture to guess that there is definitely going to be some gaps in the knowledge and how people approach the work from home situation. These six tips should be universal to help anyone have a productive dialogue about what needs to be done or done differently now that this is the new normal for the time being.
Tip number one for shifting smoothly to work from home is set a clear communication protocol with everyone you work with on a regular basis. That would be your team, your clients, your vendors, cross-functional partners, and other colleagues. First of all, you need to decide what tools are you going to use to communicate for which purposes? Frankly, we should be doing this even when we’re working in the office, but it’s even more important when we’re working remotely so that there is alignment and consistency with what communication tools are being used.
For example, when are we going to use email versus text message? For example, is text message or Slack Messenger what we’re going to use when things are timely or we want a response right away, and email is for things where people can take a little bit longer? Frankly, if it is, what is the expected response time on the team to reply to an email? When are we going to use voicemail? What about the other cloud tools that either were being used, but maybe not consistently in the office, but maybe it’s even more imperative that we use them now, and perhaps there’s even some tools that have been introduced since there’s been more proliferation of working from home?
Whatever the tools are on your team, align with everybody what tool you’re going to use, what the context is, and what the expected response time is. Importantly, don’t forget about the good old-fashioned tool, the telephone, because sometimes doing things electronically, you lose so much. If it’s going to be more than a couple of back and forths over email or instant messenger, pick up the fricking phone and talk to people. It will actually expedite the whole situation.
Some other things to think about in terms of standardizing communication. If your team isn’t already doing this, and again, you really should be, but no time like the present to button things up just a little bit for your collaboration and knowledge sharing tools, do you have very clear naming protocols and filing systems so that people can find things when you’re trying to share them remotely?
Tip number two for shifting more seamlessly to virtual work situation. Professionalize those virtual meetings. It boggles my mind how after all of these years of doing business over Google Hangouts, or Zoom, or Microsoft Teams, or whatever the platform is, how many people don’t take virtual meetings as seriously as they would take a meeting that you showed up to in a conference room. We have to make sure that these meetings are not a waste of people’s time.
First of all, do them on video. The connection that you have by at least being able to see each other and to virtually look each other in the eyes is better than over the phone and it prevents people from multitasking. If people are just on the phone and they have you on mute, you don’t know whether they’re doing dishes or walking the dog, versus if they’re on camera, they’ve got to be more present.
The second thing in terms of professionalizing virtual meetings, everyone, please take ownership of your own technology. Log in early, a few minutes early to test your audio and your video, and to install any updates because inevitably, there are updates, if not daily, at least every few days, and you don’t want to be delaying the start of the meeting because people are still running their updates and so forth.
When you’re on camera, be professional about it. Be relatively centered. Don’t have your head partially cut off or don’t be in the corner. Make it professional. Have decent lighting. The best tip I can give you for lighting is don’t be incredibly backlit. Be conscious of your environment. Is it super noisy? Do you have kids, or pets, or other distracting background noise that are going to interfere with people’s ability to focus in the meeting? If so, find a different place to have your meeting, a different place in your home.
This goes without saying for any meeting but, of course, critical to keep virtual meetings on track. Make sure you have a clear agenda, everyone knows what it is beforehand ideally, and reiterated at the beginning of the meeting so that people know what to expect and to come prepared to those virtual meetings. Encourage participation. Don’t just let the same old people talk. If you are leading a virtual meeting, solicit input from everybody on the meeting. Call on people whose voices haven’t been heard yet. That’s one way to make it engaging because making it engagement is extremely important to keep people present and focused and paying attention on these virtual meetings.
Use the features that the technology has made available to us. There’s whiteboards and there’s breakout rooms and there’s obviously pens and things that you can do to bring everybody to collaborate on screen and add. There’s no reason not to pull those tools in and to take questions in the chat room and so forth.
Do creative things. If you’ve got people calling into your video meeting from all over the world, put a map of the world upon the screen as people are answering and have people put a dot where they are in the world. Then it’s cool for everybody to see like, “Oh, we’ve got people calling in from Europe and the Middle East, and maybe Brazil, and Canada, and California.” Again, it’s engaging and it’ll make the meetings more fun than if we’re not intentionally creating engaging ways for people to show up.
Have fun, that’s part of engagement. It’s not a waste of time to give people a quick virtual tour of your home office or to show them what’s out the window if you’ve got a nice view or something like that. Although we don’t want the pets making noise, introduce your pets maybe if they happen to be around. Your cats, or your dogs, or your goldfish, introduce them to the virtual participants. It’ll just, again, create that connection that is so important and needed, especially during high-stress times like we’re going through now.
Then at the end of the meeting, make sure to corral everybody back up and verbalize, okay, what are the key takeaways of the meetings, what are the commitments that were made, and are the next steps, who’s responsible for them, and what’s the timing, so that everybody leaves with the same marching orders? That’s tip number two about virtualizing or professionalizing your virtual meetings.
Tip number three, don’t forget your corporate culture, bring it with you, to your house, and to all of your interactions with colleagues and clients. Don’t forget, what’s your mission, vision, and values. You should operate accordingly, regardless of where. Number two, in terms of bringing your culture, sometimes you’re going to need to redefine what the behaviors of the culture look like if you’re not in the office together.
It may be necessary to redesign your alliance, and what that means is to co-create the rules of the road with the folks that you’re working with most frequently. If you’re a leader, make sure you’re doing this with all of your direct reports. If you’re on a cross-functional team, somebody needs to voice this and make sure it happens when all of a sudden, the team are collaborating remotely.
