Ramees Mohammed / Reading Time: 6 mins
In this post Rameez shares his personal experience of working remote and shares what worked for him and his team.
Working remotely is hard enough as an individual contributor. When you have to work with, and as a team, the dynamics involved change completely. Here are some of the things that worked for us. Most of this, we learned from terrible experiences. As they say, what didn’t kill us made us strong as a team. In this time of crisis, we hope this helps you.
Get the basics sorted: Remote working is only possible if everybody in the team has required physical infrastructure for working remotely. Ensuring that members have laptops, phones with connectivity, a good Wi-Fi connection and the necessary apps are really just basic. We had been collaborating across multiple geographies when Corona hit us, and with certain team members moving to more secluded, less populated areas made us realise how the availability of network while being taken for granted, can be a real deal-breaker. Alternate arrangements will have to be made, as required.
Plan communication pattern: Mode and frequency of communication is the key. Assess the aspects involved in the functionality of your business and arrange a review meeting and catch-up call that would help run things effectively. Having everything scheduled on a calendar works wonders, considering that people are working from homes where pets and kids can be more of a priority. Understand synchronous and asynchronous communication channels. Synchronous channels are phone calls, teleconferencing and in-person discussions (not advisable right now). Asynchronous includes IM, email, text, Whatsapp and other messenger apps and anything where you can compose a response before you send it out. If the team does not set up ground rules for what goes into which channel, you will be stuck in infinite loops discussing trivial details. The task here is discussing and discovering what works best for your team. We all hope the isolation ends soon, but if it goes longer, then this vital step can make all the difference.
Always assume positive intent: This is a big one. There’s a pandemic on the loose. There are conflicting priorities at play, and on top of that, there is uncertainty about the messages people receive on official communication. When we started working as a team functioning out of different cities, the largest challenge wasn’t one we thought we would have. It was the constant perception gap! Assuming everyone is batting for each other is something we had to explicitly make clear to each other. Keeping the positive intent in communication, even if it is critical feedback on a group chat. Understanding and finding the positive intent in words being displayed on the screen became an essential trait of a team player. We, in fact, joke about this being the fundamental skill to look for while recruiting. There are times when we cannot see the positive intent, even if we look real hard. That brings me to the next point.
Video. All day. Every day: The more we communicated, the more we started realising the need for video. The trigger happiness that comes with Whatsapp messages and the impersonal touch that comes with Emails led to a lot of dysfunctional behaviour. We love conflict. If it wasn’t happening, then that was a bigger problem. But conflicts because of ineffective communication is detrimental to a team. Instead of sending a WhatsApp message, we shifted to voice notes. It’s easier to convey emotion in a voice note than in written text. If things needed an additional personal touch, a video was our only resort. When the stakes were high, we always went for video. Something is reassuring about seeing the person on the other side. Especially during this time of forced social distancing.
Take Advantage of Technology: Apart from the obvious use of WhatsApp, emails and messages, use collaborative tools as much as possible. We brought in Notion and Dropbox Paper to meet all our collaborative needs. A lot of tech companies are offering free services of their collaborative team tools in this time of need. You can check it out here.
Create a routine: At the workplace, you have a routine, and that helps workflow smoothly. That roughly governs your social interactions as well. Understand the needs of the team members and their personal habits to create the right collective routine. For someone who rises early and gets work done in the morning, one needs to learn how to curb enthusiasm in sending out updates through WhatsApp. Choice of sync and async communication channels plays a considerable part in this.
Create a schedule: Don’t bet on a routine. It will fall apart on certain days. Instead, work on a plan. Review tasks for the day in the morning. Create a time provision based on priority and time required. Personally, the Eisenhower matrix for prioritising tasks has been of great help. It helps get clarity and have a roadmap of what the day looks like. Don’t forget to bake in time for your personal errands, hobbies etc. when you create your schedule. Keeping your mind and body healthy during isolation becomes necessary. Stretch a little every half an hour of working.
Separate your workplace: If possible, create a separate working space. Do not, under any circumstance, take your workplace into your bedroom. A bedroom is a place for sleep and tampering with that will have an impact on your sleep patterns. That is not an ideal situation to have right now. Ensure your workspace gives you a comfortable posture and access to necessary resources. Also, create a workspace that is devoid of distractions.
Avoid Distractions: Distractions are aplenty when you work from home. Switching on the TV has led me down hours of Netflix binge sessions that ended with me having to pull all-nighters to finish the work at hand. Not very efficient! Turning off your notifications and reducing the number of unlocks you perform are also important. Apps like Acture, Google’s digital wellbeing and OnePlus’ Zen mode can help if you struggle with self-discipline as I do. I enjoy playing gaming soundtracks in the background as they are built for driving focus and concentration (A little life hack that has worked magic for me).
Do not eat an elephant in one bite: That can be taken literally and figuratively. Either way, I consider it a bit of great advice. Take short breaks in between. Keep a check on fatigue to the eyes and joints in your body. Make sure you break down tasks and perform them in the right mix. This has personally worked for me. Keeping a pinned note on your desktop or post-it on your table helps big time as a reminder.
Rest, Recover, Repeat – Just because you are working from home, doesn’t mean you have to work extra to make up for the lack of physical association to an office space. Take time off in between to recharge your mind and body. Avoid cramps and keep yourself hydrated. Ensuring you get enough sleep is of paramount importance. I cannot stress this point enough! If you feel overwhelmed, take some time off on the balcony or next to an open window if you do not have an option to step out. Reading a book or watering plant can also be a relaxing aspect. Hopefully, pretty soon, the COVID-19 situation will be under control and blow over completely. Maintaining our physical and mental health should be a priority. Stay safe!
NOTE : GoFloaters also has compiled a document with tips and hacks to stay happy and productive working from home that will be of use to you.
Ramees Mohammed is a freelance HR and behavioural consultant. He is the co-founder of Strength Factors, a sports and gamification based behavioural intervention organisation. He consults with start-ups in Bangalore in setting up people operations, usually working as a fractional CHRO. He is also an independent assessor for assessment and development centres. During his time away from consulting, he works as an adjunct faculty at Christ University in Bangalore. Being on his own for the last two years and working with teams spread across organisations and geographies he has learnt a thing or two about remote working. Above all, Ramees is an amazing human being