Working virtually is all about connections. Jane and I have been working virtually since 1992. At Imperial Oil Ltd/Exxon virtual work had already became the norm in Canada in 1988 with video-conferencing. This post is to share what we’ve learned about the holistic “connections” which, when you get right down to it, are more important than the technology connections. The technologies keep changing; the thinking and approach stays much the same.
1. Change your thinking. Ok, the popular term is #WFH WorkFromHome. But that creates thinking that you are at home first and foremost. Change your mental model to working virtually. It just so happens that you are working virtually at your home. But what’s most important is that your mindset is that you are working virtually. It doesn’t matter where you are physically – you are “at work.”
2. Be at work. That’s not as simple as it sounds. Well, for some of you it might be but for me it wasn’t. For many years I dressed for work, kissed the kids goodbye, went out the front door, locked it, walked around the house and entered through the back door striding directly to my office. If the kids weren’t at daycare or school (which, of course, right now they wouldn’t be!), I’d ask my husband to distract them in a different room while I came in. I ignored the dirty dishes, the call of the washing machine and the languishing laundry piles. I strode to work. Door closed. Mind open. Well, kinda open. Ready, anyway. I know some people work in their pj’s, and it if works for them – terrific. I found that working virtually was like an exercise program. I had to form new habits, new behaviours. Once I had the behaviours in place I could replace the office dress with jeans. I’ve never made it to the pj’s stage.
3. Open your virtual platform. Over the years I’ve used Hangouts, Skype, Netmeeting (remember Microsoft?), Slack. Now I use Zoom. I keep it ‘on’ when I’m not writing or deep in analysis. My Zoom is open as my office; the ‘door’ is open. I may have to excuse myself for a meeting or work, but anyone is welcome to “come into” my Zoom office at https://zoom.us/j/xxxxxxx My zoom is open the entire time I’m in the office. I also use the waiting room, so if someone wants to come into my Zoom office and I’m already in a meeting, they are directed into a waiting room. I’m alerted that they are there and can go talk with them for a minute or arrange a time to talk.
4. Let people know you are in. Post a message to your colleagues in whatever platform you’ve agreed to use saying “Good morning! Beck is in!” Jane and I used an emoji of a coffee urn for years! You may want to give a brief overview of your day to let people know when you’ll be busy or how work on projects/tasks is progressing.
5. Be seen. Cameras are essential. Every phone has a camera, it’s time people use cameras to communicate. Voice alone is not enough – we know that from every communication course. And email sure isn’t enough. A basic camera is about $40. I have a new one that I got on sale for $90Cdn. Play with your camera. Ensure it shows your face. As much as people like you they don’t want to see just your stomach, up your nose or your forehead. You can see what your camera is transmitting, so adjust it. Play with it – be curious. You can even try out some backgrounds (Zoom has a few free backgrounds) if you want to hide the laundry pile!.
6. Have a regular virtual check-in during the day. Just as agile and scrum advise that standup meetings are essential, so too are virtual check-ins with your teams or colleagues. Set a time for everyone to ‘come on’ to say hi – check in with each other, etc. Eat lunch together! This is your workplace – be social. Check in with each other.
7. Establish some ground rules for how you’ll work and how you’ll work with your team; what’s the turn-around time for responding to emails? or calls or messages? What are the protocols for instant messaging – what platform are you going to use as the standard platform? Where are files? Box.Net? Sharepoint? Google? Dropbox? Asana? Trello? What’s the turnaround time for editing or responding? These norms are as important for you as they are for those with whom you are working.
8. Set daily goals, meet them, go “home”. Well, do your best to meet the goals. You are at work, right? How often do we accomplish everything we set out to on a day when we are in a physical office setting? The same is true for working virtually. While you need a list of priorities for sure, don’t set your expectations any higher than you would in an office or library environment. It’s the last bit I want you to pay attention to: go home. Leave the virtual working environment and go home.
I know, I know – the pot calling the kettle black. Jane must be laughing her head off reading this. I am, for sure, a workaholic, working tirelessly towards my recovery. AND – I know how important it is to shut off the work and turn to family, Words with Friends, etc.
9. Managers – be there. For those of you who are in management and suddenly find you are responsible for people who are working virtually, be there with them. Keep in mind that “Leadership is not about the leader — it is about the ship. (Phil Sandahl) . Your ship is in uncharted waters. Work with the team to build the realization and comfort that this is the new office in which everyone is working together. If you are responsible for a library, it’s perfect! Libraries are learning environments and you are all learning together. In the same way that you’d make sure someone has a decent chair in the physical workplace, make sure they have a decent chair! And a laptop or device with a good camera or sound system, and strong bandwidth to support the virtual environment. People are in a new work environment; leaders must model this learning and adjustment, just as they would model this in moving to a new library. I recognize this will take time. Getting these basics in place, establishing the platform, the ground rules and the check-ins will keep your ship headed in the right direction.
Hope this helps. These are just the basics, and there are many people out there who can share their experiences and advice.
In virtual teams there can be shift in power and authority (I’ll post that tomorrow). For right now, let’s get everyone comfortable, confident and connected.