By Josh Lynas, Agile Coach at AND Digital
In a matter of weeks, businesses across the UK have been plunged into remote working with little-to-no time to prepare. This sudden change can leave employees vulnerable to isolation, with team productivity taking a significant hit.
However, this fundamental shift in our working culture is not such a change for some. Advancements in technology have been breaking down traditional working environments for years, giving rise to a generation of ‘digital nomads’ used to working remotely.
So for those struggling to make the adjustment, here are three core pieces of advice to help manage working offsite.
1. Establish a mindset. Fast.
A new working space means a new working mindset. Adjusting to this change can be challenging, but accepting this new normal is the first step to success.
Part of this is mastering your environment and making it comfortable. While it may seem tempting to settle in on your sofa, this isn’t practical long term. Try to find a comfortable spot, preferably at a desk, where you can focus without prompting early-onset back pain.
Setting up an office at home can make it difficult to separate your personal and working life. Establishing boundaries is vital not only for productivity, but for taking care of your mental health. Try to stick to your usual working hours as much as you can. Finding a spot away from the places you typically relax can also help clarify the distinction in your mind.
There are many points throughout the working day where you would typically be taking breaks, often without realising it. A chat across the desk or stopping to make a cup of tea are all necessary opportunities to take a mental breather and give our eyes a much-needed screen break. These moments actually improve productivity overall, so don’t forget to pause throughout the day.
Virtual conversations are dominating the way teams communicate, but they lack many of the contributing factors of effective communication, such as body language and tone. Keep your assumptions positive and try not to jump to conclusions - it won’t help when establishing the right mindset.
2. Design for remote working challenges early
Any new change is bound to bring challenges. Identifying these early, and finding ways to manage them effectively, can boost remote team sessions dramatically. An easy way to remember these challenges are the ‘Three D’s’.
We face countless distractions in our daily lives. Try to limit these as much as possible to keep concentration high. Mute notifications and find a quiet space to work. It’s a good idea to designate time for responding to emails, helping to keep focused on the task at hand.
This challenge carries two meanings. Avoid literal disconnection by setting up a good internet connection, charging up your devices and making sure the likes of mics and headphones are working before you get started.
Look out for metaphorical disconnection, too. Suddenly spending a lot of time alone can have a big impact on our mental health. Organise a 15-minute virtual cup of coffee with your team, or start a group chat for non-work updates only.
Being physically separated makes it harder to pick up on the subtle signs that our teammates may be struggling. Reach out. Foster an environment that encourages honest conversations.
3. The all-important Zoom call
Video conferencing has quickly taken over as the number one method of communication, with Zoom shares rocketing 10-fold since lockdown began. When it comes to video calls, applying the following tips consistently can have a considerable impact.
First up, have a purpose and know why a call is taking place. A lack of clarity can cause attendees to lose focus fast.
While on a call, make sure you’re not losing any key voices in a sea of unknown faces. Set aside time for ice breakers and introductions if there are new, unknown people in attendance.
Think about the size of your call, and only invite people who really need to be there. Calls with fewer numbers tend to be more focused and productive.
Finally, beware of ‘groupthink’ - a social phenomenon that sees the first or loudest voice of the group speak first, leading the opinions of the rest of the members. This can harm collaboration and productivity. So pick a facilitator, ask open questions and give everyone the chance to speak.
Working remotely can take some getting used to, however, with a few simple changes, most teams get into the swing of it over time. Adjusting your mindset and preparing for common challenges early - alongside a little extra video call prep - can go a long way to enhancing focus, while keeping mental health in check and preventing productivity from taking a nosedive.