Drugi jezik na kojem je dostupan ovaj članak: Bosnian
As of Monday, most of the I&F Grupa’s employees, as well as our clients and partners, found themselves in a situation in which they probably have not been before… we started working from home. The reason is totally different from what any of us could’ve ever imagined.
I worked from home for the first time in the UK in 2008, while working in the aviation industry. I will share with you my experiences and what I have learned.
Working from home is fairly different compared to working in an office. It is often more relaxed, it allows us to focus more easily on specific tasks, we are close to family, we work in an environment that we have created, designed and decorated for ourselves. It is likely that working from home will be pleasant experience for all of us, but also for our clients.
The following paragraphs are an overview of several aspects of working from home that need to be addressed so that we can truly benefit from the experience.
The first thing you must have noticed during these first days of working from home is that communication is different. What we took for granted is no longer possible. There is no colleague sitting next to you who you can consult, you cannot glance over the shoulder of the colleague at the table behind you and help them reply to client’s e-mail, you cannot consult with the team in “Mekenza” (canteen on the 8th floor of I&F Grupa’s Belgrade headquarters) or chat about “things” in the elevator. For us in Lokomotiva, the fact that we’ve lost all our whiteboards with diagrams, flows, schemes and bullets from last week’s meetings, is a big challenge. All of that was gone overnight.
Ensuring uninterrupted flow of information is one of the biggest challenges for remote teams. Working from home quickly teaches us that communication is one of the key prerequisites for the success of virtually any project. When working from home, even those who always thought they could do everything on their own, very quickly realize how much information they received and shared with their colleagues every day, even though they might have not been aware of it, or the fact that face-to-face sharing of information significantly improved the quality of their work.
It is likely that for most readers the first thought on this topic would be that a good enough tool is all that is needed to facilitate unhindered communication. Wrong. Although the right tool can help establish and facilitate it, effective communication, above all, requires good organizational structure and well-established processes. Who, with whom, when and why communicates information is as important as the information itself, and far more important than the technique or tool used to communicate.
Here are a few tips to help you make your communication easier and more efficient while working in a remote team:
- Arrange to have a team video conference at least once a week, to discuss what has to be done next week – to make a weekly plan. This is commonly called Planning Meeting. Give yourselves time at first, don’t worry if these meetings initially last for a couple of hours, they will become shorter and more efficient over time. Estimate what can be done and align the plan with the capabilities of each member and the capacity of the team as a whole.
- Time estimates are not something we do intuitively. Break down each complex task into simpler ones, compare them to something similar that you’ve done before, ask colleagues to help you make estimates, and communicate them clearly and loudly. In that way, you take on the responsibility to do just as much as you can, not as much as anyone thinks you should. And strive to fulfil what has been agreed. After all, you made the estimates yourself.
- Once a day, usually at the beginning of the workday, summarize with the team what each of you did yesterday and what you have planned for the day. This allows the team to coordinate activities and minimize waiting “for a colleague to finish something”. This is commonly called Daily Stand-up (although you’ll be probably sitting at your desk). Use video conferencing for this meeting as well.
- Use video conferencing whenever you can and don’t be shy about turning on the camera. It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting in the kitchen at that moment. Pro tip: Microsoft Teams provides option to blur your background during the call. Super handy, especially for those with messy rooms!
- The I&F Grupa has robust infrastructure for Skype video calls, but don’t be afraid to try other tools. Each team should find and use tools that suit them best. A very popular free video conferencing tool (with some restrictions for larger teams) is Zoom.us
- Use virtual whiteboards/drawing boards, so you can communicate ideas visually in real time. This is particularly useful for meetings where you brainstorm and conceptualize solutions. Or look even further at complex real-time online collaboration tools such as miro.com
- Agree with the team which chat application everyone will use. Slack has been very popular for a few years now, but Microsoft Teams is not far behind. And again, use what works best for the whole team.
- When opting for one of the tools, all team members should set some time aside to learn the tool and make appropriate setup. This will ensure that all participants feel comfortable and use it at the same level.
- Disconnect from all communication channels when you really need to concentrate. Colleagues can always contact you via email, which is a much less invasive channel of communication than chat, video and phone calls.
- Be clear and expect clarity from others. Even in face-to-face meetings, participants often come out with different understandings of what has been said and agreed. Don’t be shy to ask questions and request additional clarification.
- When connection is choppy, a key conclusion or information can be missed. Feel free to ask your colleagues to repeat. Of course, have patience for colleagues who have not heard you well, and repeat patiently what they missed.
Process- and people-management in working-from-home situations is also a significant challenge, especially for companies that did not have time to prepare for such a transition in an orderly manner.
The universal solution for this problem is to re-shape the organisation and set up as small teams as possible. Ideally, teams should be smallest possible functional units. A team of three will find it easier to communicate with each other as well as to choose communication tools and schedule meetings, than a team of 20 people. Therefore, it will be easier to share tasks, agree on a common approach to a given problem, and coordinate activities to make the process more efficient. For example, waiting for a colleague to finish something is one of the significant sources of inefficiency within organizations.
From a manager’s perspective, it is much easier to manage an organization with six teams of three members each, than one team of 18 members. The 18-member team is, in practice, 18 teams of one member each.
If you haven’t already noticed then you probably will soon, even though working from home is generally comfortable, sitting is harder and more uncomfortable than sitting in the office. The reason is simple. Most of us don’t have proper office furniture at home. Those who have an office desk and office chairs have the opportunity to create an ergonomic, comfortable and healthy workspace. If you do not have that luxury, if you work siting on an old-fashioned chair at the dining table, you are likely to start feeling the consequences in just a few days. The first signs are pain in the shoulders, lower back, neck and wrists.
To give yourself a chance to work efficiently and produce quality results, stand up, stretch and walk regularly. Ideally, you will have a height-adjustable ergonomic chair and a desk that is large enough to accommodate your computer, monitor (if you need one) and to allow you to properly rest your forearms.
If you are using a laptop, you may be compelled to work from the sofa or from bed. Don’t. It won’t be long before you seek the help of a physiatrist.
Try working for some time each day in standing position. You will be surprised how comfortable it is after a short period of getting used to. And sitting on a ball can help maintain muscle tone and proper posture.
This is something that is solely up to you. Make your daily work schedule and stick to it. Get up in the morning at the same time as when you went to work in the office, change from your pyjamas into comfortable clothes that will not embarrass you if you need to suddenly join a video conference, set aside some time for lunch break, and work until the time when you would usually leave office.
At home, there are many things that are not work-related that attract our attention. It is much harder to stay focused for a long time. To work efficiently in these new conditions, it will require some additional effort.
And one more thing. When you are at home alone, there are no colleagues around you to lift you up, pull you in and help you focus. You are the source of your own enthusiasm and the generator of your own energy. Be focused, proactive, pay attention to colleagues who may be in the “low energy” phase, offer help and a nice word even more often than you did in the office, participate in conference calls with enthusiasm because energy generates energy… and stick to your plan.
To be continued…