Here at Using Technology Better (UTB), working from home is a core part of our organisation and our day-to-day lives. We don’t have a physical office, instead our team of 14 work from their home offices – across three countries and five time zones! Despite being physically apart, we have created an incredibly strong and positive company culture that is certainly not lacking in personal connection or team productivity.
As COVID-19 (Coronavirus) continues to spread across the world, working from home is becoming a new reality for many. Given our extensive experience in this way of working, the UTB team has joined forces to share our top tips for working from home. Our tips are relevant to everyone in this situation, however If you’re a business owner or manager wondering about how to keep your team working together effectively while apart, be sure to pay extra attention to the section on keeping connection and teamwork strong.
Looking after yourself
- Exercise: Adam, our General Manager, recommends making sure you schedule time to get some fresh air and work out “…in order to keep your mind sharp and to look after your waistline 😉…” (yes, the emoji is part of the quote!). We’ve currently got some of our team partaking in an online 8 week fitness and diet challenge, which is a great way to support each other in our exercise goals.
- Diet: Lara, one of our amazing trainers based in New Zealand, highlights the importance of planning your meals. “I sometimes forget to eat if I’m consumed with a task (pun intended), then I end up snacking or eating whatever is available, usually not the healthiest option!”
- Switch off: Lara also suggests consciously scheduling time into your day when you are away from your computer/phone. “For me this is walking with the dog. I leave everything at home and just spend some time with my thoughts (and my pup!) enjoying some fresh air.”
- Work with others: Mike, UTB founder and director, recommends finding different opportunities to work with others if you’re struggling with working alone. “You are saving a fortune on travelling to the office each week. Re-invest that into working lunches (nice ones). Working from a cafe etc can give you the sense of connection and will fight against loneliness and isolation.” We realise that this may not be always possible or practical in some situations (due to COVID-19 isolation requirements), so having ‘video call lunches’ can be a good virtual alternative!
Managing the home-work interplay
- Pay attention to keeping work and home separate: It is very easy for work to bleed into family life. Managing this interplay is a key part of UTB’s company culture (and one of our core values). Mike says “we talk a lot about ‘buckets, not balance’ here at UTB and we ensure each team member is not neglecting the family bucket. Just because you are at home and around your family doesn’t mean you are connecting with them (just like you are not necessarily connecting with your teammates because you are in an office).” Make sure you set aside dedicated work time and dedicated family time – and be present and engaged during that time.
- Build flexibility, but be disciplined: One of the great things about working at home is the flexibility it offers! Adam sums it up nicely: “You are living the dream, make sure you take advantage of the flexibility of working remotely. Get out of the industrial mindset of 9 to 5 and focus on output vs hours worked.” This is something that is a key part of the ‘buckets, not balance’ value we live by at UTB. We have the flexibility to attend to personal matters throughout the work day and adjust our work hours to suit – but every one of us knows that we are personally accountable for our work output and meeting our goals. Adrian, our resident spreadsheet nerd from South Australia, emphasises that this flexibility requires discipline. For some people it can be easy to whittle away the hours on non-work tasks, particularly if you’re prone to procrastination! Embrace the flexibility, but be sure to do so from a place of integrity and team spirit
- Define a physical location for work: Paul, our Apple guru who is based in Queensland, shares that it is important to define a physical place that switches you into work mode. “This provides some distinction when you are attending to both family and work duties.”
- Set boundaries: Donna, another of our New Zealand based training champions, provides advice on what to do if you have other people at home during work hours. “If others are at home too, have clearly agreed working parameters in terms of when it’s ok to interrupt.” This is likely to be particularly important if you have partners or children who are required to work/school at home too.
Keeping connection and teamwork strong
- Be intentional about building culture: At UTB we work hard at bringing people together through holding three ‘huddles’ (short video meetings a week). Amongst other things, we use this time to reinforce our culture by sharing core value stories and celebrating wins. Mike’s got this advice for leaders…”If you are in leadership, one of your key tasks is to be looking for connection points and opportunities to get to know your teammates, and have the team check in with each other privately. Every meeting we ask team members to share a business win, but also some good news from their personal lives – the personal good news builds community faster than a lot of other methods we have tried.”
