The coronavirus crisis is forcing CPB and other Hawaii-based companies into uncharted waters in many ways. One example is the very real possibility that most of our employees will need to work remotely. Working from home is relatively new for CPB but it’s something I have a lot of experience with.
I joined CPB at its Chief Marketing Officer in January (just in time for this crisis!) and prior to that I worked remotely as an executive for a large mainland company for two years. Through trial and error and observing other remote workers I’ve learned how to be effective. In fact, in many ways I prefer remote working because it forces discipline and efficiency. A lot of smart people think the future of work is a hybrid model, where we spend half or less of our time in a shared office. So it’s probably a good idea for all of us to learn how to effectively work remotely.
Here are my top 5 tips for working remotely:
1. BE RIDICULOUSLY RESPONSIVE & OVERCOMMUNICATE:
The biggest challenge in remote working is being “out of sight, out of mind” (this is especially true if remote workers are the minority). To overcome this challenge, it’s critical to be “always on, 24/7”. Of course this doesn’t mean that you’re always working but it does mean that you need to be available by email, text, and phone most of the time and respond to requests very quickly (instantly in most cases). Your colleagues need to feel your presence and your sense of urgency. Think about it – we all know which of our colleagues are super responsive and which aren’t. This is especially important if you are a manager. You also need to be available for impromptu meetings and 1-on-1 conversations. Finally, when you’re on a conference call with a lot of people try to make your presence felt by asking a question or adding to the discussion. The good news is with technology you can take meetings from literally anywhere. I’m an avid rock climber and have done videoconferences while hanging on a rock cliff!
Also, make an effort to OVERcommunicate. For example, after a call or meeting send a follow-up email to capture commitments and next steps. Send unsolicited emails to your team with a list of the things you’re working on. If you’re a manager, be extremely clear (in writing) about task assignments and timelines. You might also consider starting each day off with a 15 minute huddle with your team. Also, if you don’t already have regular 1-on-1’s with your team that’s another great way to stay connected. Huddles and 1-on-1’s are great way to stay in touch and hold each other accountable. If there is any doubt or you are feeling disconnected from someone, pick up the phone or schedule an impromptu 1-on-1 video call.
2. VIDEO IS 10X BETTER THAN AUDIO:
Many companies have been slow to embrace videoconferencing. But just as a face-to-face meeting is usually more effective than a phone call, a video call is 10X better than an audio call. We are visual creatures and subtle cues and nuances are lost when you can’t see the people you’re talking to. Also, video forces you to be more present. We all know how tempting it is to “multitask” when you’re on a conference call. You text friends, browse Instagram, and before you know it you haven’t been listening for 10 minutes. These days there are many high quality, cost effective video conferencing services including Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Microsoft Teams. So there’s no reason not to make every call a video call!
Also, it’s critically important to invest in a good display, camera, and speakers/microphone (or headset). There is a world of difference between a good setup and simply using the built-in hardware on your laptop. Videoconferencing hardware is super cheap these days so there’s no reason not to have a great setup. For audio, I use a Jabra 510 Bluetooth speakerphone which costs $130 on Amazon. Headsets with a built in mic are even better if you don’t mind looking a little dorky.
3. MAINTAIN STRUCTURE & OWN YOUR CALENDAR:
Many people envision working from home as sitting in the couch in your pajamas working on a laptop while watching daytime TV. In my opinion this is a recipe for failure – it gets old really fast. It’s important to have a dedicated workspace, to get dressed each day (even if it’s casual), and to have a schedule. As I mentioned above, team huddles are also a great way to add structure to your day. It’s a great way to start the day and also hold each other accountable for progress.
Your schedule should include not only work stuff, but also breaks and downtime. I try to be proactive with my schedule and block out several times during the week for uninterrupted work, exercise, or family time. Some of those blocks get cancelled but that’s OK – remote workers need to be flexible. One of the benefits of remote work is that you can be opportunistic and blend your personal and work life – so take advantage of that!
4. GET OUTSIDE:
One of the risks of working from home, even if you’re really organized, is that time flies by and before you know it you’ve been sitting at your desk for 10 hours, with cramped legs and an aching back. It’s super important to get outside at least two times a day for a change of scenery. Walk the dog, visit a park, go to a coffee shop (once it’s safe), run an errand, or catch some Hawaiian sun (there is evidence that sun exposure prevents the spread of coronavirus).
5. SET BOUNDARIES:
These days most businesses are 24/7 so boundaries and balance are a challenge whether or not you’re working remotely. If you take my first tip (be ridiculously responsive) too far, work can quickly consume your whole life. If you’re like me, you can hear your phone “dinging” late into the night. I’ve learned that I need to set a cutoff (usually an hour or so after dinner) to maintain sanity and focus on my family. Everyone’s boundaries are different but we all need to remember the importance of family time, regular exercise, and time to pursue personal interests – or just relax! These things have worked for me and others, but we’re all different so find what works for you. One of my mentors taught me to focus on outputs, not inputs. That means results are the most important thing – how you achieve those results is much less important.