So you've been sent to work from home for an undefined period of time. What now?
VIBBIO's product team has been doing just that for the last 18 months or so, and we've learned a couple of things. And since every one seems to be sharing their hot takes on remote work these days, I'd thought I'd chime in, and write down what we've learned.
🙋♀️ Let me get one thing out of the way first though. If you're working from home while watching small children, ignore all of the Best Practice floating around. Muddle through, stay sane, and tweet at us for cute animal gifs.
Don't be too hard on yourself
If you're used to working from an office with all its face-to-face interactions, effectively going remote from one day to another is a challenge. You have to adjust how you communicate, how to structure your days, and how to manage unfamiliar distractions emanating from your kitchen.
Remember that this is new to you and your colleagues, and that you're all figuring this out while you go. Obviously, the fact that the reason for this change is a global pandemic, doesn't help either. And maybe you also have children around your house who also don't know how to handle being at home all day.
So cut yourself some slack, and give yourself some time to settle into it. Talk to your colleagues about it, and look for small things to improve every day.
Enjoy some freedom
One of the great benefits of working from outside a traditional office is that you have a lot more control over your own schedule. Have to do some grocery shopping? Do it after lunch. Your kid needs attention? Take a break, and play or read a book with them. Tired of being stuck indoors? Take a walk – as long as you're not quarantined.
Just remember to update to coworkers that you'll be offline for a certain time. Most things can wait until you're back. If all hell breaks lose, people can always call you.
Don't track hours
Chances are that you're suddenly a lot less interrupted by meetings and casual chats or the general business of an open plan office. You will probably be a lot more productive in your home than in an office because it's a lot easier to focus on your tasks. At least as long as your kids let you…
That in turn means that you will get a lot more done in 6 hours at home than in 8 hours at the office, but those 6 hours will also be a lot more intense. Make sure you focus on what you need to accomplish in a day rather than how many hours it took you. It's important to keep a sensible pace to avoid exhausting yourself.
Don't be shy and add emojis 🥳👏💪
Concise, unambiguous, written communication is hard. If the recipient can't hear the sender's voice or see their face, intent is easily lost. Good thing we have emojis! And punctuation.
Take a look at this:
OK 😢 vs OK 👍😎 vs OK!!! 🙌🔥 vs OK? 😳🤔
Those kinds of expressions tend to come more natural in group chats and DMs but they work equally well in comments on documents and emails. Adding them will save yourself and your colleagues a lot of time and grief.
And yes, they are acceptable in business communication, even if you're a man in his 50s wearing a suit. I have proof.
A lot of times, adding emojis to your messages simply won't cut it. That's where you should reach for video – or at least your phone. This is probably the biggest learning we have made at VIBBIO, and I can't stress enough how important it is!
Video calls save us a lot of back and forth and misunderstandings, and quite frankly, unpleasant arguments.
If your company does not already have a video calling solution in place, I can recommend Whereby for quick-ad hoc calls with your coworkers. No need to install anything on your computer, and it just works.
But there are also those cases where you have to give an update or need to communicate something to a larger group. Try recording yourself with your phone or your webcam, or take a screencast, and share your video with your colleagues on whichever platform you're using to stay in touch. It's a great way to convey your message: show, don't tell!
Make room for socializing
When we work in an office with others, we naturally fill a good portion of our need for human interaction. When we're suddenly all working from our own homes – not so much. It's easy to lose touch with your colleagues.
In our Monday team meetings, we always talk about how our weekends went. It can feel awkward and artificial in the beginning, but it is an important factor in how we add "social glue" to the team. It also serves the purpose of getting an impression of who is in a happy place right now, and who isn't. In-office interactions give us clues about stress and anxiety levels, which are a lot harder to observe when you can't see each other.
Also, loneliness in remote workers is a well-known challenge. Buffer has written an entire guide on how to mitigate it. If you live alone, and now suddenly have to spend all your days with yourself, well-managed digital communication might make it a lot less stressful.
We've experimented with "coffee chats" to better connect our remotees with their colleagues in our Oslo office. They worked really well, everyone seemed to enjoy them, and they are really easy to set up. Just book a 30 minute video meeting into your calendars, grab a cup of coffee or tea, and talk about the things going on in your lives, like you would with anyone you'd meet at the coffee machine at work.
We're all dealing with enormous uncertainty these days, and how to make the best out of this sudden, possibly unwelcome home office situation might seem like the least of your worries. It's something you have control over however, and that alone might help you deal with the stressful situation of a global pandemic.