Those new to working from home may not be prepared for the unique challenges that come with it — how to communicate effectively, stay as productive at home, and demonstrate engagement when alone. Here are the top tips for optimizing performance when working from home.
It is easy to have an effective remote workforce if steps are taken for managing productivity, improving communication, and enhancing accountability. Currentware brings us productivity management guidelines to help our readers excel as remote workers, and to help companies prepare for the challenges of a remote workforce.
Effective communication is absolutely essential, and its importance is amplified when employees are physically distant from colleagues and managers. Remote workers need to develop strong communication skills and strategies to help overcome the challenges that are unique to this working style.
Use the right communication tools. While strong written communication skills will be a critical asset, it’s not always the most effective method for communicating; there are times where other forms of communication will be more appropriate.
With so many options for communication available, it’s possible to inadvertently use one communication tool that would be better suited for a different scenario.
Conversations that require a lot of back-and-forth communication or subjects that require tact (e.g. a post-mortem summary for an important project) are scenarios where a scheduled video conference is going to be more appropriate than an email or instant message.
Create communication channel guidelines. With so many options for communication available, it’s possible to inadvertently use one communication tool that would be better suited for a different scenario. Here’s a breakdown of when to use the most common tools.
- Instant messaging: IMs are great for short-form updates that don’t need to be officially documented. For pre-scheduled meetings with a coworker who is a no-show, a quick instant message to confirm they are still available is advisable. Sometimes coworkers need 10-15 minutes to wrap up their task, particularly if working with a customer. IMs allow for a quick update without excessively disturbing current priorities.
- Emails: Emails are best used for long-form communication that’s straight-forward and not intended to generate too much back-and-forth discussion. Emails are great for sending detailed summaries/status updates and archiving key details, vs. extended two-way discussions where it is best to jump on a video call.
- Video conferencing: WFH requires investing in a decent video conferencing setup. Video conferencing is ideal for discussing nuanced topics that benefit from non-verbal queues such as tone of voice and body language, and it gives workers an opportunity to build important social connections with coworkers. A great setup does not have to be expensive.
Here are a few must-haves:
- HD webcam
- A pair of headphones (to prevent audio feedback and make it easier to hear your conference partner)
- An inexpensive USB microphone
Dealing with telepressure
Remote teams may find themselves succumbing to telepressure — an inflated sense of urgency to immediately answer incoming IMs and emails. While having a shared platform for short-form instant messaging is great for enabling short-form communication, treating every IM as urgent will kill productivity. A ReportLinker survey found 1 in 4 respondents reported feeling pressure to answer IMs right away despite being engaged in their work. Giving in to this inflated sense of urgency can cost as much as 40% of productivity due to the harsh productivity killing effects from context switching.
Remote teams may find themselves succumbing to telepressure — an inflated sense of urgency to immediately answer incoming IMs and emails.
Here is a good way to handle IM’s and emails without sacrificing productivity:
- Response batching: Establish set periods of the workday that will be dedicated to answering IMs and emails. Make sure these times are known and understood by all team members.
- Urgent communication: Designate another communication channel that’s appropriate for immediate contact (phone call, video conference request, etc). With a designated process, employees can let go of the undue anxiety that comes from not constantly monitoring channels.
Holding teams accountable
Remote workers need to understand that demonstrating a strong sense of accountability helps build a greater sense of trust with their team and managers. These tips and tools are especially important when working for a company that is not used to managing employees that work from home, as managers may have concerns about ensuring that work is being performed as expected when direct reports are not physically present in the office.
Invest in time tracking software. Time and attendance tracking tools are excellent for maintaining accurate timesheets for your payroll, but that’s not their only benefit. Time tracking software is an essential tool for improving project management, productivity, and accountability in a remote workforce. Tracking the time spent on projects allows teams to collect historical data of how long it takes to perform recurring tasks and better demonstrate the amount of effort needed to accomplish key tasks.
Create summary reports. Summary reports are a great tool for communicating work progress when working from home. Summary reports let the team know if goals were met or exceeded for the day; and can also let them know objectives and key results (OKRs) for the next day. Summary reports are also excellent for proactively communicating to project managers when a deliverable has a bottleneck, allowing them to step in as needed.
Use project management tools. Dedicated project management tools such as Trello or Monday are perfect for tracking projects and key deliverables as they progress along the project pipeline. These tools are not only excellent for managing projects, they’re also a valuable tool for increasing accountability as everyone on the team can readily see who’s lagging behind.
Tracking the time spent on projects allows teams to collect historical data of how long it takes to perform recurring tasks and better demonstrate the amount of effort needed to accomplish key tasks.
Productivity hack: The Pomodoro technique
If you’ve not yet heard of the Pomodoro technique it may sound a little too simple to be effective, but it’s a game changer. By using this time management technique you will maintain a sharper focus and improve your motivation.
Here’s the basic premise:
1. Pick a task. Define the sole task for the work period.
2. Set work periods. Define a designated work interval to be 100% committed to the designated task — this is traditionally 25 minutes. It could take a bit of experimentation to find the ideal work period.
3. Add short breaks. Workers should pause and take note of how they are feeling. How is posture? Effort level? What are the next steps?
Repeat 3 times. Workers should continue the above process until 4 short breaks are completed, then take a longer break. Traditionally the long break is 15 to 30 minutes — if you’re concerned about workers being away from their workstation for that long, you can align “long break” periods with a lunch break.
That’s it! By using the Pomodoro technique workers can focus all energy on core tasks, greatly mitigating the temptations to indulge in unrelated distractions. This technique is also excellent for energy management and re-charging.
The office has plenty of distractions to offer — chatty coworkers, hubbub emanating from nearby workstations, you name it. Remote working also comes with its own distractions, and managing these distractions allows workers to remain engaged and effective.
- Set boundaries. Roommates, spouses, and children are not mind readers. While there is likely to be a baseline understanding that being “at work” means a need to focus, they may not realize they are adversely impacting productivity when they interact. To help mitigate people-based distractions, it is important to set clear and realistic boundaries.
- Pomodoro breaks. Remember the Pomodoro technique? Those short 5 minute breaks are perfectly OK for a quick check-in. This allows workers to put 100% of focus into work periods. Communicate these periods to others around you to set expectations properly.
- Designated workspace. A designated workspace allows workers to psychologically associate a part of the home a working space. Distractions can be blocked out with a door, curtain, or other visual aid and set physical boundaries.
- Internet filtering. Use this tool to block access to a newsfeed while still allowing access to the URLs needed to perform my tasks (admin pages, social media management tools, etc).
- Monitoring. Use computer monitoring software for time alerts, to keep track of how many minutes are spent away from tasks at hand.
Hopefully these tips and tools will help your remote team stay productive, happy and engaged.
Article courtesy of CurrentWare
CurrentWare is a company that makes computer monitoring software for managing employee productivity. It is a security and productivity software company based out of Toronto, Canada. CurrentWare’s software is used by employers to monitor and secure employees when they’re working from home.