Due to the recent circumstances with COVID-19, many of us are going to have to / have had to work from home for the first time. My company, nexlabs, has also recently started doing so.
Many teams rely on physical interactions in an office environment to get work done. All of this is going to change. I hope the following tips and tricks will help ease the pain for you.
Setting up the fundamentals.
The most important part of working from home is to set up the right environment for your productivity. This does mean that you probably should not be working beside your bed; for obvious reasons. Also, this is extremely disrespectful to your co-workers.
You should invest in having a proper desk. Arrange your workspace at home to be as similar to the one in the office as much as possible. This will help you to get into the ‘zone’ quicker. Moreover, let your loved ones and family understand what ‘work from home’ actually means. Clarify to them that your work does not stop or change.
It is also a good idea to set up daily check-in meetings (online) with your team. This allows managers to have a pulse check to make sure that the team stays on course. Make sure that everyone is synchronized during these meetings.
You should also be dressed professionally and in a respectful way. This also has a psychological effect on you — a wake-up call for your body and to draw the line between being at home and being at work. Not your co-workers but also whoever that is going to be on the other side of the video will appreciate you for dressing professionally even when you are working from home.
Talking about videos, you should also be relying more on video calls than audio calls. As all of you are in different places, it is extremely important to feel connected and to feel that you are part of the team. Plus, video calls allow you to read facial expressions and a whole bunch more that chats and audio calls will never be able to replace.
The key to having a successful remote working environment is communication. You must over-communicate and never assume. Over-communication is still miles better than miscommunication and misunderstanding.
Remember to also socialize with your co-workers. You could still make memes about your co-workers and share information. Remember that all humans are social animals. Especially, in the time of crisis, we need to be more supportive of each other.
Pick a communication tool that works for the team.
Once you have all the fundamentals in place, the next step is to start figuring out the communication platform that you would be using. This ultimately brings down to the question of what works best for you and the team. The good news is there are a lot of options; some examples below with my personal opinions. Also, do note that all of the products below have features that you would need for a successful transition to working from home:
- Video Calls
- Voice Calls
Slack is the darling of enterprise collaboration tools. What makes Slack a super awesome tool is its wide range of integrations available to automate all parts of your organization. For example, you’d like to get a ping when someone is at the door. Or, you could also do performance appraisals on Slack.
For small teams, you can use it for free. Once you’ve outgrown that and need more features, it will cost starting from $6.67 per month per user.
My opinion: Slack can be overwhelming because of the way that it organizes threads. The learning curve is quite steep. Use Slack if the majority of your organization is savvy with technology.
Microsoft’s answer to Slack. Does pretty much everything that Slack does and more. It recently added super useful features such as background noise cancellation in calls. It also has extremely tight integration with your Office documents.
If your organization is using Office 365, most likely, you’d have access to Microsoft Teams without having to pay any extra. It also has a free version for organizations that just want Teams without Office 365.
My opinion: Use Microsoft Teams if you are already on Office 365.
Facebook’s work version of Facebook that we love and hate. Workplace is more than just a collaboration tool. It also has social features where you could comment on your colleague’s cat photos.
Facebook Workplace is also free to use. But if you want more features, you start paying from $4 per user per month.
My opinion: If your organization has no prior experience in using online communication tools, Workplace is the best place to start for its familiarity.
Google’s multiple attempts at winning in the workplace collaboration space. It’s somewhat of an in-between between the likes of Facebook Workplace and Slack. It’s simple and fast to use but does not offer any social features or powerful integrations.
It comes with G Suite so most G Suite organizations will have access to this for free.
My opinion: If your organization has a limited budget and is on G Suite, Hangouts can be a good option to use.
Viber / WhatsApp / Telegram
I would not recommend using these as they are not made for effective online teamwork.
Use task trackers and project management tools.
Once you have your communication channels sorted out, the next step is to set up a common task tracker or a project management tool. Yes, you may use a spreadsheet but you will benefit from using a proper tracking system.
