Working Remotely Part 1

The spread of the SARS-CoV-19 virus brought in a new reality to our lives. Offices closed, air travel has been reduced or even grounded to a halt and Zoom stock value, along with daily active users, went through the roof.

Companies such as Twitter, Google, Amazon and other West Coast Tech giants have all announced that they will allow their staff to work remotely until the end of the year or permanently. Even large European companies are following the trend. Siemens just announced that they will let all their employees, all over the world, work remotely 2-3 days a week. Siemens’ CEO Roland Busch stated that “these changes will also be associated with a different leadership style, one that focuses on outcomes rather than on time spent at the office.”

As someone who has been working remotely for the better part of the last 5 years, there are a few tips and tricks to help you keep your sanity.

1. Be selective with your camera use. It is sometimes funny to see the whole team on camera. It’s nice but there is little value in having pages and pages of Zoom panels with your entire BU on video. You can not see everyone’s faces anyway so why bother? Use video for 1:1s religiously or for a small brain storming session, but be careful when trying to use video with a big crowd. Speakers should always use video.

In recent months, you had a glimpse of many colleagues bed rooms. While it is a nice way to increase the team’s trust and cohesion, it is also perhaps one step too far. Tools such as Zoom and Teams have a way to add a virtual background. Use it. Your colleagues do not need to see what your bedroom looks like.

2. Keep a routine. Let’s face it – you used to travel non stop and was jet lagged for large parts of each month. Now, you are at workin from one timezone, you get to sleep in the same bed every night, you can easily build yourself a routine. Morning routines are especially important as they set the tone for the day and typically (hopefully) the morning time is the quieter time. Scott Young has an excellent short article explaining the idea here.

3. Make sure your colleagues know your timezone. In a distributed workforce, knowing one’s timezone is essential. Make sure you let your colleagues know your location. You can just add this information to your email signature, providing some examples: “I work in Central Europe which is 9 hours ahead of California. Your 8AM is my 5PM.”

4. Keep your calendar updated. Let’s face it, many people have a hard time keeping their calendars up to date. A great best practice is actually to block the time you plan for family activities, meals, sleep and sport. Help your colleagues trying to find time to discuss something with you by making your availability obvious and easy to schedule. Most team calendars have a function that searches for a good time to meet. Keeping on top of your calendar will help you connect with your colleagues.

5. Focus on outcomes. Yes, Mr Busch from Siemens (this is funny for a German) just discovered that management should focus on outcomes. But this has been a best practice for a really long time. It just works. If you deliver, consistently and repeatedly, the location from which you work will make no difference to your manager.

6. Call it working remotely. Stating that one is working from home cheapens the work. The location from where one works should make no difference, so call it what it is “working remotely.” You may work from home one day and the next day from a co-working space and later in the week from a coffee shop. No one needs to get a location update every time you make a change, but your colleagues still need to know that you are working remotely. So keep it simple.

Many of us are not going to see the inside of the office in 2020. Some of us will very rarely see the inside of an office in the future. In 2013, Marissa Mayer, then CEO of Yahoo!, announced that “to become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side, that is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.” That did not help Yahoo! improve productivity (it was eventually sold to Verizon), innovate or collaborate. These days, where there is no alternative to working remotely, we can all use the opportunity to find more productive ways to communicate, collaborate and to work side-by-side…virtually of course.

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