We are all aware of the changes and sacrifices we are having to make as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.  This new reality affects how we go about our day from our personal life to how we do business. We are all in this together to ensure our businesses can survive and how we still deliver services to our customers in this new world.

The Problem

I remember reading an article about 1995, just as I was leaving school about how technology in the future would make it possible that we could do away with offices and everyone could work from home.  At the time, I thought this was awesome - I wouldn't need to work in an office, wouldn't need to do scary presentations, could work to my own schedule...you get the idea.

It turns out that the reason I love working in an office so much turns out because of our human craving for  interaction.  Our working relationships are based on these interactions.  Social contact is an important factor to our mental health, it helps us cope with stress that might exist in our private and work life.  Feeling valued in our work also helps keep positive and forget about our negativities in life.

We face a new dawn that where we are being encouraged to work from home the question becomes how to we maintain our teams, avoid the feeling of isolation and remain productive.

After a week of working at home with my team, here are my seven ideas based on my experience of the issues we faced and how we are adapting to this new way of working.

Communication & Collaboration


Our faces communicate more than the words we say.

There are a number of tools that we have at our disposal to communicate online. Skype, Slack and Teams are all valid options that allow us to make phone calls, video calls and online chat sessions.  These are great tools to communicate but here are a few issues we have experienced:

  • It can be hard to understand the tone or intent of the message - potentially leading to a misunderstanding.
  • Direct messages between team members can leave others isolated.  In an office environment we can often contribute to conversations when we hear something we know about.
  • Phone calls can overcome these issues but with working from home there may be additional background noise that can be distracting.  In addition, we can't read the faces of each other as we talk.  Our faces communicate more than the words we say.
  • Not everyone has embraced using cameras for video calling.

To overcome these challenges there are a number of things that we have done successfully.  

  • Use group chats and encourage everyone to talk in there.  There is no limit, so we have one for everyone and one for the devs for technical chat.  Other functions could do something similar.
  • Use video calling where we can, we all see each other in the office - using a camera is no different.  It feels more personal, can be more fun and make communication more effective.  
  • Accept that with schools now closed, we can expect everyone will have additional noise in the background such as kids running around.  We just have to accept this might happen.

Centralising resources

On a corporate level our networks are structured in a way that we can share resources.  This can be as simple as network shares, document management systems or even cloud hosted solutions.  This approach has worked well for many enterprises for a number of years and will continue to do so.  However, the vast amount of content available can make it difficult to locate what you might need.

One thing that I wanted to do was take this, but scale it down to a local team.  I have created a team space in Microsoft Teams, and started to use the features for different things:

  • Wiki is used as a collective area to collate all the notes we have scattered on jotters, notes apps, post it notes etc on paper.  This will create a centralised knowledge base of ideas we all have and can share.  We document our definition of ready, definition of done and our working agreement.
  • Files is our central store for our files we use in the team.  This makes it easy to find for our team and keeps it clear where things should be stored.  It will be encouraged to store working documents up there so people can pick these up if other members of team are unavailable.
  • Technical Decisions are stored in our team space so any decisions made by the developers can be logged with the what's, why's and how's.
  • We are using Popcorn flow to help the team address issues, this is a great idea from our scrum master and making it available on a digital platform opens up to everyone.

This helps us in the short term to share resources, but also I hope enables new members of the team a resource they can tap into when joining the team.

Schedules

It can be easy when working to miss break cues.  Not getting up for a break or walk around and working through lunch are two examples.  There is also the temptation to log on early and continue to work into the evening forgetting to log off.  This is unhealthy and can create fatigue and burnout.

To overcome this we can remind our teams to:

  • Follow a regular working structure, where possible log on and log off within your core hours.
  • Take regular breaks.
  • Encourage going out for fresh air where possible, short walk or go into garden where possible.

Resolving conflict

Conflict happens in teams regardless if we are in the office or not.  However the problem is more compounded when we are working from home.  This is likely to happen for a number of reasons:

  • Poor communication.
  • Misunderstanding.
  • Feeling isolated or disconnected.

Whilst everyone has remained positive this week, tensions began to rise in our team at the end of the week.  In these situations the worst things we can become is becoming a keyboard warrior.  The best approach I can see is:

  • Calmly talk through the situation over the phone, or even better on a video call.
  • Understand how the issue might have happened, look at it from all angles remaining calm.
  • Leave some space to allow all parties to calm down and come back later in the day to discuss.

Most problems can be worked through and the important part is to not have a knee jerk reaction.

Trust your team

With everyone being in separate locations it is hard to understand where and what people are doing.  I am not a believer in micro managing and fully encourage time away to get some headspace.  There really isn't much to say other than we really should trust our team.  Stand-ups are a great way to gauge how people are getting on and if they have any issues.  If the work is being delivered to a decent quality and on time then how and staff are available for meetings.  How they achieve this should be up to the individual.

Keep it fun

Why not? We are all in this together and working at home for an extended period can become a struggle for all.  So why not have some fun - one idea I heard earlier in the week and one that I shared online is this:

Other suggestions that I have heard and some that our team members have suggested are:

  • Have a daily virtual coffee with everyone.
  • At the end of the day having a beer with each other and get on a video call.
  • Playing games with each other online (Wordfeud is the one suggested for our team).

The idea is simple, communicate with each other but do something that is not work related.

Be compassionate

The final tip I wanted to share is a simply to show compassion with each other. We are in a time that is difficult for everyone.  Some people will be more worried and anxious than others and we should be there to reassure and help each other through this.  We spend most of our weeks with our workmates and teammates and if there is ever a time to look after it, now is the time. Simple acts of kindness go a long way:

  • Say good morning to each other.
  • Pick up the phone and find out how another member of the team is getting on.
  • Show gratitude towards each other for efforts that others have made.
  • Offer to help someone who may be stuck.
  • Keep an eye on each others mental health.

Wrapping Up


These tips won't work for everyone, they are simply a diary of what we have been trying to do this week as we face the prospect of working in isolation for a long time. These simple tips can help you stay connected with your team and help them remain productive and valued.  The important thing that we can do as leaders is to remain calm - if our team see us remaining time then they should follow suit.

I would love to hear your suggestions on how you plan to keep your team connected and motivated over the next weeks as we all adjust to remote working.

Please hook up with me on Linked In, I look forward to connecting.