Working Remotely in a COVID World
Author: Jon Bruning
As of June 10, the Bay Area is on day 86 of shelter in place. Those of us lucky enough to continue working have largely found ourselves working remotely. For many, this means endless video calls on Zoom, Teams, WebEx, or Hangouts, and cramped workspaces that are far from ergonomically friendly. I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one who finds myself constantly standing in front of an open refrigerator, unsure of how I got there.
I am both a project manager, managing internal projects at my company Motive Power, and a consultant, working with Motive Power’s clients on various projects across industries. I was worried that my job would be difficult to perform while working remotely.
I’ve done aspects of my job remotely for the better part of 15 years, but rarely 100% and never 100% on longer engagements. I wondered:
- How could I connect with my team the same way as I did in-person?
- How could I get the updates I needed?
- How could I keep my team motivated and marching toward our deadlines?
During shelter in place I did a few things differently than I normally would have. I want to share some changes in communication cadence, style, and methods I’ve found helpful while working remotely.
Working Remotely – Shelter In Place Tips & Tricks
When I’m on site with my teams, I get a lot of my updates informally. Bumping into each other by the break room or a quick drive-by at someone’s cube or desk. These types of quick check-ins allow you to get necessary information quickly without a formal meeting eating into people’s already busy calendars.
Since shelter in place, I’ve replaced these face-to-face check-ins with text and IM interactions – quick virtual check ins to get a piece of information or two, still, without a formal meeting. It helps keep deadlines and actions in people’s minds without taking much time away.
Pro tip: Keep these succinct or else you end up with a meeting length interaction that you intended to avoid.
In addition, a reset on expectations of response times will help manage stress levels on your team and help with morale and positive momentum.
Let’s face it — many of us are working remotely in a home with babies, rowdy teenagers, and possibly dealing with family and friends whose health was impacted by the pandemic.
Finally, while it is considered a huge faux pas in 2020 to use our phone to call people, picking up the phone for a 2 minute chat is often the quickest way to check in. You can also gauge a person’s mood and temperament through their tone much better and adjust your communication style and expectations in response. I, possibly uniquely, find it nice to chat with my teams while I’m stuck inside my home all day!
Being both a project manager and a consultant, I constantly switch between the tools Motive Power uses and the tools my clients use. What I’ve found using numerous collaboration platforms is that they all generally function the same:
- You can share your screen, video chat, mute people with noisy backgrounds, whiteboard, etc.
- If there is a functionality you’ve used on one platform, chances are a quick Google search will point you in the direction of how to do the same on another.
That said, the platform we choose isn’t what is important in so much as that we actually use them and maximize the functionality they provide. Video chats vs audio only meetings recreate the sense of connection we had in face-to-face meetings, and I find engagement to be notably higher with video enabled.
Virtual whiteboarding provides a tactile feel without being together in person. I’ve seen whiteboarding done with plugins on communications platforms, and I’ve even seen colleagues use a real whiteboard in the background of their video. Both worked great and increased team engagement!
All in, we’re still assigning actions, mitigating risk, motivating teams, driving schedules, and managing communications while working remotely in this shelter in place world. Making a few simple modifications to your communications can go a long way to keeping your programs on track and your teams motivated ensuring successful programs!