Creating a Productive Remote Working Environment

When 2020 is finally over, “flatten the curve” might end up being the year’s signature phrase. But “remote working” will not be far behind.

These days, it seems like just about everyone is spending time working from somewhere that isn’t the office. Businesses that never had any intention of using a remote working model have had to jump into the deep end, learning how to make it work on the fly. 

Our organization already had the infrastructure and processes in place to make a seamless transition to remote working. But, the experiences of the past few months have brought the challenges of remote work into sharper focus. The most important lesson that we’ve learned is being successful in a remote environment requires a consistent focus on the human factor.

“The biggest thing that I‘ve learned is that intentionality is so important when working remotely. In this world, you have to spend a little bit more time in meetings, give people a little bit more time to think of the things that they need to say. You have to prompt those important conversations that shed light on problems and give clarity on something you’re working on.”
– Amy Huizenga, Scrum Master

Overcoming Communication Challenges

There are logistical and communication challenges when you lose face-to-face contact, watercooler chitchat, or conversations while walking into a conference room for a meeting. There are best practices we’ve learned to help create and foster better communication and collaboration, even when working remotely:

  1. Intentionality: In any meeting, having an agenda and a mission is key to making the time productive for all participants. But remote meetings, where no one is in the same room, and you can’t read body language or facial expressions, being intentional about your purpose for the meeting or something you are saying is vital. One way to help with intentionality, at least on video calls? Ask everyone on the call and team to keep the cameras on gallery view, so team members can see everyone’s faces.
  2. Flexibility: Working remotely requires a new kind of multitasking, particularly because people are working from home. That means kids, pets, sometimes parents, can present interruptions that wouldn’t take place at the office. In other words: everyone has something going on. So, give teammates and associates space to be late for a meeting or be temporarily distracted on a call. Above all else, be patient, kind, and empathic. Recognize there can be things going on behind the scenes with someone on a project that wouldn’t normally come up in the office.
  3. Over-communication: Working remotely requires teammates, supervisors, and colleagues to double and triple check with each other. Not sure of something? Call that person on the phone and check-in.
  4. Pace: The cliché that “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” is pertinent for best remote work practices. With COVID-19 cases on the rise in some states in late June, it’s clear, no matter what happens healthcare-wise in the world, remote working in some form is here to stay. Some companies have already said as much, that, even after things go back to “normal,” remote work will remain part of the model.
  5. Convenience: From a hardware and software perspective, our primary focus has been zero-touch deployment. When a team member needs a new laptop, we can purchase it and send it directly to the end-user pre-configured and ready to use as soon as it is powered-up. This requires more work and organization on the back-end, but it pays off in convenience and productivity.

“From a hardware perspective, our primary focus is zero-touch deployment. It’s important to make sure that the end-user has everything pre-configured and ready to go when they first get their hands on their laptop. That’s key (to remote working.) There are a number of ways that we accomplish that, but it’s based on maintaining a solid inventory system and maintaining those configurations.”
– William Annin, System Administrator

In the end, the best practices for remote working go beyond purely technical considerations about software tools or technical know-how. Teams cannot forget the importance of soft skills in successfully collaborating in a remote setting.

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