Experts Weigh In On Remote Working
I was on the phone with a client this week helping to train their team on the tools needed for remote working. They are a nonprofit that sees parents and children weekly to improve parenting skills and reduce the chances of child abuse. This is good and important work; it must continue even in chaos. Their case managers have never worked remotely before and have never seen families using remote technology. We worked through options that will work for employees and parents.
This was a great reminder to me that what may come naturally to one person is a whole new experience for another. With social distancing, offices closing, and many cities moving to shelter- in- place, those with the ability to work from home are packing up their laptops, cleaning off the kitchen table and sitting down to learn new skills and software.
I’ve been lucky to be a full-time remote worker for over 16 years. Honestly, to go back to an office environment daily would be very difficult at this point in my career. However, I remember my first few months of navigating the waters of being home. I’ve experienced it all…. the dogs barking, the kids running in, the internet going out and far worse.
To help all those new to working from home, we’ve created our Remote Worker Survival Kit that includes our list of must-do, must-have, and never do lists. I polled some of my nearest and dearest highly experienced remote worker friends to weigh in. They didn’t disappoint! They shared funny stories and wonderfully insightful advice for working at home.
Stratavize’s Remote Working Survival Kit:
- Check your internet speed – http://10.11.12.13/ I’ve lived in rural Indiana most of my life. I do not have access to the lightening speed internet broadband options many colleagues do living in larger cities. This was a huge problem when I first started. I had satellite for a hot minute (terrible!), I’ve used MiFi by Verizon, and have switched internet providers multiple times over the years to improve my speed. Your broadband will be stress-tested with kids watching Netflix while you’re trying to collaborate using video conferencing.
- Set Up a Designated Spot – The kitchen table or living room are tempting but, we recommend another location. Like, Registered Nurse, Deanna Cooper, says about now working from home “I’ve set up my workspace away from the living space. I get up and ready just as I would if I were leaving the house. Having my workspace in a different part of my home makes me feel like I’m still going someplace.”
- Use Mute – My friend and previous remote co-worker, Janis Schmidt, says “Double and triple check your mute if… you have to visit “the facilities” during a call. (Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the “echo” or sound of a toilet flushing.) Wowza!!!” If you want to hear a flushing toilet during a meeting play out in real-time here’s a video to entertain you.
- Mute Other Devices –Sandra Gabbard, who is now full-time remote working, shared “If you are on your conference call on your business phone, mute your personal cellphone from playing those songs for calls and texts.”
- Set Expectations – One of my mentors, Margett Budinich says “Make sure the kids know in advance when/how they can interrupt ? this is a picture of my daughter telling me she was hungry ?” She shared an old photo of her daughter interrupting a call years ago. Talk to your family, including your children, about when it’s appropriate and not appropriate to interrupt. I cannot count the number of times my own children burst through the door that held the sign “DO NOT OPEN, I’M ON A CONFERENCE CALL.” It happens.
- Get Dressed – Many of my friends and colleagues talked about the importance of getting dressed and looking like someone that’s going to work. One of our Stratavize teammates, Jessica Shrout, weighed in with ”Wear pants or your more respectable leggings on video chats – something is going to make you need to get up and you don’t want to have to crab-shuffle off-screen to grab something you wanted to show.” And friend, Trish Barnard, says this about getting dressed “I always get up and do the same routine I would do if I was leaving home for work. I still put my makeup on, even my earrings!” No one wants to crab-shuffle on screen, so getting dressed is a good idea!
- Consider Your Camera Backdrop – This is one I’m personally guilty of being too sensitive about. My office doubles as my craft room and behind my main computer is my wall of fabric for my sewing machine. Well, in a video chat – I look less like a professional consultant and more like a hoarder! My saving grace is the background option on Zoom, I can appear to be in almost anywhere. As my previous training colleague, Steve Kelley, shared “Also consider what’s hanging on your walls. A deer mount may give you horns. Yep, true story!” and Jessica Shrout weighed in on this one too! “Hide your favorite mug with the foul word on it. You WILL make a fresh cup of tea in preparation for a big video conference and you WILL have to look at it slowly go cold over the course of an hour because you can’t be caught on screen with it.”
