Tips for working remotely

burrowes-400px.jpg
Susan Burrowes

Great teams are not defined by a space, they are the synergetic power of people working together towards common goals.

In this time when we are distanced from each other that’s an important idea. We won’t be working in the same space, but we can still be a team together. Distancing does mean however, that we have to shift our work practices in some critical work areas.

Communication

Let’s over-communicate. We can’t look across the table to check for understanding, or watch each other for nonverbal cues. So let’s use our words carefully, overshare information and documents, and do so in advance of any meeting or discussion. Speak slowly and clearly when you are working online, to minimize confusion and technical glitches. Be mindful of turn-taking.

A helpful suggestion for continuous communication is adding an informal channel like Google Hangouts, group texting or Slack, which also allows easy document sharing.

Delegation

When our teams work together, work is delegated according to capacity, or skill sets. As each team member contributes their work towards our organizational goals, tracking and checking in on progress can no longer be accomplished through standing meetings, or hallway chats. The informal talk of our organization is ubiquitous in its role of moving projects forward, and this can create gaps in our communication. One solution is to generate simple project spreadsheets that can be shared among team members, detailing tasks, interim and final deadlines, the team member responsible for moving the task forward, and most importantly, a notes section allowing team members to keep their progress, challenges and successes updated. Project task lists work best for time-bound, discreet projects. For coordinating more complex work, project management tools are abundant.

Efficiency

A word about the tools we’re using. While we have a plethora of choices in selecting tools, it is important that we make deliberate decisions about what type of content is appropriate for each. We don’t want to confuse the flow of information, or make more work trying to track down the information we need.

Other efficiencies in team communication can be generated by more frequent, shorter meetings to lessen the sense of isolation among team members, and provide opportunities to bring up and address issues. Always end meetings with a plan for business continuity–for action items, and next steps.

Ideas

Ideas may be the hardest hit area of distributed workforces. Because team synergy is responsible for so much idea generation, with team members building on each other’s ideas, we have to nurture the opportunity for creative thinking. Many of our teams designate a note-taker, and this is an opportunity to capture the seeds of an idea, and assign it to a team member to grow and shepherd it to the next meeting by doing research, looking for vendors, putting costs together, etc.

Support

Take time with each other. Time for thanks, for kudos, and to celebrate successes. Time to drop a quick note, share a joke or congratulate a team member on a life event. Some of our team members may be experiencing ancillary stress during this difficult time, and any support we can provide could go a long way to reminding them that they are valued as individuals and contributors. If you see someone struggling, help them find the appropriate campus resources in your unit, or through Staff Human Resources.

Negativity

Despite some of the advantages of working remotely (e.g., a better commute!) working alone has many challenges. When one of your team has negative feelings, and expresses them, take the opportunity to acknowledge their workplace values, and take action towards healthy change. As an example, a colleague who is complaining about how awkward online meetings can be might be expressing their commitment to good communication. Perhaps that team member can even take the opportunity to propose action, and develop some guidelines around team communication.

Online Meeting Etiquette

To get the most out of every remote meeting:

  • Be prepared for video: Press the “start video” button. Go ahead. Few of us love the way we look online. But giving someone what nonverbal cues you can, and being present and engaged will bring us all closer together.
  • Stick to your meeting schedule: Online work can be less formal by nature, so please respect the start and end times of your meeting as a courtesy to others.
  • Don’t multitask while online: Checking your phone, answering emails and reading docs are all important, but will distract you from the business at hand. Give your participants the courtesy of your full attention.
  • Minimize distractions: If you work in a space that has ambient noise, or other people who are working remotely, consider using earbuds or headphones to help you stay focused. You may or may not have a private space to work, so take a moment to let others know if you need quiet for a meeting. Encourage them to do the same.
  • Focus on the business at hand, stay professional: Mute your phone, close unnecessary windows on your computer, and point your screen away from the bobbing chicken clock you have up on your wall. Make the meeting environment as professional as you can. That said, the kids are at home–be flexible.
  • Remember to provide a recap before terminating your meeting, and follow up with minutes, action items, assigned tasks and next steps.
  • Please do leave some grace for miscommunication, stress, or technology issues.

Other Best Practices

Remote work is more than meetings, so here are a handful of tips that can be helpful:

  • Honor a start and end time to your day if possible, and take lunches and breaks.
  • Take time to stretch.
  • Be mindful of screen time, refocus often.
  • If possible, leave your laptop in a dedicated work space, and work in the same place as often as you can.
  • Remain visible and available to your team and supervisor, and let them know if you need to meet.
  • Keep your calendar up to date!
  • Take time for process checks and post-mortems on key projects so that we can continue to improve our remote work habits
  • Celebrate the team’s successes
  • Schedule time for socializing in your meeting: check-in with each other
  • If possible schedule time for learning. Spring classes will be available soon at learn.ucsc.edu!
  • Be mindful of your health and take care of yourself and others.

If you have a question, comment or suggestion we want to hear from you! You can reach us at learndev@ucsc.edu. We offer training online, and look forward to resuming our full range of assessment, facilitation and training offerings in the near future.

Be well!