Making the Shift to Working from Home
By: Jennifer Manning MBA
Here in the U.S., many states have already begun mandating the closure of non-essential businesses or mandating employers find ways to shift their workforce to work from home platforms. While some industries may more easily transition or may be accustomed to work from home, for the vast majority this shift has led us into unchartered waters. As a distance worker, myself, I have been there. I write to you from my living room in Idaho, where I conference daily with my co-workers, spread throughout Northern California. I have made this transition you’re making, and it’s not always intuitive. Here are the benefits and challenges of telework, tools I have found helpful, tips for overcoming common challenges, and generally how to make the transition as seamless and stress-free as possible.
Some of the greatest benefits I have realized as a telecommuter are:
- Savings in commuting/travel costs
- Improved schedule flexibility
- Increased protection from illness while we attempt to “flatten the curve.”
That said, the shift to remote working can pose several challenges as well. Common challenges that I dealt with at one time or another included:
- Maintaining productivity in the face of distractions
- Steeper learning curve on technology in order to function remotely with ease
- Feelings of isolation/ reduced camaraderie
- Setting healthy boundaries on home versus work life.
Let’s talk through some tips for overcoming these common challenges…
1. Managing Distractions to Preserve Productivity
With households buzzing in the wake of demands for social distancing, distractions are at an all-time high for anyone trying to get work done remotely. Rather suddenly, my plate is overflowing! I am trying to home school and balance out work-life schedules with my husband, so our household doesn’t devolve to a Lord of the Flies existence. Believe me when I say I am right there in the trenches with you! That in mind, some of these distractions can be mitigated by scheduling your day out (creating a schedule/routine with your spouse), a closed door, and some REALLY GOOD noise cancelling headphones. However, this new intermingling of personal and work life in your home can present some real challenges. Here are my top recommendations for managing distractions.
Designate a workspace– Ideally, your workspace should allow for privacy, comfort, and concentration. Communicate your needs with family or those living with you. Aim to anticipate and discuss your expectations on interruptions. Define what is urgent versus emergent (this is especially critical for households with children). Communicate hours when you will be focused on working versus break times when you will be more available. Those with small kids… I know this is an especially difficult balancing act. Repetition and consistency are key. Also, communicate, communicate, communicate and be flexible. Even the best laid plans will evolve as you find what works best for you and your household.
Know your work hour expectations– Working from home doesn’t necessarily change business hours. Aim to keep regular work hours. Reach out to your Manager or Supervisor for clarity on work hour expectations. Be transparent about concerns you may have in this transition. This is not the time to beat around the bush. As a native New Yorker, nothing drives me crazier. Say it like you mean it. I use of a digital calendar to help with planning out my day. I have also found time blocking to be helpful. Time blocking has become a popular practice for both remote and non-remote workers. The idea is to divide your day up into designated blocks (chunks) of time devoted to specific projects or tasks. Although we are all guilty of it, and it often seems unavoidable, multitasking is actually an incredibly inefficient way of getting things done- Time blocking can help with that.
Entrepreneur Magazine has a good article on time blocking… to learn more, check it out
Stay Connected – The common thread in successfully transitioning from a traditional to a remote working environment is COMMUNICATION. I highly recommend checking in with colleagues, team members, and managers on a regular basis. Find a work-buddy.
2. “Flattening” the Tech Learning Curve
Technology is ever-changing. Some welcome that change and have ridden that wave with open arms while others may feel compelled to run swiftly in the other direction. I fall somewhere in the middle myself. I want to have a heart-to-heart with those in the latter group. As uncomfortable as it may be, now is the time to step out of your comfort zones and grow your “tech savviness.” What that looks like may be more or less depending on your technology know how but I know you can do it! To help you out I have listed three favorite work from home tech tools to get your feet wet.
Use(s): Video Conferencing, Remote Meetings
Zoom is a great video-conferencing tool for facilitating meetings and staying in touch with colleagues remotely. It is also incredibly user-friendly which is why I love it! Currently, “Basic Zoom” is FREE and hosts up to 100 participants. There is a 40-minute time limit on meetings.
Zoom is my one of my “go to” video conferencing tools. The sign-up prompts are great, but I put together a few quick links to get you started in using this amazing tool.
Link to “Getting Started” Instructions
Still need help?
Are you more of a visual learner like I am? Check out Zooms other “How to” video tutorials
Want to Sync/ Integrate your digital Calendar?
But how secure is it?