The questions that you should be asking each other and coming to some conclusions about so that everybody is on the same page. What do you want to expect from each other when we’re meeting virtually? How are we going to stay accountable when we can’t just show up at someone’s desk and ask where does something stand? What obstacles do we anticipate while working from home, or in this virtual environment? How do we want to approach them when they arise?
How do we want to handle any conflict when it comes up? We can’t pull people into a conference room or take them out for coffee right now, to deal with conflict the way we might if we were still in the office, so how do we want to handle that? We certainly don’t want to delay it. Figure out, again, what are the new rules for the road there, and what are the things do people need to stay focused, engaged, as anxiety-free as possible, and as productive as possible?
Lastly, keep the team spirit high, and don’t feel you have to do that alone if you’re a leader. Solicit input from your team members and say, “Hey, folks, what are some other ways that we can maintain our esprit de corps today, this week, this month?” Because everyone can come up with great ideas along those lines.
Idea number four, for shifting smoothly to virtual work arrangements, coach and be coachable. Everyone can coach, you can coach, your directs you can coach, your peers you can coach, clients even, and you can even coach up to your managers or supervisors. If you don’t know how to coach, you can certainly ping me offline, and I am happy to teach you the formal methods that I teach people to coach in the workplace effectively. Let me just give you a quick and dirty way to coach people that I call, the four whats.
It’s essentially, hey, what’s going on? As in, what’s the situation, and/or what’s your desired outcome? You’re just establishing the topic, and what the goal is for the topic. What number two, what’s currently happening, what’s the current status? Now you’re figuring out what’s happened up until this point. The third what is, what could you do? You want to get the other person to brainstorm about what their options are, what could they do in an ideal world, what could they do if they were in charge? Get them to solve their own problems, which is essentially the definition of coaching.
What number four is to choose from the ideas they had brainstorming. What will you do, what will you commit to, and by when will you do it? What do you want to talk about or what’s your desired outcome, what’s happening, what could you do, what will you do, and by when? Those are the four whats, anybody can use them to coach anyone, pretty much on just about any topic. Try it, and let me know how it goes.
You should also be coachable. It’s more imperative than ever, to be communicating and to be giving people feedback, both positive and constructive about how we’re operating in this new normal. Let people know what’s working, what’s not working, what you’d like to see them do differently, and give it to them in a formal, professional way.
For those of you who still haven’t availed yourself of my feedback class, which is a seven module, self-paced, online school of feedback, and it’s called Feedback is the 3rd Currency, How to Turn Feedback into Profits. I’m going to offer a 50% discount, if you are listening to this podcast, to go ahead and download this class, use the discount code, Brave New World, and you’ll get 50% off of my feedback class. That’s Brave New World, and you’ll get half off.
Tip number five, manage your energy, and if you’re leading people, make sure your team are managing their energy. That means take breaks throughout the day. 90 minutes, is the conventional wisdom about how often human beings need to take a quick break. That can just be, get up from the desk, take a walk around the house, get a glass of water, use the bathroom and come back. We need to take those 90-minute breaks, short breaks every 90 minutes. Get outside and get some fresh air, it’s not healthy to be inside all day. Luckily the weather has improved for most of us, so get outside, breathe some fresh air.
You might even meditate outside, if you’re not meditating outside, meditate inside for a few minutes before you start to work, and maybe once in the afternoon when you need to reset your energy level. Meditate in a way that’s meaningful for you. If you’re not the person that’s going to sit there cross-legged, and close your eyes, and meditate, meditate in a way that resonates for you. That could just be breathing consciously for a few minutes, spending 10 minutes doing jumping jacks. I don’t care what it is but getting your brain out of the monotony of the task-focused trap that we get caught in throughout the day.
Go out for lunch, or at least have lunch away from your computer. Hopefully, you’ve all stocked up on things if you’re quarantined, go to the kitchen, sit down without your laptop, and without your phone, have a peaceful meal, nourish your body, eat plenty of protein to keep the energy level up while you’re working from home. Stay hydrated. I know it may not be as fun to drink regular water out of your refrigerator than it is to have the fruity water or the Kombucha that are in fancy break rooms throughout corporations, but staying hydrated is a key to managing your energy.
Last but not least, tip number six, for shifting seamlessly smoothly to those work from home situations, be in a spirit of continuous improvement. You may not get this right out of the gate, so try something, see how it works, and pivot accordingly. It’s just like anything that’s new, we’re going to launch it, we’re going to get or we’re going to pivot it, we’re going to get feedback, we’re going to iterate, and launch it again, and do that until we figure out what works, which is part of the reason why feedback is so important.
Until we’ve got the right habits formed for ourselves and for our teams, we want to check in with our colleagues, with ourselves, and be super honest about what’s working about working from home, what’s not working, what do we want to try doing differently, and then relying on what that looks like.
To recap, Shani’s six best practices for working from home. Number one, set a clear communication protocol with everyone you do business with, for every mode of communication, along with response time. Please, please, please, professionalize your virtual meetings and hold people accountable to showing up prepared and in a professional way on camera. Number three, remember to incorporate your culture into the way you do business even though it seems a little unusual. Number four, coach others and be coachable yourself and that includes feedback. Number five, manage your energy. Number six, continuously improve.
Let me know how this little virtual work playbook is working for you. Of course, be sure to wash your hands frequently, and don’t touch your face, and stay away from groups larger than 10, and do all the things that our leaders and the CDC recommends to stay healthy and safe during this time of the Coronavirus. Thank you for listening to another episode of The LeaderShift Show. If you have any questions or suggestions for topics, ping me at firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks again.