- Communicate often: Just because you aren’t sitting next to people, it doesn’t mean you can’t engage with team mates and customers the same as you would in person. Adam notes that “I see a lot of people have a mental block when it comes to asking questions digitally vs in person, it is not “bugging” anyone to ask questions via chat, video or phone.”
- Don’t forget to share the ‘Random Fun’ moments: Lara highlights that it is important to
share “the small, funny things with your colleagues, this really helps to build connections and relationships. We have a chat channel called ‘Random Fun’ and it contains a huge variety of things that are often completely irrelevant to our work.”
- Webcam on EVERY time there is a meeting: At UTB we send thousands of chat messages a week. However, every time there is a meeting, whether that be one on one or in a group, the webcam is on. Mike’s reason behind this…”To build connections you need to see others. We don’t do phone calls, but we do video calls every time. Note, this is not a time to multitask. Pay attention, build connections, and be present in every meeting.” Adam adds that “Video calls are great for engaging with people and avoiding that lack of peer-to-peer engagement.”
- Believe that it is possible to stay connected: Mike reflects that “often when new team members join UTB, they remark at how they feel more connected to the team then when they were working in an office. This is due to the intentionality of the above.”
- Get your office setup right: One of Adam’s top tips is to make sure your home office is set up with everything you need – dual screens, docking stations, desk space, a comfortable chair, external keyboard and mouse. “This will all help your productivity and avoid sedentary injuries, it is a no brainer!”. If you don’t already have these items at home, it is worth asking your employer if you can temporarily relocate your work equipment to home during any enforced work from home period. Mike has a different system because he shares work spaces with his wife (who also work from home) and his two teenage children who are in an online school. For him, the flexibility to work in different spaces and stay mobile is essential. “I am writing this whilst sitting in the sun drinking sparkling water. I love #RemoteWork”
- Plan your days: One of the things that can support self-discipline and accountability while working from home is planning! Start each morning by writing a list of tasks for the day (or if you prefer, do it at the end of the previous day). This will give you a very clear idea of what you want to achieve that day and help you stay focussed on what’s important. I find this essential in preventing the feeling of the days just rolling into each other and it also gives me a sense of achievement to look at a heap of crossed off tasks at the end of the day! In line with being flexible, I also add any personal tasks to this list. This ensures I am mindfully planning them into my day, rather than letting them be a distraction.
- Share your daily focus and activities with your team: At UTB we have a morning check-in process (via chat) that let’s everyone know that we’re online, beginning work and what our key focus for the day is. This is a great way to get a sense of what everyone is working on, identify opportunities for collaboration and to feel connected to each other right from the start of the work day. We also use this check-in channel to let others know when we’re stepping away from our desk – whether that be for lunch, to visit a client or to mow the lawn! Because of the respect our team shows for our flexible working arrangements (i.e. we don’t abuse the trust placed in us), we can be very transparent about our daily activities without feeling that we’re being monitored.
- Establish a new routine: One of the biggest changes you will face when working from home is the change to your daily routine. First up, no more daily commute! And perhaps no more dropping into the cafe near work for your morning coffee! Establishing a new routine (particularly in the morning) will help you begin your day with intention and structure – setting you up for productivity and focus in the hours to come. Some things you might like to spend this extra time on is your personal or professional development (think podcasts or books), exercise, meditation, time with your family or even sitting peacefully in your garden with a home-brewed coffee. Having a new routine also helps manage the work-home interplay, as it can be easy to fill those extra hours not commuting with work – which can quickly become unproductive if you’re not giving yourself enough non-work recharge time.
We hope this information will help you settle into this new (and we think, the best!) way of working as quickly and smoothly as possible. Who knows, it may even become the new norm long after the virus subsides!