The coronavirus is proving to be one of the most disruptive forces of the twenty-first century, not least in the economy and the workplace. Increasingly companies around the world are sending white-collar employees home with instructions to work remotely. Are you among them? For many, this is a novel experience. And for some it’s uncomfortable, even daunting. But at Follow Alice, remote working is nothing new. As a travel company we regularly have team members on the move. Remote working has therefore been our modus operandi since inception. We like to think we’ve developed a pretty good remote working culture that works for the bottom line as well as our employees. With this in mind, we thought we’d share some of our insights with you. Here are our 9 tips for working remotely during the coronavirus. We hope they prove useful as you navigate this twilight zone we’re all in.
1. Make full use of technology
From holding online meetings through FaceTime, Skype or the like to using cloud sharing services like Dropbox and Google Drive, it’s a no-brainer that a remote working setup needs to make liberal use of modern tech and software. If your company has shied away from certain platforms in the past, now is the perfect time to take the plunge. Who knows – you may even discover a new platform that you like so much you decide to take it back into the regular workspace with you.
At Follow Alice we use a handful of platforms for our daily operations, particularly Trello, WhatsApp, the Google Suite, email and Zoom. We discuss what we use each of them for below in the hopes it might shine a light on a good path forward for your company’s remote working operations.
We recently turned to Trello, an online collaboration tool that makes use of project boards. Each project board can hold various cards, which can be assigned to different team members. We’ve created a board for weekly individual targets as well as other boards for longer-term team projects. Other functions on Trello include adding checklists and deadlines to cards. By using Trello we can see who’s up to what and where different projects are at without interrupting each to ask after such things. Similar online collaboration tools are Todoist, Wrike, Dapulse, Asana and Redbooth.
We also make use of Google Docs for creating and sharing folders and various types of documents. Google Docs exists in the cloud, so everything stays synced and more than one person can work on a document at a time. This means you can literally collaborate on a project together when necessary. If you’re not keen on using Google Docs, similar tools include Quip and Codingteam (for coders).
We also use the Google Drive calendar for organising meetings and highlighting when someone is travelling (not so much right now though!).
We do, of course, use email as well. We know that you know the value of having a lasting paper trail of discussions and decisions made. So enough said.
We use WhatsApp for our day-to-day communication and find it suits us nicely. It lets you send text messages, images, videos, other attachments and voice notes, and this seems to covers our needs. We’ve created different chat groups within WhatsApp (like Team Organisation, SEO, and Content Creation) to try keep content focused and easily searchable. If you don’t like WhatsApp there’s also Slack, Skype, Messenger and various other messaging apps you could try out to facilitate remote working. Whatever works for you!
Just a note: given the easy-to-ease and informal nature of messaging apps, management should endeavour to set the tone in terms of the type of content shared as well as the frequency with which content is posted. There are oversharers out there, and they might need to be reined in. We’ve all encountered individuals who bombard a group with too much – or irrelevant or inappropriate – content. The world needs leaders, even if sometimes it’s just about setting boundaries within a messaging app!
There are many great online chat tools you can use to facilitate virtual meetings, from Skype to FaceTime, GoToMeeting, WebEx, Google Hangout and more. We tend to use Zoom, but that’s just us. One of the features we like is Zoom’s screen sharing option.
Having some daily or weekly meetings could help your company to maintain a sense of normalcy during the coronavirus lockdown. It’ll also help anyone who struggles with self-discipline to find a reason to brush their teeth and hair. That said, we encourage you to also fully embrace the perks of online over traditional meetings! It’s pretty certain there’s a bevy of colourful pyjama bottoms hiding below desks during Follow Alice online meetings. And why not? Enjoy wearing house pants and having your dog as your foot warmer while working from home.
Trial and error
Like most companies, we’ve tried software that we’ve later ditched for another. It’s about finding what works for your particular industry and organisation, and this often involves a degree of trial and error. Don’t expect a perfect remote working experience overnight.
Never before has remote working been so plausible and seamless
2. Create processes for the team
If you’re new to remote working, it’s imperative that you set up some processes for the team to follow. (The software discussed in tip #1 will help you to do this.) We all like it when we know very clearly what’s expected of us. You want a list of my day’s tasks dropped into Trello by 9 am every morning? Sure thing. And you want an email summarising the week’s achievements by COB on Friday? Not a problem, especially since you told me about this on Monday, and not at 3 pm on Friday! A good idea for a company starting to engage In remote working as a result of coronavirus is to have one document that’s shared with all employees that explains the remote working process and whom to call if anything is unclear.
