At Acorn Analytics we’re one of the lucky who are able to maintain all of our operations remotely during this period of mass shelter-in-place. We’ve always done fully remote work. We only meet in person to talk face-to-face with clients or to bond with our team mates. So, in these odd times we wanted to share with you some of our key strategies to run a fully remote team effectively.
Pandemic Remote Work is NOT the Same
As I’m writing this, there has to be an acknowledgment that those who are trying remote work for the first time are not doing so under normal circumstances. COVID-19 has not only closed work spaces, it has closed schools that parents rely on to have some quiet hours during the day. It also closed the coffee shops and co-working spaces that remote teams use to get a change of scenery and some human interaction.
Dealing with school aged kids barging into your Zoom call is not something that is always going to happen. Staring at the same wall you’ve stared at for weeks hoping for inspiration is not always going to happen. So, in the vein of hopefulness we’ll be writing this as suggestions to implement both now and when quarantines have lifted so you can optimize your work-from-home. Unfortunately, I can’t suggest anything to help with wild children other than allowing them to binge watch Paw Patrol.
There’s a Learning Curve to Remote Work
Settling into work from home is like when you move out of your parents place for the first time. With all that freedom comes experimentation (hello cake for breakfast) and with that experimentation can come some less than ideal results (belly ache and sugar crashes at noon). But, once you’ve trial and erred your way into a mode of living that works, very few of us would return to how it was before.
Tip 1 – Set the Space
You need to have a set place that is your work station. Most of us that work from home daily have a home office. One of the members of our team made one in a closet so it could have a door that closes. But if this is not your situation, consider placing your desk far away as possible from your living room and kitchen. That way lies your biggest danger, distraction.
Tip 2 – Make it Comfy
Make your home set-up as comfortable as it was in your office. Get that ergonomic chair, two screens, and a little potted plant to tend. Try to make your office as inviting as possible. Keep it clean. Put up nice art. Decorate as much as your budget allows. Half the battle with remote work is getting you into the home office in the first place.
For the stagnant wall, let me suggest a whiteboard that you can write your weekly goals and wins on. Alternatively if you have a paper sized picture frame you can print new pictures for it once a week. If you can’t invest money right now then at least change your screensaver or background image to freshen things up.
Tip 3 – Get Your Tools
Your company should have an agreed upon set of conference call tools and a file sharing platform. We at Acorn use Zoom and Google Drive. Just ensure that you have all the software downloaded before your first day of remote work. This is probably not realistic because these orders are coming suddenly. Hopefully you know who in IT or HR you should reach out to for this information. In the meantime try to take a step back from all the feelings that come from being in a situation and attempt to view it as if it were a child’s poorly rehearsed school production. Most of us will be beginners fumbling through this too. You’re not alone.
We’ve also used new tools that no one is really familiar with. Our CEO and myself had a comedy of errors situation where we didn’t realize that Skype for business was different from the usual Skype platform. So, when possible test out these new technologies before launching them live. But, when you find yourself fumbling over new tools try to approach it with an attitude of humor at yourself and the situation and have a backup plan in the event it doesn’t work. In our situation we had a phone number we could call into.
Tip 4 – It’s All About Little Rituals
Put all the queues in place that will tell your brain “this is my place to work”. Trick your brain to switch from “home mode” to “work mode”. Without the rituals of your commute and chit-chat around the coffee machine this will be harder. So you have to make the rituals that much more obvious.
Make your Meetings Work for Remote Work
One of the largest contributors to whether remote work fails or flourishes is how you structure your meeting culture when you don’t have the crutch of an office. Because Zoom or Skype calls are the only way you’ll see your coworkers, it becomes the most important tool in the remote workers tool box.
Below are some tips specifically for a good remote meeting;
- Keep your video on and audio off – When in a video chat our company culture is to keep our video on because it fuels connection and allows you to keep most of the visual cues of communication. Also, it’s creepy talking into a dark void of faceless boxes. So don’t. The rule of keeping your audio off only holds in meetings of more than 5-7 people. After that the ambient noise in the room tends to accumulate and distort a speaker’s voice.
- Get yourself a nice pair of headphones – This should be an investment. Don’t go for the cheapest model. I personally like ones with nice big ear covers so that the inside of my ear doesn’t start to hurt after one too many meetings. Also, if you get headphones with a little mic that dangles from a cord, make sure that your mic isn’t brushing up against a collar. Or heaven forbid the zipper of a sweater – it’s an instant ear ouch to everyone else on the call.
- Give meetings more room than normal – Usually companies are very focused on keeping their meetings tight on focus and time. If that won’t work for your company culture, set up a call at least once a week that is for chit chat only. In remote work in order to bond with co-workers through shared interests/histories we have to make what was inherent in the office explicit in the virtual.
To Sum It Up
It’s hard to start doing remote work if you’ve never done it before. No one, including your boss, should expect your best performance right out of the gate. You’ll soon find that as you tweak your habits to suit your new work from home lifestyle you can be just as productive and happy as you could in an office. Like it or not, remote work is our reality today and it’s unclear how long we’ll have to work like this. It’s also possible even after we’re allowed to return to work, we may have to shelter in place again in the future. We hope this will help them make the most of their situation working from home. even as the world outside is in turmoil.
Amber is our Jr. Data Scientist. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English Literature. She’s used this skill to create project roadmaps and presentation decks. Her early “career” started as a live-in volunteer with an intentional community in the remote forests of Oregon.
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