Mar 18, 2020

Making working from home (actually) work for you

In response to COVID-19, a number of the awesome startups we support here at Unleashed have recently and sensibly been transitioning to fully remote working and testing their business continuity plans. Moving forward, it is likely that we’re all going to be working from home much more than many of us might be used to.

Here are some top tips for staying productive, motivated and feeling connected to your teammates (because it can be hard). We’ve based all of these on our shared experience and crowdsourced ideas from our incredible community. Special props go to our friends at Impala, who have been making remote work far from distant since they were founded!

Maintain your routine

For everyone, but in particular, those who are self-isolating, it can be useful to build a routine and write it down. For everyone, it’s really important to wake up, get up and get ready as if you were about to do your usual commute. While self-isolating, social distancing and working from home might mean your commute is just the journey to your desk or your sofa, it’s important to make the psychological distinction between phases in your day. Make sure you make room for regular breaks, take a lunch break to stay focused, and actually stop working at the end of the day. It’s very easy when you don’t have to commute back home to carry on working into the evening — ensure you’re avoiding remote working burnout by being committed to working in a sustainable and balanced way.

Make time to Move

We’re more likely to sit in one position all day whilst working from home which can lead to brain fog and physical discomfort — so think about scheduling exercise into your work calendar! If you’d normally do this during your workday, and are no longer able to get to or use the gym, prioritise some home workouts that mean you walk away from your desk, and keep your exercise routine going.

Or even consider exercising with work buddies! Need ideas — check out stretches you can do at home, the 7 minute workout, the 10 minute morning yoga stretch or if dance is your thing — the Fitness Marshall has great high energy and fun videos that are sure to make you smile!

If you aren’t isolating due to being unwell or recently in contact with people who have been, get outside for a bit if it makes sense to!

Stay (Properly) Connected

We do a great deal of communicating every day in fast-paced, scaling businesses and our ability to move quickly, make decisions quickly and stay agile is important. Messaging tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams are brilliant enablers of this agility and when used properly (we all know the anxiety of noisy, busy, strobe lights of unread slack channels!) add huge value.

Additional ideas for staying connected during Covid-19 include:

Daily Virtual Stand-ups’

…at the start & end of each day using Slack or Teams; to keep each other in the loop on what you’re up to that day/how your day went and to ensure you’re being supportive. Consider inviting team members to share something that they’re grateful for, or use a ‘personal and professional wins’ mechanism.

An All-Day Hangout

Keeping a Google hangout or Zoom call open all day for the team to drop into. Think of this as a virtual equivalent of your kitchen or break-out space.

Social Channels

Create special Slack or Team channels purely for socialising so you have a ‘virtual socialising room’ to help you interact with others easier. Go crazy creative with the names or you could keep it simple — #watercooler channel anyone?

Virtual Lunch & Coffee Breaks

What it says on the tin. Checking-in socially with one another doesn’t have to stop simply because you’re not in the office. Consider pairing people up at random to break down any virtual silos — tools like Donut can help if you have slack. If you want to provide an incentive and encourage more uptake and interaction then consider inviting people to expense their lunches (up to a sensible cap of ~£10) providing they send a screenshot of their video call.

Remote Buddy Systems

People who live close to each other could buddy up to walk in parks, or do walking meetings in non-crowded areas.* Check-in with your buddy once a day via hangout/zoom call.

* It’s crucial to emphasise that this should only happen with individuals who aren’t considered vulnerable or high risk, and should only happen with individuals who are feeling well, displaying no symptoms and haven’t been travelling to high risk destinations, or exposed to individuals with confirmed Coronavirus.

Over-Communicate as a Rule

Being distributed means that everyone needs to be more deliberate about communicating, especially digitally. It is likely that most comms will move from being spoken to being written. To help navigate this, and prevent Slack and email from being a free-for-all, consider sharing some guidance on written communication, with tips like:

Confirm Receipt + Set Expectations

Slack and similar tools lend themselves to instantaneous communication. However, it’s not always possible to provide a full response to a request as soon as you receive it. Instead, confirm receipt and then set expectations as to when you can respond properly once you’ve given some thought to the request.

Be Clear About Your ‘Ask’

In written communication it can sometimes be easy to miss a request for a decision or action. If you need someone to make a call on something, highlight it and be clear that you require a response. If you’re asked a question that you’re not best placed to answer, re-route it rather than causing further confusion.