At Follow Alice we have a handful of systems in place for reporting and recording. As mentioned, we use email, Trello, WhatsApp and Google Drive. Because we’ve been at this remote working thing for a while now, we’re all pretty familiar with the processes. But that doesn’t mean we don’t all need the odd reminder now and then. And that we don’t sometimes see the need to tweak our system. Organisations change all the time, and what worked yesterday might not be ideal for today.
Finally, try not to overburden employees with too many new processes. Remember that for some remote working could be pushing their technical skills to the max.
3. Be patient
Perhaps it goes without saying, but have a little grace with each other when engaging in remote working. Some will find the transition easier than others. Be patient with those who struggle with any new software. Not everyone will be familiar with the platforms you’re implementing. And some will learn quicker than others. If you cultivate a fractious environment then certain folks won’t want to ask for help when they’ve yet again forgotten how to do x, y or z. Accept that people will be slower with certain tasks, and that mistakes will occur.
Tash King, our Head of Sales, encourages you to actually embrace the mistakes that happen during remote working. She says:
“Remote work is more likely to expose internal communication issues or misunderstanding between the team. Use that to your advantage! Learn and fix your processes, preparation and approaches as they occur.”
In larger companies, consider setting up an IT hotline if you don’t already have one, or create a buddy system to spread the burden of assisting the non-techies. Try to ensure everyone can do their job and isn’t stalled by unfamiliarity with an app or piece of software.
4. Communicate, communicate, communicate
As mentioned above, at Follow Alice we make use of various digital platforms in our daily communication. Most notably we use WhatsApp, email, Zoom, Trello and Google Drive. But no next-gen app can make up for uncommunicative people. If you’re working with a team on a project, be sure to keep everyone updated on your progress. Don’t think about just ticking the boxes you’ve been told to tick in terms of checking in; rather, think about what others need to know to feel confident about pushing forward in their own work.
Never assume others know what you’re doing, thinking, or planning to do. A thumbs up emoji is sometimes all it takes to let everyone know you’ve read the message and are on board. While nobody wants an excess of communication, always err on the side of too much communication rather than too little.
It’s also important that you make clear your expectations with regards to communication if you’re managing others. Things run better when expectations are clear. Though try to keep them non-draconian. Nobody likes that.
5. Trust each other
Nobody works well when being Big Brothered. If you’re a micromanager, this will become painfully clear to you during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s still possible to annoy your coworkers while working remotely!
Instead of bombarding colleagues with emails and phonecalls demanding updates, agree on a timeline of deliverables and a process of reporting, and then let people do their thing. We mean it – let people be. See what happens. Generally people rise to the occasion by behaving like adults and doing their work. The odd soul who proves they can’t manage themselves can be taken in hand and managed differently.
It’s possible the writer at Follow Alice woke up around 2.30 am and had this article start to write itself in her head. So she – I – set up a backrest of continental pillows in bed and started tapping out these words. One of the reasons I feel free to do this is because I can take a nap tomorrow if the exercise leaves me tired. I’m my own time management boss. Like most adults, I like and appreciate the autonomy of it all. We encourage you to trust each other during your remote working experience. Let each soul work in their own way. Focus on the outcome of each person’s work, not the method.
Brendan Gonzalez, our graphic designer and social media manager, thinks remote working succeeds at Follow Alice because:
“I think the team values our remote flexibility very highly. Thus we work hard to protect it and prove that it works. I find you work hard to protect things that you like.”
6. Encourage and support each other
At Follow Alice we’ve been spending a fair bit of time discussing the coronavirus. We’ve been doing this both from a business and personal point of view. We’ve discussed how people are experiencing the virus where they live right now. Our CEO Reto Bollinger has encouraged us to decide for ourselves where and how we want to work in order to feel safe. And ever since the coronavirus ramped up, we’ve been having short morning meetings to discuss and troubleshoot any new issues sparked by the virus.
These sorts of discussions – both ‘official’ and informal – are important. They ensure everyone knows what’s potting. It’s also been especially nice to see people stepping up to encourage each other.
Last week, for instance, we had to cancel our fabulous Switzerland ski weekend as the resort closed its doors in light of the coronavirus. This was indeed sad for us, especially our Sales and Community Manager Joel Ott who was the prime organiser of the trip. But it’s wonderful how rainbows sometimes emerge from clouds. Joel said he was moved after receiving many personal messages from the team expressing concern for him in light of this disappointment and seeking to encourage and build him up.