- Video Conferencing Software – Now this depends on the size and internal process of your organization. There are so many options. However, if you are new and work for a small organization or a nonprofit I recommend Zoom. I’ve used many other video conferencing software from GoToMeeting, JoinMe, Crowd Cast, Adobe Connect, and others but, my preference is Zoom. All of these options have free trial versions and there are always free options like Google Hangout. Learn the software and be prepared for anything, like my cousin and long time fellow road warrior, Sue Reece, rants “ KNOW IT …[or you’re] screwed when something goes haywire. Or they send you new equipment [or] you have no extra equipment (batteries for that damn mouse, a power cord that suddenly stops working or the battery of your laptop dies). Pets are your coworkers! They routinely interrupt you (worse than any office busy body). Once [I] had a cat jump on my keyboard during a presentation resulting in [a] rescheduled call. My favorite, attempting to man three types of communication… email, text messages, and phone calls, while listening to a Go-To-Meeting when the damn Schwann man shows up and wants to know if you want to know the special! If that doesn’t make you nuts nothing will!”
- Back-Up Plan – Like Sue shared, technology goes haywire so, have a backup plan. My dear friend and long-time co-worker (who apparently caught me vacuuming on a conference call many years ago, I still deny this ?), Eddie Pabon, shared this advice “If you have to deliver a presentation, have a download/ back up a copy or soft copy. In case your internet service drops. Do a sound check with one of your partners. Check for a poor cell connection or headset with interference or noise.” Send the presentation to a teammate, that if needed, can distribute to all parties when the internet connection drops. Have a conference call-in number as a backup, in case everyone needs to jump off the video conferencing and refer to the offline presentation and a conference call-in number.
- Structured Agenda for Meetings – Showing up to a meeting at work without an agenda is a bad idea but, hosting a virtual meeting with no agenda is worse. There are so many more distractions when remote working, so to pull people together with no agenda will lead to members tuning out, checking email, and wasting time. To create an awesome and effective agenda, see our recent article S.T.O.P terrible meetings.
- A Plan for Working & Not Working – Fundraising Consultant and friend, Alison Zajdel, says this about working from home “Get as much done in the morning as possible or you’ll spend all day thinking about it and feeling guilty for doing the laundry instead.” Having a plan will ensure you prioritize your tasks and remind you to take breaks. My training colleague and dear friend, Kiara Gallagher, shared her advice “Schedule time to eat on your calendar or you will be sitting with your lunch for hours. Take breaks. Make the personal phone call and don’t feel guilty as you still have a life (would you make that call at the office – same applies). My biggest lesson was just because your computer is now living with you, work does need to end. Be cautious not to become a non-stop worker. I fell into that my first few years working from home.”
- Start Yelling Without Checking Your Camera & Your Mute First – As my previous boss and the one that taught me, to lead where I stand, Jennie Schut says “Don’t yell at your dogs if you’re not on mute. This goes for using the bathroom as well!”
- Become the Gat-About – I’ve struggled with this for years. With flexibility comes a lot of responsibility. It’s easy to get the reputation of “not really working” because you work from home. Suddenly you are the person that does everything for everyone during the day. One-week last year, I blew through 18 hours in a week doing other people’s errands because they have a “regular” job. I have a regular and real job too ? As, Sharon Harlin-Davis shared on Facebook, “You are working and not the neighborhood babysitter. Neighbors can’t use your office equipment.”
- Overwork – It’s easy to keep checking email and reviewing projects when remote working. Between our phones, laptops, tablets and now with so much work happening in our homes, it is easier than ever to overwork. Do not overwork when remote working. As my friend and freelancer, Ed De La Paz shared, “I’ve had to learn to know when to stop! I try to stay with the 9am to 5pm routine but I’ve [had] to force myself to stop working past 10pm.”
- Put Conference Calls on Hold – I could not agree with this one more. If you are using conference call-in phone lines, do not place the call on hold. Especially, if your organization has hold music or messaging! As my previous co-worker, author, and friend, Scott Honey says “If [you’re] still using old school conf calls do NOT put the call on hold. That’s why I love Zoom because you can mute lines. Try to encourage all to have a camera ON. It keeps all engaged.”
- Change Clothes! – This is too funny not to include. Friend and project management consultant, Linda Howard shared, “Remember if, on a zoom call, your camera may be on even if you’re on mute. so please don’t change your pants while standing in front of the camera. (Yes, I saw someone do this while on a virtual meeting. He had no idea, and no one said anything out loud).” Come on folks, do not change clothes while video conferencing!
Remote working can be a challenge. However, we hope some of our tips and tricks help you through this time and gave you a few laughs. When you start your day on Monday consider……like, one of my FAVORITE people on the planet and previous co-worker, Jeff Gable responded…… “All. Of. This.”