Zoom has some impressive security features. Click below for details
Use(s): Video Conferencing, Meetings
WebEx is another tried and true tool that many businesses use for remote meetings/conferencing. I have used this tool a handful of times and love its functionality. It is another popular “Go To” tool for teleconferencing, meetings, webinars and trainings. Sign up for this tool is FREE however like Zoom the number of participants is limited. During this crisis, the FREE version allows meetings of up to 100 people and meeting time is unlimited.
As a semi-techy person, I found the sign–up prompts for this tool to be intuitive. I have included some quick start links to get you started as well.
WebEx Quick Start Instructions
But how secure is it?
WebEx has a great Help Center. Here they discuss “Best Practices for Secure Meetings”
Use(s): Remote communication, Voice and Traditional Texting, Image sharing
Remember those Nokia Walkie Talkie phones?… Am I dating myself? …Crickets… Voxer is a walkie talkie and text communication app all in one. You can push to talk (record a message) and share pictures and video messages. The platform also lets you use traditional texting. Voxer has a powerful FREE version and works over 3G, 4G or Wifi. The multifunctionality and simplicity of this app is what makes it one of my top work from home communication tools.
How do I get started?
Download the Voxer app from your phone’s app store and Tah–Dah! You are ready to begin! It’s that easy!
But how secure is it?
According to Voxer, messages are secure when you create a private chat. No one can see it, even Voxer. They tout “end to end encryption.”
3. Staying connected and cohesive
The last bullet point is a perfect Segway for this next tip for overcoming telework challenges. Staying connected to other human beings during a time when we are all being asked to socially distance ourselves is difficult. Remote working without this added social distancing business can feel isolating in and of itself. I have felt that myself at times BUT isolation is further magnified now that we are being asked to isolate ourselves socially as well. This level of isolation, if not carefully considered can absolutely take a toll on persons psyche. There are some rather funny memes circulating these days.
All joking aside though, we as humans are social creatures. Even the most introverted people need interaction. In this uniquely isolating time Skype, FaceTime, or Zoom “ing” with friends and family can help fill that void. Further, professionally making use of videoconferencing suggestions and having an after-work hours “Happy Hour” chat can be equally fun and help as well. My advice- Stay connected, we are all in this together and we need one another.
4. Setting Boundaries
For some this may be one of the most difficult suggestions I make. Health comes first and foremost. If we are not taking care of ourselves, we cannot be there for our team or our families. Push for clarity on expected work hours and as much as possible stick to those hours. Workaholics, I am especially talking to you. Yes, YOU. I fall into this bracket too so believe me I know…sure, there will be times when you will need to work more or less and perhaps that the time to work more is now, BUT again, we need a balance in our lives to stay healthy and to be productive. Lack of sleep, poor diet, and inactivity results in nothing more than burnout and resentment. Furthermore, over-working yourself and poor self-care can quickly poison your home life which is now delicately intertwined with your work life. As both a teleworker and health professional I cannot stress enough the importance of setting work and home life boundaries, sleeping, eating healthy, and taking breaks to move / exercise. Do it. Your body, mind, and family will thank you for it.
Additional work from home tips
Aim for an Ergonomic workspace. Stanford has some great tips to share
Overlooked equipment- MicroUSB and lightening cables, backup power supply (in case of outages), extra power cords, wireless mouse and keyboard, computer camera if you don’t have one built in.
Review your company’s Privacy and Security Policies, Laws, and Procedures. This is especially important to consider before using a tool you are unfamiliar with. Where there is opportunity hackers will take it and with so many people working remotely you better better hackers are priming to take advantage. If you haven’t seen copies of these documents in a while remember this is unchartered waters for many companies. Aim to be understanding and speak up and request a copy if you haven’t seen one in a while
I hope you find value in this blog and that you use some of these tools to help make the transition to working from home. You are not alone in this!
Technology You NEED, Transitioning to Teleworking
By: Hilary Mitchell
Let’s be honest. We’ve all had those days where we would rather not go anywhere. Maybe you know you’ll have to sit in traffic, the coffee hasn’t kicked in, or the weather is doing that weird thing where it’s cold in the morning and hot in the middle of the day. Maybe this morning marks the 3rd time you were low on gas the night before and you told yourself you would get up early to fill your tank and forgot. While there is nothing fun about the word “pandemic,” let’s focus on silver linings where we can get them. Whether you’re working on a team, want to help the little ones keep on top of school work, or you just want to keep in touch with your family since game night was rescheduled, here are some programs (and their apps) that can help navigate this new norm.
How do I keep track of what everyone is working on?
Do you need to keep track of documents, spreadsheets, and your cat photos? Dropbox is for you.
