Since the internet was introduced into the modern workplace as the new norm, workers have progressively started working at home more frequently. This increase in remote working coincides with Millennials and Gen Z dominating and thriving in the digital era. That being said, knowing how to work from home in complete isolation is very different from knowing how to work from home effectively with a team.
Working at home entirely on your own means that you only have yourself to rely on. However, when a whole team is working remotely, and it takes a number of you to deliver a project or task, the occurrence of complications and inefficiencies are much more likely.
Whether you’re a team leader or a member of a team, you’ll have different challenges. It’s very easy to say that you’re already an effective team, so why would working from home make any difference?
How does remote working impact collaborative relationships?
Currently, many of us are finding ourselves in the position where we have no choice but to work from home effectively. However, an article published by the Journal of Product Innovation Management reported that proximity is an essential factor for team performance and that ‘members tend to feel distant during virtual collaboration because they are geographically dispersed’. Essentially, teams working in close proximity learn and thrive better than those who don’t.
IBM is a classic example of this. They were the first PLC to implement a working-from-home culture. At their peak in 2009, they had 40% of their workforce working remotely. It was working beautifully until 2017 when they decided to drastically change this culture and enforce new rules that meant everyone was back into an IBM office.
So why the sudden U-turn from this way of working when the rest of the world was going the other way? The problem was a lack of collaboration. While individual workers could operate efficiently by themselves, the lack of proximity meant that the multitude of benefits gained through collaborative relationships diminished.
However, technology is rapidly developing to make remote communication work smoothly, creating ‘perceived proximity’ for all team members and inciting a more collaborative work style from the comfort of home.
Any stigma related to remote work is also undergoing a seismic shift as more businesses adapt to support home-based workers. Now, more self-employed workers no longer have an official office phone number, PO Box numbers and email sign-offs openly say they work from home. COVID-19 or not, many businesses didn’t need to do a rigorous continuity plan to continue working.
Like a lot of things forced on humans, we generally thrive under pressure and use it as an opportunity to make our organisation better for the future, but this can’t happen without hard work.
Here are our top tips to effectively managing a team whilst working from home:
- Open and honest communication
- Project management board
- Health and wellness
- Develop a routine
- Adapt your home ‘office’ space
- Four hours at a time
- Time management
- Set expectations with others working at home with you
But what do they mean in more detail?
Open and honest communication.
The list is endless on the number of digital channels we can communicate on. Some popular means of communication include:
- Microsoft Teams
- Facebook internal comms
- Phone calls
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that how we’ll communicate will be open and honest.
Miscommunication is one of the biggest factors to why a task between a team will break down. Whilst messages over email and Slack can help speed up constant communication, having regular video calls will ensure everyone is on the same page and have interpreted the message in the same way, allowing everyone to work from home effectively.
This is backed by scientific research. Studies suggest that 93% of communication is nonverbal, consisting of body language, facial expressions, and what mood we’re in. Sometimes what you meant to say can be misconstrued when being translated by the other person.
Action Point: Make sure you have meetings with the whole team for a minimum of 30 minutes twice a week to go over everything that has happened or is happening in the week. Save time by having the team write their agenda standup (task list) on a messaging platform so that no time is wasted ‘just’ going over the list.
Project Management Board
You may or may not have one already. You may have one and not fully use its operational capacity within the organisation. I know for a long time we had a digital ‘to-do’ list, as well as lists in our notebooks to keep track of projects. However, when working with a whole team, this simply doesn’t work.
There are a number of affordable systems on the market to choose from, and it really comes down to what suits your organisation best. For example, Trello is a popular mainstream brand, and people rave about it until the cows come home. For us, it didn’t work, and we found that Monday.com was a much better fit for our needs.
As a predominately creative agency, we found the need to visually see what tasks had been allocated and where the projects were up to, and that’s the value in a project management board. Often, a lot of time is wasted through team members asking each other how far a project has come along. Additionally, team members can feel micromanaged by their leader as they constantly ask for updates, which can also make workers feel like they’re not trusted to take care of their tasks independently.
With a project management board, everyone in the team can quickly establish where a project is up to. We have a rule within our business: “If it’s not on Monday.com, it’s not happening”.
It keeps everyone accountable for hitting their deadlines, staying focused on tasks, as well as informing everyone of the bigger picture, which means everyone has the support and resources to work from home effectively.
There’s nothing worse than constantly working on the small details and not truly understanding where you’re going with it. That’s also partly the challenge of keeping time well managed.
In combination with your twice-weekly video meetings, communicating the bigger picture will help with innovation. Ideas will come from the bottom up and can happen without having seen each other in person for a number of days, weeks or months, helping you to work from home effectively.
Your team will be interacting with people from different backgrounds (if you hire a diverse team), which is a catalyst for creating new ideas and interjecting them into the organisation.
If you’ve built your team using the Traction Business Model from Gino Wickman, then your team will already be in line with the same values; therefore, new ideas coming from external experience will also be in line with those values. Ultimately, whilst still working remotely, you can all still work with a shared purpose and in the same direction.
Health and Wellness
Stay hydrated. How many of us ‘carry’ around a bottle of water at home? If we’re going to be honest with ourselves, very little. We may have cups and a tap nearby, but when it’s not right in front of us, we’ll usually forget to keep up our hydration levels.