Answer the Whole Question

Especially if you’re a manager or someone working closely with newer members of the team, you might receive questions to which there is a simple answer, but also a lot of additional context that the person might not be aware of. When this or similar scenarios occur, be mindful of sharing the whole context proactively (minimising subsequent back-and-forth / multiple additional questions.)

Channel or DM?

On Slack, try to maximise use of channels vs DM’s for non-trivial conversations. It’s easy for important information to get lost in DM’s. Sharing on channels means conversations are easy to track and mark as unread.

Virtual Meeting Guidance

“Is this a meeting or an email?” is something we’re all used to considering when we’re onsite with each other. Many fast-paced businesses also put considered thought into how they design, run and follow-up on meetings. This doesn’t need to change when we’re working remotely, however it is likely to be helpful to create some written guidance on video-conferencing etiquette.

Publish your Availability

Ensure streamlined, maximised communication by sharing hours that the team will/will not be available. This is particularly important for inclusivity for parents (in the face of potential school closures, many will have to adapt their schedule.)

Get feedback on What’s Working or Not

Think about setting up a remote feedback inbox so everyone can report back on any systems and processes that aren’t working so these can be addressed.

Over-Communicate, but don’t Micro-Manage

As managers, it’s crucial that you ensure your communication is supportive, helpful and organised. While moving to remote working means you should give your communication more consideration, it shouldn’t mean that you need to dramatically change your management style. It (hopefully!) goes without saying, but you should default to a place of trust; enable your team to continue to do their best work from home and avoid adding unnecessary additional pressure or stress.

Recognise your Teammates (Even More than Usual)

We’re not going to be able to drop by each other’s desks or give the kind of in-person, small pieces of recognition that over time equate to a strong sense of belonging and relatedness at work. It’s important that we all take time to prioritise sending that message!

Social Distancing = Think Local

On the basis that you’re minimising your social interaction, take the opportunity to shop local and support your local bakery, butcher etc, to stay connected to your immediate community.

Join the Age UK Telephone Befriender Scheme

Consider your ability to spend some time on your breaks to support the elderly who are self isolating, to feel less lonely. This will not only have a hugely positive social impact but may also help you to feel more connected.

Be Mindful of What you Share

Take into consideration to what degree you could be driving further panic or anxiety at work. Think carefully about sharing photos of empty shelves in supermarkets on Slack or Teams, and if sharing links to reports, expert advice, media posts and journals etc. we recommend creating a specific channel for this, enabling your teammates to avoid consuming anything that might enhance and trigger their current anxiety.

Mental Health First Aid & Prioritising Self-Care

Below are some recommendations for ensuring that mental wellbeing is at the core of your efforts. Some further, brilliant online resources you can refer to include the folks at Mental Health England, Mind and our friends at Sanctus.

Pulse Checks/Red-Amber-Green:

If you’re already using internal pulse checking tools/software, consider including some additional questions to surface any Covid-19-related wellness concerns or support needs within the team. A manual version of this is to establish a check-in towards the end of the working day, perhaps enabled via an automated email to the whole team. Everyone replies with a 💚(good day), 💛(ok day) or ❤️(tough day), with a couple of lines about their day and any support they would like. This is a simple and supportive initiative to help you keep a pulse on how people are doing, support people who are having a tough time and offer help.

Self-Care For the Win

It’s more important than ever to prioritise self-care and not to suffer in silence if things get really hard. Think about the trusted people in your (both work and personal) life that you can reach out to for support.

Mobilise your Mental Health First Aiders

If you have mental health first aiders within your team, now is a good time to mobilise them to help — maybe they could share resources about good self-care practices, provide virtual drop-in hours, proactively check-in with people who they know are especially vulnerable (e.g. those who live with anxiety disorders/OCD)

Conversation Contracting

With a subject as topical as coronavirus, many of us will find ourselves talking about it with our friends, family and co-workers. It’s hard, however, to know how they’re feeling about the situation and whether or not talking about it will trigger anxiety in them. Before you start a conversation, check-in with the person you’re talking to about it. Are they comfortable having a discussion or would they rather you talked about something else? Similarly, be sure to share your own boundaries around the subject if you’re finding it tough to listen to.

These are just some of the ideas that we have pulled together from our collective experience + all of the fabulous things our clients are doing, but there is much more inspiration out there.

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