In the tech industry, we like to think we cope well with change. No matter how adept we are at learning emerging technologies and embracing new concepts, 2020 has still presented a steep learning curve for everyone. Now, as we have more time to take stock, we’ve been visiting what we have learned about the sudden change to our working environment. We’d like to share eight work from home strategies that have worked well for us – hopefully, it will help others through the challenging months ahead.
1. Communication is critical
Using collaboration technology has been important for meetings, but we learned early on that it is important that we don’t lose the more informal communication that can be taken for granted when everyone is in the office. Our teams catch up daily, even if it is just a quick ten-minute chat about what everyone is working on that day. What worked for us was to start meetings socially, just as we may in a physical environment – someone may share a photo from the weekend, or chat about an interesting news topic. The meeting leader will ask each person a question – it could be as simple as what has made them happy in both personal and business life in the past week. As humans, we need a sense of connection, and to know that our team-mates have our backs when facing obstacles.
2. Right equipment
When the lockdown hit, there was a worldwide device shortage. A perfect storm of logistical difficulties, factory shutdowns and heavy demand meant that seeking a new laptop seemed almost as futile as looking for unicorns. Most of our people were used to working from home sometimes, but it is a big leap from an occasional day at the kitchen table to full-time confinement. Around Australia and the world, workers showed tremendous spirit and a willingness to work around equipment shortfalls, but now that supply has eased, there’s no need for anyone to be balancing their child’s iPad on the ironing board to join an online meeting. We took time to check on everyone’s working arrangements and any shortfalls, so that we could fill the gaps as quickly as possible. The right device, webcam, headset, desk, and chair make it easier to work well and safely.
3. Understanding fatigue
From online meeting fatigue to stress-related slumps, most people have felt more tired than usual at some point. Sometimes, simply switching to a voice call, or switching the camera off for a Teams meeting is enough of a rest, while other times our people schedule in a break to walk the dog or play with the kids. Better to recharge for 20 minutes than to let that early fatigue turn into exhaustion.
4. Maintaining social ties
Sometimes, there’s no substitution for human contact. When lock down regulations were introduced, we encouraged our teams to keep in touch by replacing our usual office end of month drinks with a virtual catchup. Now that restrictions have eased, we have allocated funding for each team to get together socially – whether a couple of casual lunches or a night out – when they felt they needed it most.
5. Learning new skills
If you look back at your original plans for 2020, both personal and professional, some elements will seem absurd now. There are still opportunities, so with flexible thinking, you may find unexpected benefits. If a training course is cancelled, you might find a better online alternative (there has never been a better time to learn new skills, and providers around the world are offering low-cost and free learning opportunities online). As a business, all of our customer-facing staff and management gained foundation Microsoft certifications this year, and doing it together was great for morale.
6. Recognise competing priorities
Who hasn’t seen a colleague’s child or pet make an unscheduled appearance on an online meeting this year? Working from home can be a juggling act, where two normally separate lives converge. There is no benefit to making the team feel anxious or guilty for having home lives! Some people will cope with the distraction and multi-tasking better than others, but with creative thinking, and a little humour, we were able to support people to navigate these issues.
7. Using status on Teams
We are fortunate that cloud-based technologies are available to help us collaborate, and Teams has been our go-to for collaboration since before phrases like social distancing and flattening the curve existed. There’s a handy status feature where you can keep everyone informed what you’re up to, so if you have to focus on writing a report or go and buy more coffee, your team knows you are unavailable for a while.
Making a significant change to usual work practices, having staff use older devices, and rapid cloud adoption all have security implications. Meanwhile, cyber-criminals have been especially active since the onset of COVID-19. We undertook a security review to make sure we were prioritising the safety of our people and systems. This is something we recommend all businesses make a priority, because breaches are extremely costly.
It is clear that, rather than returning to normal, a new routine will emerge. Now is a time to employ creative thinking alongside the tried and tested methods to reimagine what our workplaces of the future will look like, and how technology will help us to get there.
For more about collaboration, security, and technology tips and tricks, follow TechPath on LinkedIn or give our team a call.