6 ways to make remote work easier during lockdown

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Having worked remotely with clients and each other for the last 10 years, we wanted to share what we’ve learned to help you make remote work easier, more productive, and more enjoyable during COVID-19 lockdown – with a bit of planning and willingness to adjust, you can steer your team around the dangers that can arise.

Whatever happens, things won’t ever be the same again – the lessons we learn now will endure. So let’s make sure we learn things that will stand us in good stead whatever may be coming.

Here’s 6 ways to make remote work easier

Fundamentally, it’s about doing the basics of working well together, more diligently.

 

1. It’s not about the tech

With so many ways to communicate online, such as Zoom, Hangouts, WhatsApp, Teams, Slack, email, and even old fashioned phone calls, we’ve all got enough communication channels we can possibly need and more.

The upshot: it’s not worth worrying about the tech. As long as your team has an internet connection and a phone, they can thrive remotely.
 

2. Pay attention to what was already not working

This is what’s going to go wrong: when you’re all working remotely, the cracks that already exist in your group will become more amplified.

In a face-to-face world you can get away with papering over the cracks because you’re flooded with rich data such as the expressions on people’s faces, their body language… we’re all constantly adjusting to these.

But when the pressure is on, the cracks begin to widen, and the existing tensions will be exposed with nowhere to hide.

Where there’s low trust, there will be less.

Where you avoid conflict, it will be easier and ‘safer’ to avoid it even more.

So fundamentally, it’s not a new challenge that you’re facing. It’s the same one you already had, just more fully exposed.

When you think about how to make the best of working remotely with your team, make sure you’re paying attention to the basics: building trust, feeding back, enabling effective conflict, communicating well.

In many ways switching to remote is a great excuse to reset and recalibrate your team.

Where things are already good, look for ways you can give people even more room to shine.

 

3. Be kind to each other

This is a plea for kindness and compassion.

The first thing to do is cut your colleagues some slack. Be generous. Recognise that people are working in very different ways.

Some of your team have children, some of whom have things to do and some of them won’t. Which makes it really difficult for those colleagues to work.

Some of them might be ill or be dealing with people who are sick.

We all need to be really generous about that. You need to understand that people may not be able to work a 9-to-5, that they might not be able to reply immediately or have a quick back and forth communication.

So do ping things across to them but don’t expect colleagues to respond immediately because they might be doing something else. Like trying to line up an activity for the children for the next half hour.

If you need to, text them, but know that whatever happens, it’ll be okay if they can’t respond. You’ll wait.

If you haven’t already, it’s a good idea to agree some protocols for this. Be clear with each other when you can and can’t be available. (We’ll share more on this in one of our next blogs.)
 

working from home has challenges

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

 

4. Allow your team some flexibility

You’re all going to need a bit of give and take during this time.

If anyone on your team is having a bad day, and for example, their children’s laptops aren’t connecting to the assigned school work – your team member might get less done than you, or they, intended.

Check how you’re responding to that and make sure to see it from their point of view.

For example, let them know that it’s fine, let them find a time when they have the space to do the work, such as in the evening when they’ve put the children to bed.

Here’s a really good example of being flexible:

One of our clients, a senior person, is homeschooling and as a result, they’ve completely moved their working day around.

They’re an early riser, so they’re meeting with one of their colleagues at 7.30am on Teams and they’re getting through a ton of business and then they’re off from half-past eight to one o’clock, focusing on the children.

At one o’clock, their partner is taking over, and my client is back at work from half-past one until five o’clock and then doing another stint later on.

They’re probably covering about the same amount of hours. And it works.

On the flip side, it’s also understandable if you’re feeling frustrated if someone on your team isn’t making any effort at all because that doesn’t feel like you’re all in it together.

We’ve heard from another client who’s being very generous and flexible with people but is getting really frustrated with one person on their team who has a baby at home, and that person says they can’t do anything at all.

And that’s really frustrating because actually, we can all do something – you might not be able to do very much, but you can do something.

You could, for example, check your inbox in the evening when the children have gone to bed. You could put a film on in the afternoon and do some work.

At least that means that your colleagues will know that you’re in it with them as best you can. And they won’t mind that you can hardly be there.

Because if you’re doing nothing when others are doing a lot, that seems a bit callous, so we can understand why you as leader or manager might get frustrated if that’s what’s happening.

And if that is the case, do have the conversation with them about expectations.

Equally, expecting someone with kids to do a nine-to-five, that’s kind of crazy.

(We’ll talk about asynchronous communication, trust, and being able to be hands-off in a future post.)

 

5. Look out for loneliness

The thing we’re most worried about at Then Somehow is people being lonely. Many people could start feeling increasingly isolated and there will be mental health and wellbeing issues that’ll come to the fore.

Unless you pay attention, you could lose people in your team – in the sense that they’ll lose their sense of identity, of belonging, of being grounded – all the downsides of isolation that we all need for our mental wellbeing.

That’s probably a bigger risk than their short term productivity.

Embracing the human element of remote work is hugely important.

Sometimes a little WhatsApp side chat, having a bit of fun supporting each other, and bigging each other up, is really important.

And that might be a separate thing to your Slack channel, or the group on your WhatsApp where you are making direct work requests.

 

6. Be kind to yourself

As a manager, you need to take care of yourself too, not just worry about your team. You are no good to them if you become overwhelmed. All the things that apply to them apply to you as well.

I was talking to a senior manager recently who finds himself trying to steer his large, now remote team, support his direct reports, and act as the primary caregiver for his toddler while his partner is caught up in another crisis.

It’s not practical to imagine he can carry on working at the same level of intensity with all that going on.

Really there needs to be a negotiation with his leadership team to clarify what he is able to focus on and what he just can’t – which they need to pick up. For a little while, it may be necessary to flip the roles – instead of leaning on him for support, they need to take on the mantle and support him.

Everyone needs to be clear on what time they have available, when that is, and what the focus of that time should be.

You may have similar things going on, and if so you probably need to put a bunch of things on the back burner.

The lesson from this is that as a manager you need to look after yourself.

Here’s a list of things you can try:

  • Set clear boundaries for work, family, and rest.
  • Eat well, make time for exercise, sleep well, meditate if it helps, get outside if you can.
  • Communicate your availability clearly to colleagues.
  • Discuss and reallocate responsibilities.
  • Stop trying to do everything, and focus on the minimum service you can to start with, and build on that sustainably.
  • Find time to meet with your peers to support and guide each other.
  • Make time for friends and loved ones.
  • Step away from the screen, smell the grass, enjoy the sun on your face, and get a bit of perspective at least once a day.

Okay, that’s all for now – lookout for our next blog post on remote working.
 
If you need some help with working on this – get in touch, at Then Somehow we help you build emotional literacy, increase empathy, and help you see the world differently, giving you practical tools to shift the stuff that’s stuck.

If you’d like to discuss how we can help your leadership team perform better, get in touch here.

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