At your desk, you might have a water bottle constantly reminding you to drink. I know I have my eco bottle from Matrix247 next to me at all times. 73% of your brain is made up of water and dehydration adversely impacts cognitive function, so in order to keep your concentration at its peak, you’ll need to keep it topped up constantly. Little sips at a time go a long way.
Eat the rainbow and prepare your meals before. Ever got to around 2 pm/3 pm in the afternoon and felt ‘snacky’ but didn’t have anything in the office, so you just left it? Well, that doesn’t happen at home. You generally have everything you need, and more. With the emergence of COVID-19 people are stocking up their cupboards more than usual, and we all know the path to least resistance lies in the snack cupboard.
So what’s the solution to this?:
- Plan your meals
- Meal prep the night before
- Know exactly what you’re having
- Chose healthy options and don’t fill up on ‘empty calories’
I even plan what treats I’m going to have and build them into my day. Because let’s be honest, we all know we’re going to have a treat here and there. Planning it just means we don’t go completely over the top.
It’s also worth limiting your caffeine intake. While caffeine can switch us on, it’s also on a knifes edge between a productivity maker and a productivity killer. This can be easier said than done when you’re used to your bi-hourly caffeine fix! Meanwhile: *Drinks four coffee of the day by noon*. – Don’t lead by my example though- try for a maximum of two cups of caffeine by noon and four for a whole day!
Develop a Routine
While many newly remote workers might be taking advantage of a longer lie-in in the morning, before they start their day, this might not be the best use of their time if they want to work from home effectively.
While sleep is invaluable, you should go to bed early enough so that when you get up in the morning you have enough time to get ready like you would if you were going to the office to put you in the right mind-frame for the day’s work.
Here’s the breakdown:
- Pretend that you’re going to the office
- Get dressed for work like you’re going to work
- Give yourself an allocated start and finish time.
By establishing a routine that you stick to from Monday to Friday will help you remain productive and establish a line between your work life and your home life, even if they both happen in the same space.
Your home ‘office’ space
Working from home effectively can be challenging because the line between work and personal time can become blurred. To combat this, we need to do what we can to create a workspace that emulates an office space.
What else can you do to create a productive workspace?:
- Declutter your immediate workspace
- Tidy house, tidy mind
- Work from a desk space if possible
It’s an easy thing to do, and the difference it makes can’t be overstated. The evidence from research also backs it up- one study looking at the impact of clutter in the home and found that people who feel overwhelmed by the clutter in their homes are more likely to procrastinate.
4 Hours at a Time
Being in the office, you can very easily be sucked the daily life of joining in with colleagues coffee breaks, lunch breaks, and general interruptions (interactions) from co-workers, which quite literally break up your day and in fact makes you more productive.
When it comes to self-isolation, after a certain amount of time concentrating on one particular task/project, you’ll find the mind wanders. Suddenly you find yourself distracting yourself in every possible way, and you might start to procrastinate.
To work from home effectively, only work on one task at a time and only allocate yourself 4 hours at a time to work on said task. As soon as you hit the time limit: Stop. Put the task down. Take 15 minutes to do anything else. When you come back to the task, your eyes and mind should feel refreshed, making it easier to concentrate on the task at hand.
Time management comes hand in hand with building in a good work routine, but how you choose to build in a good routine is dependent on the person. We regularly joke in the office that different members of the team “wake up” and “peak” with their creativity at different times of the day.
If you’re a morning person, setting and working on your hardest tasks for the day would be best done first thing. If you’re an evening person, the easiest tasks may be better completed in the morning. Understanding how you work best will help you to reduce procrastination and enjoy the “flow” of the day.
Personally, I’m a morning person and prefer to do tasks during the morning and phone calls/meetings in the afternoon because I know I’ll be more productive in the morning.
Music – match the beat to the task at hand
While writing this article, I’m listening to a Classical and Instrumental Movie playlist on Spotify. This is so I can get into the right headspace to write down my ideas- and it works! Listening to different playlists according to the jobs you’re doing at hand can boost your productivity and stop your mind from wondering. Need proof? Studies show that 90% of workers perform better when listening to music. It could be the missing element you need to work from home effectively.
But what about the genre? Writing articles and problem-solving takes a lot of brain energy for me, and I need something calming and soothing to focus. When I’m designing graphics for websites, that’s when my brain is in full flow, and I can suddenly listen to fairly heavy electronic and EDM. You just need to figure out what works for you.
The commonality between the two is that they’re both lyric-free music. Many of us have multiple voices in our heads: we don’t need another one singing at us.
Set expectations with others working at home with you
Setting expectations can be a tough one. It’s very easy to be distracted by a partner, children, roommates, pets etc. However, similarly to creating an appropriate workspace at home, you need to communicate to your household that if you’re in your workspace, you’re going to work and need to be left alone (of course, pets may not head this advice, but we can all try).
Ultimately, just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you’re home. Our brains might sometimes have trouble registering this, especially if we’re not used remote work, so we need to take all the action we can to make sure we stay engaged and productive.
If we fail to stay efficient through the various distractions we encounter at home, deadlines will be rushed, communication will fail, and the work we do won’t showcase the best of our abilities.
In a challenging time such as now, we’re reminded that remote work can work and there could be a lasting shift towards it; we just need to make sure that we are doing it right.
If you would like more information on how to work from home effectively or how to improve your digital marketing, KUB is here to help. Get in touch to see how you could be growing your business by innovating your digital marketing strategy.