Our team is definitely stronger and more united as a consequence of the coronavirus. We hope that you and your company emerge stronger too through this time of pulling together.
Make time for chitchat
Never forget that people need people. We need meaningingful connections to feel good. For some, like those living alone, remote working during the coronavirus could lead to intense feelings of isolation. Look for ways to bring the equivalent of the coffee or lunch break into the remote working experience. Make time to ask people how they’re feeling about coronavirus and really listen to the answer. Ask how it’s affecting their family, what changes they see in the streets of their neighbourhood, and so on. Step up the humanity within your company.
Don’t forget there exists the option of picking up a telephone. Hearing a human voice asking you how you’re doing can be nice!
Reassure your employees
Finally, a note for management: reassure your employees. Are they scared about losing their jobs? Speak with them. The worst thing is silence from above, as fears fester in the void. Be available to your staff. Speak with them and discuss the future of the company and their jobs. We’re not suggesting you say or promise anything untrue, but we encourage you to step up the leadership side of management.
7. Exercise, eat well and get fresh air
One of the perks of remote working is that you spend less or no time commuting. This can give you anything from minutes to hours of extra time. Use it to exercise, cook healthy meals (good for keeping up your immunity) and get fresh air. Maybe you live in the countryside and can take a walk. Or if you live in the city and have been told to stay inside, take a leaf out of the Italians’ book and engage in some balcony exercise, song, dance or other group activity.
Remember to drink lots of water and stretch often. This is good advice whether working at home or in the office. But as there are often fewer distractions if working in a home office, you might want to set a reminder or use an app to notify you when it’s time to stand up, stretch, and drink some water.
The point here is simple, and we say it more as a reminder because we know you already know it well: don’t neglect your physical well-being during the coronavirus. Even if cooped up in a small apartment, be creative in finding ways to move and stay healthy. Spring clean the place, give some attention to the indoor plants, or do an online yoga class. You can be your biggest ally or your worst enemy during this time. Choose to be your ally!
8. Set boundaries
Most of us need to set ourselves a few boundaries when we work from home. One of the key reasons for this is that there are often many enticing activities within reach, such as playing video games, taking a nap, or chatting with your partner. We won’t suggest what boundaries you should put in place, because they’ll be different for each person. And we trust that you know yourself decently well and so recognise what boundaries you should establish. Ask someone else to help keep you accountable if you need it.
You might also need to set some boundaries with those living with you, especially as the coronavirus likely means everyone who lives in your home is also stuck there. Ideally you can lock yourself away in an office or other room and ask to not be interrupted except for emergencies. But obviously that’s not always possible. Perhaps you now have to look after your kids as the school is shut, or an invalided relative doesn’t have their usual caregiver coming in and requires more attention. In such cases we encourage you to ask for help (or concessions) from your manager or colleagues as necessary. Don’t assume you’ll meet with resistance; instead, allow others the chance to step up and help you out.
9. Practise gratitude
We all know that gratitude is vital to your emotional and even physical health. At a scary time like this, it’s even more important to turn our minds to positive things to balance all the negativity and fear pouring in. There are various ways to practise gratitude, but key to them all is listing the things you have to be thankful for. Your list could include hot showers, sunrise coffees, having a pet, doing some gardening, going for a run, reading a good novel, being able to Skype loved ones far away, and having dinner with someone important to you.
If you don’t enjoy working from home, you could also use this time to appreciate what you enjoy about your office space, your commute, your colleagues and your routine. The things we find ourselves moaning about in the usual nine-to-five grind of a life can often be the things that (without even realising it) keep us grounded and functioning. This is a great time or reflection.
And finally, find things about remote working as well as social distancing that you can be grateful for. It’s easy to focus on the inconvenience and the disappointments brought about the virus. But why not plan at least one nice thing every day that you couldn’t normally do when working in the office? It might be a cup of tea with your cat on your lap. Or a stroll in the midday sun. Or playing with your kids during a work break. Whatever it is, we encourage you to find ways to inject a little positivity into your day.
And those are our 9 tips for working remotely during coronavirus! We hope they were helpful.
What are you grateful for at this time? We’d love to hear in the comments section how you’re keeping positive during the coronavirus. #stayconnected