This is an extremely lightweight application that allows you to track not only your tasks but also your team’s tasks.
Todoist will allow you to document all the tasks that both you and your team have to do to make sure that nothing gets through the cracks.
The base product is available for free if you have < 5 people for each project. After that, it’s $3 per user per month.
My opinion: Todoist is suitable for small teams (< 10 people).
Founded by one of Facebook’s co-founders, Asana prides itself on simplifying team-based work management. Asana offers full project management functionality with timelines, calendars, forms, and more.
For bigger teams, the beauty of Asana is in automation. For example, could create project templates if you have recurring projects with similar tasks. Moreover, you could create rules to automatically assign team members and to automatically process escalation routes.
Once again, Asana is free to use for basic needs. The paid version of Asana starts from $10.99 per user per month.
My opinion: Asana is extremely versatile for more advance teams with a lot of complex projects but repetitive tasks. This is a true enterprise product.
The best way to explain Trello is that it’s effectively a digital brain dump. Trello is super flexible. It is very much similar to sticking sticky notes on a whiteboard and re-arranging them later. You can invite your colleagues to comment, brainstorm, collect information, and do a lot more.
There is also no learning curve for Trello at all, unlike other project management software. Technically, it is not a project management software. But, Trello is so flexible that you could turn it into almost anything.
Moreover, Trello is pretty much free. Unless you are going to integrate Trello with another piece of software, you never have to pay for it.
My opinion: If you have a team that has limited formal project management experience, Trello will be a good fit. Your team will fall in love with its simplicity and flexibility.
Monday is more than a project management solution or a task tracking solution. Monday is your digital work operating system.
If you have used a spreadsheet to track your work before, Monday will feel like home to you because that’s what Monday is — a super (super!) smart spreadsheet. It allows you to organize data and to visualize such data in the most user-friendly way.
This means that the use cases are up to your creativity. You could use Monday for expense claims, marketing campaigns, creative requests, workload management, and more. Besides, there are also powerful integrations and automation available.
If you have 50 people in your organization, Monday will cost $399 per month.
The worst aspect of a physical working environment is that we take things for granted without having any documentation or a record which often leads to countless more hours of debate and arguments.
With your organization working from home, you must record down all the decisions made as well as the processes behind it so that you always have a backup that you can review in the future. Plus, if most of your work happens online, this documentation process could even happen automatically. For example, your project management software will give you an audit trace of who did what.
Make sure brainstorming is still working.
Brainstorming meetings will be particularly challenging because we rely heavily on whiteboards and using visual-aid tools to communicate our points. Some of the online collaboration tools above have some quick whiteboarding capabilities baked in. But if you need more:
They offer a super easy to use, interactive, and collaborative online whiteboards with superpowers. It’s superior to a physical whiteboard as they offer sticky notes, templates, mind-mapping, and more. You could see where your colleagues are looking at and also respond to their comments.
Your team could leverage the power of Miro for free for up to 3 boards. Paid plans start from $8 per user per month.
The grass is greener on the other side.
I hope this massive switch to remote-working will change the way that organizations work in the long run. CEOs around the world are now being expected to switch to remote working overnight. They have started to login to Slack, Teams, etc for the first time. I hope they fall in love completely with the power of these tools.
Aside from that, I do hope that teams will become more collaborative because they have a deeper understanding and a stronger relationship with each other. I do hope that there will be more productive meetings because people have learned to prepare meeting agendas and structure robust meetings. And most importantly, the time-saver, from having to commute for 2 hours for a 30-minute meeting that could have been done over the phone, will add countless hours back to our daily lives.
There are so many productivity and organizational habit-forming benefits that we can get from remote-working. We must bring those back when the world resumes back to normal. We must not let the old ways of working to come back to haunt us again. This is an opportunity to better ourselves and for the organizations that we are a part of.
Stay safe and stay healthy.
To a more productive world!