How to Make Working from Home Less Painful Part 1
At this point, you’ve learned how to wade through 100,000 emails a day while your children smear chocolate on your keyboard and dress up the animals. You’ve discovered a new talent for recovering from meeting crashes when you lose the bandwidth battle, synching your patience with the on and off switch of your webcam.
The bad news? Things are going to be this way for a while. The good news is, there are some simple things you can do to make your entire online working life easier. A lot easier. In part 1, we offer some tips that any sized organization can implement across time zones. In part 2, we’ll focus on meetings, getting things done, and making sure everyone is efficient in the midst of chaos.
Get everyone a good headset.
If you can’t be heard during online meetings, you aren’t going to be very productive. This is not a time to use cheapo headsets you picked up at the Dollar Store. If you can, try to standardize headsets and all other collaboration tools so remote maintenance and support are easy. It also means other team members can jump in and offer tips to solve issues. A couple of years ago, our sales division did their own test of headsets and settled on nice wireless and wired solutions that work well.
Treat email like gold.
Use it sparingly. Use online messaging systems like MS Teams, Webex Teams, or Slack, because they let you follow conversations, engage groups of people, and find threads much easier. Collaboration systems let you retract messages, which is incredibly handy when you’re having one of those days and things get stressful and you’ve sent something you later regret. The problem with things in writing is they can be forwarded, pondered, taken way more seriously than you intended. If you sent it by email, even worse because your chances of retracting it are zero, especially if it is passed on to others. It is far more productive to have everyone chatting and response is faster.
Remind everyone that printed words can be harsher than spoken words
Maybe you didn’t mean to send that zinger over the network, but you can be sure it’ll make its mark. Something which may come off as friendly feedback in person can sound harsh when written. Reinforce for everyone to lower the emphasis more than if you would deliver it in person. The placement of please can even seem rude. Understand how do navigate these subtleties. 'Can you please do this' (rude) versus 'Can you do this please?'
Encourage your team to try not to take anything personally - always assume good intentions! Show examples on team calls and encourage them to find examples. If something is building up, immediately ask HR or another manager to meet and arbitrate with the individuals to clear up the situation – before it descends into a really bad day on Twitter.
Create structure with templates and standards to minimize uncertainty
In virtual work, you need to build virtual office walls with standards and structure. The more remote, the more control you need to introduce. This doesn’t mean micro-management; it means you should offload from everyone having to figure out how to get things done. Standards for operational practices can help remove many uncertainties, keep everyone moving in the same direction and speaking the same language.
Have templates for meeting agendas, minutes, action items, project plans, dashboards, and status updates and make everything easy to find from a central workspace. As time goes on, encourage people to innovate on process and templates, capture best practices, and increase efficiency by improving standards.
Make all your files, folders, graphics, presentations – everything - easy to find.
Standard naming conventions for files and folders makes everyone’s life a lot easier. Put everything on a central repository (Box, Dropbox, OneDrive, Google, whatever) where everyone has the correct level of access. Consider using two systems and keep the confidential files locked down. Make everything easy to find by building a “quick links” dashboard to the information, policies, templates, and whatever everyone needs.
Get a good PC maintenance shop if you don’t have this in house.
Preferably where the staff aren’t overseas and are selling your information to your competitors. Once a month, someone signs onto everyone’s machine, wipes out all the Candy Crush and other games, updates everything and make sure that our security systems are in place. This includes getting rid of automatic browser passwords because you absolutely do not need that getting hacked.
Do not let people keep things on their PC.
If you want a nightmare disregard this tip. Local storage of company information is not only a security nightmare, it is a version control nightmare. Make sure one of the tasks your internal or external IT maintenance team does is backup and get rid of local files. For people that don’t comply, swap out their PCs for ones with very small hard drives so they can’t store anything. Use cloud-based storage, cloud-based backup, and then do physical backups regularly so everyone knows they aren’t going to lose files.
Use an online password sharing system.
You absolutely do not want, in this day and age, anyone with a set of passwords that a hacker can access on a phone or PC. Or in a file called pw.txt on their desktop. Or on a sticky note under a keyboard. We use a password manager, specifically LastPass, which means you can still have people logging into systems without them knowing what the login information is. Get someone trained and implement this yesterday.
Make sure every operation-critical job has backup.
With everyone likely going to get some version of the flu at some point, you need to very quickly make sure you have backup and double backup. We document all of our processes and make sure if anyone is hit by a bus, we can still operate. Look at key roles, their jobs, what they need to authorize, and make sure someone else can fill in – and can access files - until the key people are back online.
Implement a disaster recovery plan.
Unless you’ve been in a news blackout the last few years, the weather is getting worse. Hurricanes, cyclones, wildfires, tornados, floods – are more commonplace than they were a few years ago. Make sure you are prepared if your key administrative staff homes are floating away or otherwise not connected for a few days. Consider stand by SAT phones if your employees live in particularly storm-hit areas and may be out of internet and cell reach for a week.
For more tips focused on meetings, see Part 2. Want some help? We’ve been running remotely and helping companies thrive remotely for over a decade. With just a few hours a week, our team can get you fast-tracked working remotely and change your life.