Dropbox provides multiple storage options and offers the ability to hold many different file types. The beauty is if you work on a spreadsheet and save it to Dropbox, it syncs up to your account, which is a fancy way of saying if you are away from your personal computer, you can access all of your files from any device with internet access, including a convenient app on your phone.
If you decide to try out Dropbox for enterprise file sharing, make sure everyone on your team is aligned with file naming conventions:
- Use consistent abbreviations
- Artifact Name = What it is (Resume, Standard Operating Procedure, Schedule, etc.)
- Dates are handy when listed as Year-Month-Day, or 2020-03-01
- Version number help when the same document is revised and saved on the same date. For example 2020-03-01 v2
What’s the best way to keep in touch with my team?
My vote goes to… Voxer!
Maybe you’re on three different teams working on four different tasks with 13 different people. Voxer finally makes group chats easy to set up and maintain. Voxer supports traditional texting, but with a great push to talk feature when you’re stuck between “it’s too much to text” and “I don’t want to be on the phone for longer than I need to be.”
Just hold down the walkie talkie button feature to get out your 72 seconds of thoughts, and you’re on to the next task. This guy is free, but if you want your messages stored for longer than 2 weeks, an upgrade to Voxer Pro is for you.
Voxer sounds awesome, but what do I do about meetings?
Zoom isn’t just a great song by the Commodores, it’s a stellar platform for 1 on 1 or group video meetings. Zoom is great for small or large groups and can really function however you need it to. I’ve seen it handle everything from a focus group of 10 to a lecture with over 60. The ability to send chats to the group or screen share are perfect tools to move your meeting forward. And right now, it’s free!
But wait! Did your computer just decide to restart itself 3 minutes before the meeting? Been there. The app supports video chat from any smartphone, or you have the option to simply dial into the meeting. This isn’t a paid advertisement, Zoom is great.
Pro tip: Wish you were somewhere else? Have a messy room, or people walk thru your camera background? No problem! Zoom can help!
When your meeting launches, on the bottom left-hand corner, you’ll see a microphone and a camera icon that says “Stop Video” directly underneath. To the right of that icon is an arrow pointing up. Click it and select “Choose a virtual background” from there, you can upload any photo and select it as your backdrop.
Is that me on Zoom with no makeup on pretending that I’m in Disneyland? Yes. Yes it is.
This is always a fun way to bring a smile to your meetings. Something to laugh about or just reset your mind before a conference call helps keep us all balanced in our mental health.
How am I going to keep these new logins and passwords together?
One password to rule them all.
As someone who had the same 4-digit phone passcode as my garage code and pin number, I get it. Trying to memorize different passwords and accounts and logins and security codes is not my favorite.
But Keeper is.
This website (and app) lets you store and organize every login and password. Simply go to the app on your phone and use your fingerprint or face scan to unlock the app. Search and select “the system you’re trying to access” touch the password to automatically copy it, head to the link directly below to be redirected to the site, and paste your password.
If you want to make a new record but are fresh out of new passwords, it will autogenerate one for you.
I’ve got so many things going on, how can I store them all and multitask?
I cannot tell you how nice it is to be able to split up tasks and keep everything in one place.
That’s a lie, I will tell you.
While you do need a Gmail account to edit things on Google Drive, its worth it. Google Drive stores, supports and allows edits to docs, sheets, slides, and many other file formats. Do your kids need to make a PowerPoint presentation for a group project for school? Set up a folder for the group on the drive and create a new slide. The entire team can be in the file and make edits all at the same time while chatting away on Zoom. Once everyone has done their part, download the file as a PowerPoint, and submit.
Remember, we’re in this together.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, help is out there. Get a little bit of sunlight when you can, stretch, check on your neighbors and laugh as much as you can. Things will take some adjusting at first, but we’ll pull through and come out stronger than ever.
Google Drive https://www.google.com/drive/
Coaching to Unleash Your Employees
By Lee Scott
Coaching Your Own Employees
What is Coaching?
So, your next question might be, “So what is coaching?” In simplified terms, it is asking questions that help people discover the answers that are right for them. Sometimes it takes just one question to get your mind going and thinking about what your next steps are. Many people misunderstand what coaching can be used for. Instead of using coaching as a “corrective measure for under-performers”, think of it as a way to invest in high potentials or a perk for your star performers. It seems like many managers feel that they don’t have the time to invest in their employees, and I am sure many of you feel this way too. We need to prioritize our employees’ development so that in the long run your team can be Unleashed. Here are some of our tools to help you get started:
Unleashing Leaders Online Courses- Leadership Conversations Series
Unleashing Leaders- Coaching Services
HBR: Guide to Coaching Employees- Article: “Why Coaching?” by Ed Batista