How to Make Working from Home Less Painful Part 2
If you’re not on stress leave right now or locked in a hotel room in quarantine, you’ve probably had enough family time to last a lifetime. You’ve experienced data speeds that crawl slower than your one-year-old. More than likely, you couldn’t hear the key point at the last meeting because the person’s sound quality was so bad.
The bad news? Things are going to be this way for a while. The good news, however, is there are some simple things you can do to make your entire online working life easier. A lot easier. In part 1, we gave you some general 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.
You don’t need to be on camera to be effective
We’ve noticed that this is a “thing” right now – thirty heads staring at each other across a distance. Someone somewhere, likely someone who has never worked remotely, decided that “cameras on” would increase team engagement and focus attention on the meeting. Not true. What it does is suck bandwidth and create distraction.
There’s a misconception that cameras avoid multi-tasking. Also, not true. It is super easy to catch up on Season 7 of Game of Thrones and still be on camera.
Think about meeting in person. You don’t sit there and stare at each other. You listen, take notes, think - as you look at nothing in particular. All you are doing by enforcing webcams is creating another sensory distraction. The eyes are seeing faces moving and the ears are trying to listen to information. Sometimes the ears lose.
So, fight the “cameras on please” cry.
If you must be on camera, be professional
First impressions count! You spend all this time and effort to look good at the office, so spend a bit of time on what’s in the background. If your camera is on, even though we don’t recommend it, make sure it’s pointed at interesting items or even a background screen with your company name. Be very aware of what is walking behind you. Little children are adorable, last night’s date – not so much. You can wear pajamas on your bottom, but make sure your top-half is dressed for success.
Adjust meeting timing to optimize bandwidth – and help newbies
Vary meeting start times so you aren’t logging on the same time as your entire neighborhood. Encourage everyone to start meetings at odd times, like 10 minutes after the hour. And vary this again if you have new people. The goal is to not waste the first 15 minutes of every meeting with bandwidth crashes or with people trying to figure out the technology. Leave the first 5 minutes of every call for new people to join and have someone online to help them. Put that in the meeting invite. To make people comfortable with the tools, get them to present status at least twice a month.
Standardize regular meetings.
The more remote the meeting attendees, the more structure, templates, and process you need. We meet every week, we have a set agenda, and we have standard templates for everything. We require everyone share a status report, and we discuss all issues before breaking out into smaller teams if necessary. Once the minutes are done, we use an online dashboard that auto sends out reminders of what we have to do.
Learn how we make our virtual meetings work with our "9 Tips for a Successful Virtual Meeting".
Make it easy to add issues or ideas between meetings
Let’s go back to those centralized and online dashboards. With varying time zones, you need people to be able to contribute ideas or issues as they come up. Using a dashboard and online form people can click a link to submit agenda items before a management call, so that these are covered off every week, reprioritized, and actioned upon. Everything, all projects, goals, and scoping plans are captured in that online dashboard so our team can go and find anything we need anytime.
Designate someone to keep meetings on track.
Virtual meetings have unique challenges. Set an agenda, give everyone a chance to banter, and then get to business. Online meetings can vary from the agenda very quickly and go down long rabbit holes which prevent you from accomplishing everything you wanted. Give someone the power to keep meetings on track and avoid this. The person keeping them on track isn’t necessarily the meeting leader. This includes shutting down and rescheduling the meeting if it isn’t accomplishing anything and turns into a big yak-fest. Who has time to waste!
Make sure everyone has a chance to speak during calls
If you have a mix of “talkers” and “listeners”, often the people you need to hear from most are spoken over. You know who I’m talking about. If some of the people you need to hear from on calls don’t speak up, this can be because an executive is on the call, but usually, it is because other people are hoarding the airtime. If you aren’t hearing from someone, ask them for their opinion. Consider doing polls on certain subjects or sending out post-meeting surveys – particularly if a core group of people consistently gets their way. There are some great tools for this, like Miro.
Do you have the right meeting attendees?
If after doing all the things in the previous point, an individual still isn’t contributing, you should question why they are in the meeting. Maybe they were invited by a superior and don’t feel empowered to refuse the request. Maybe no one has really looked at the attendee list to see who needs to be on the call. Right now, every minute counts, so if you have extra people on the call, clarify if they actually want or need to attend and reduce the audience to the core group. With recordings and minutes, someone can catch up later if needed.
Take minutes at all meetings, preferably with a recording.
Another “thing” right now is walking meetings on cell phones. This is supposed to reduce distraction but what it does is increase sensory confusion. It is easier to look away from your screen. If you must do these meetings, someone should still be sending out a recap of whatever was agreed during the call. Otherwise, the next time you meet, you won’t be able to prove who said what and where commitments landed.
For larger online meetings, rotate minute-taking responsibilities throughout the team if you don’t have administrative staff. Identify which decisions were made, who has to do what when, and what risks should be on the team’s radar. Ask the participants if they agree to have it recorded. Before the end of the call, reiterate who has to do what by when and get agreement. This will save you so much time and will prevent misunderstanding around what was decided in the last meeting.
Designate someone to make sure everyone completes their tasks before the next meeting.
If necessary, tie a bonus to this. They can call, email, message – basically, they harass. Tools don’t work to get things done. Even with dashboards with auto-reminders, we still have people to follow up if those auto-reminders haven’t been clicked on. Make sure the executives and VPs know that this includes them! Otherwise, you’ll find you’ll have lots of meetings and not a lot being done.
For more tips, see Part 1. 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 for working remotely and change your life.