By Eric Michrowski (President & CEO Propulo Consulting)
The COVID-19 Pandemic is driving a rapid shift to remote work across North America. Most leaders have woken up to the criticality of shifting workers that are non-essential to locations where there is a lesser risk to spread the virus. Those that haven’t yet, might wake up one morning with the entire office quarantined which is a significantly worse outcome.
If you haven’t yet moved to remote work, my suggestion is to get in front of it as soon as you can and before it gets mandated in your community. Having worked with virtual teams for the better part of the last decade and having migrated two different organizations through this process, I can firmly say that most knowledge and service-based work can be done just as effective remotely.
If you already incorporate some form of telecommuting into your routines, the shift will be seamless. If you had the plans in your Business Recovery Plan and tested it regularly, it shouldn’t be too hard to implement. But if this wasn’t planned, it will prove to be challenging at first.
Some experts emphasize the importance of implementing new collaborative tools and technologies. When it’s being rapidly implemented, keep it simple. I suggest four new Apps/Tools that you will want to rapidly implement to create the structure.
1. Some basic form of audio and/or video collaboration tool
Conference calls should become the way of life while people work remotely. Video conferencing can be helpful for collaboration or white boarding but isn’t as essential on a shoestring budget. Considering tools like GoToMeeting, RingCentral, UberConference, Zoom or Webex to name a few of the top providers if you don’t already have advanced internal capabilities.
2. Some basic social/collaboration tool
This will help share ideas, tasks and information that people may require and keep that communication off email which could clog down productivity. Consider tools like Yammer or Slack which can usually be rapidly deployed.
3. A shared workspace or document management tool
I’d keep this simple if you don’t already have such a tool. This could be something as simple as Google Docs where more than one person can collaborate on a document or spreadsheet (possibly while being on a call). Tools like Samepage or SharePoint can also fit the bill but typically are more complicated to setup.
4. A daily huddle (yes, the lowest tech tool)
It’s very easy for people to get distracted when working remotely during a crisis. Many will have to balance childcare arrangements with partners also working from home without the right home office setup. Some people will get lonely working remotely. It’s essential to create a meeting cadence. I suggest the age-old best practice of a daily huddle where you organize a daily 10-15 minute call (30 minutes max) to review the prior day actions, “stucks” and commit to a plan for the day. A regular touchpoint will bring cadence to the work that will exceed what any other form of technology can bring.
This list isn’t comprehensive. It’s just a starting point to get you setup quickly in a remote environment and continue to be productive.
By Brie DeLisi
There is a call to practice Social Distancing in order to limit the spread of COVID-19, and many organizations have responded accordingly. Companies are shifting to an entirely remote workforce, where possible, and with this significant shift in the physical nature of the workplace, comes a new workforce dynamic. Meetings that were previously held in person are now shifting to a virtual conference call – and that can exacerbate pre-existing issues around participant engagement. In order to better prepare you and your team for this new meeting setting, we’ve compiled a number of recommendations to run effective virtual meetings:
- Pick the appropriate tool for collaboration – do you need video capability? Screen sharing? Recording?
- Video chat is highly recommended, as it is more engaging because the participants can see one another, their expressions, and their attention to the conversation.
- Give plenty of notice – last minute meeting invites can result in a lack of attendance if the invitees are doing other work and not focus on their inbox.
- Make the meetings short and to the point – the longer the call, the more likely you will lose focus and engagement.
- Provide an agenda and assign responsibility to as many of the invitees as possible to elicit participation.
- Pay attention to your email attachment size – most servers have a size limit 10 MB. Compress and convert to PDFs when possible or share on a cloud platform.
- Set group ground rules for meeting etiquette. Examples include: no multi-tasking, interrupting others mid-sentence, hanging up early, remain cognizant of the noises around you that can be heard by others, etc.
- Take attendance – don’t assume that everyone is on the call.
- Ask open-ended questions to increase engagement levels, instead of asking simple “yes” or “no” response questions.
- At the end of the meeting, provide a recap of what was discussed and align on next steps.
- Send out an email to all attendees with meeting notes and next steps.
By Josh Williams, Ph.D. & Julia Borges, M.A.
Amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic, more organizational leaders are making the challenging and responsible decision to shift everyday work to be done remotely by employees. While this can support the slow of this pandemic, this work style can present a host of organizational challenges, stressors, and increase levels of uncertainty. If organizations are going to shift to remote work, it is important that they gather and implement best practices to make this transition as seamless as possible:
• Set aside a specific place to work. Having a designated work area helps compartmentalize work and minimize home distractions. It also sends a signal to family members that you are unavailable when working in your workspace. As an aside, it is worthwhile to check if working from home may have tax deduction implications.1
• Create well defined work times. Working from home allows for increased productivity since many distractions (e.g., coworkers chatting, etc.) are eliminated. However, it’s critical to set specific start and end times and maintain this discipline when “on the clock.” Creating specific work time parameters allows for better production along with an easier separation between work-life and home-life issues.
• Stay connected. One of the biggest disadvantages of home offices is that it’s easy for employees to work in silos without getting context from nearby coworkers. Setting up regular touchpoint meetings and making the effort to email and call coworkers keeps important communication flowing throughout the organization. It also may fight social isolation that some people may feel moving from a traditional environment to a home office.2,3
• Schedule periodic breaks to stay fresh. It’s important to take regular breaks to avoid fatigue along with potential concerns like repetitive motion injuries. We think more clearly when we make time to take breaks, go for walks etc., during the business day.
• Avoid the traps of social media and other media distractions. It can be enticing to spend too much time on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media during the workday. Another distraction can be the volatility of the stock market, especially in times like these. While staying up to date is important, ensuring it doesn’t consume your day is crucial. Treat yourself to these activities once your workday is over or set aside time to keep yourself up to date with the latest news. Eliminating these items from toolbar bookmarks may also help.4
• Prioritize your tasks to match your productive time. Individuals have different times when they’re most productive. Some early risers are highly efficient in the morning while others work better later in the day. Setting up easy-to-complete tasks during your less productive times frees you up to use your maximum brainpower during times when you’re most productive.5
• Keep an ergonomically fit workspace. Whether you are in the office or at home, keeping a workspace that ensures your health and wellbeing is crucial. Here’s a list of a few items that can help you achieve this: a laptop stand that ensures your computer screen is at eye level, a remote keyboard and mouse, and an ergonomic office chair.
While organizations and individual work styles are all unique and solutions may differ based on that, these tips are some ways to get organizations thinking about how to increase productivity in remote work, while also making it an enjoyable, safe experience. Employees may even find that with using these tips, they are getting more done at home than they were at the office.
- Brie DeLisi, Associate Partner, Propulo Consulting
Whether you are a seasoned remote employee or new to working from home due to COVID-19, there are a number of considerations to take for working at home safely.
Maintaining proper office ergonomics helps to ensure your body is appropriately protected – you may need to employ a few household items to support working in a proper position, such as using books or a box to prop up your laptop to be eye level. Utilize the OSHA Computer Workstation eTool and share with your team to conduct an office ergonomics self-assessment for their current work station. If possible, encourage employees to use a separate keyboard and mouse from their laptops (perhaps temporarily borrowed from the office workstation) for proper ergonomic set ups. Don’t forget to take hourly breaks to stretch and walk around, especially if you are working in a less-than-ideal body position.
Additionally, this is a great time to review general home safety including items like fire safety, food and chemical storage, and fall prevention. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development created a Home Safety Brochure that covers the majority of at home safety considerations.