The “great work-from-home experiment of 2020” has actually been many small experiments every day as people have adjusted to their new work environment.
Now we are six months in, and assessing how we’re doing doesn’t only mean, “Do I have the right set up,” it also means, “Am I doing my job well enough from home?” and “Am I actively protecting myself from burnout?” Remote work requires a different skill set than working in an office. For instance, while communication, transparency, and empathy are important for all professionals, they are even more critical for all individuals on distributed teams.
[ Can you ask for a raise during a pandemic? Yes, read: How to ask for a raise during COVID-19. ]
Remote working habits: 9 questions to ask yourself
If you want to check in with yourself, use these nine questions to determine whether you are developing strong remote working habits.
1. Am I checking in with my team members on how they are feeling, or just asking for work status reports?
“Right now it’s too easy to skip the small talk that helps us stay connected to people and focus all our transactions on scheduled meetings and task management,” says longtime CIO coach Bob Kantor, founder of Kantor Consulting Group, Inc. “It’s always important to put the person first, but it’s much easier to forget that when all our contact is remote. I urge my clients to connect outside of their Zoom or MS Teams meetings by doing one-on-ones via phone or even email or chat. For example, you might lead a call with, "You’re working from home in California right now. How are the crazy heat, power outages and wildfires impacting you and your family?’”
[ For more advice on leading remote teams, read Remote teams: How to build a culture of accountability. ]
2. Am I communicating my expectations effectively?
“Right now, effective communication is critical for everybody, especially those across a distributed team,” says Michael Stahnke, VP platform for CircleCI. “Effective communication is transparent and clearly articulated. For example, if there is a video recording that you want a team member to review, don’t just tell them to view the recording and assume they do it. Instead, ask them to view the recording between a specific timestamp and bring their thoughts around that topic to an upcoming meeting. Better yet, extract the vital information and put it in writing, which is faster to consume and easier to refer back to than a video.”
More good communication habits include posting key information in public chats and discussion channels versus private ones, and sending recurring email updates, says Stahnke. But don’t let chat be your only communication vehicle, he says.
“Examples of ineffective communication are when you find yourself assuming that everyone has what they need,” he says. “A simple test here: if an employee is out for a day, do they need to read all the messages they missed in the chat system to do their job? Or could they clear unread notifications and be fine? If they can clear unread notifications, you’re probably communicating in a more official capacity.”
3. Do I have all of the resources at my disposal that allow me to complete my job to the best of my abilities?
“You need to have the proper physical setup, from the equipment to the ergonomics of your workstation, to do your job. Most remote work stations should include a monitor, keyboard, headphones, a VPN, a desk and a proper work chair. You want to make sure that your monitor, desk, and chair are at the right height to avoid repetitive strain injuries. It is important not to underestimate the power of appropriate tools to complete your job comfortably and adequately,” says Rob Stix, CEO of DirectNet.
“If you don’t have the proper resources to complete your work, you won’t be as productive and won’t be an asset to your company. If you’ve made a makeshift office, it’s time to rethink your space and set yourself up for the long term,” says Stix.
4. Am I summarizing my work?
“Communication and work visibility play a big role in assessing work progress, especially when workdays start to blend together,” says Tiffany Jachja, developer advocate, Harness.io. “Summarizing key work progress makes setting milestones and keeping track of successes easier, which helps to manage the remote aspects of work. Some signs you might be struggling in this area include a lack of discussion and tracking around your work or undefined next steps for a given project. Lower interaction and engagement on team calls and syncs can occur as well. It’s well worth setting aside five minutes at the end of meetings to summarize the discussion and set goals and next steps to ensure everyone is engaged and aligned."
[ Need more advice on meetings? Read also: Zoom tips: 6 ways to make meetings better. ]
5. Am I holding myself to a higher standard than I hold others?
“As a recovering perfectionist, my default behavior is to rarely cut myself the same level of slack that I do others,” says Dave Egts, chief technologist, North America public sector for Red Hat. “When working in isolation, I don’t have anyone but myself to give me the reality check to be mindful of when I’m spending hours on the last few percent that most people won’t notice and won’t matter in the end.
“Remind yourself that ‘perfect is the enemy of done.’ I’ve found the best way to break the cycle is to remind myself of all the other things I have to do,” says Egts. “Ask yourself how much time it would take to do the last few percent and ask yourself if it’s worth it or if the time is better spent on all the other things competing for your attention.”
6. Am I taking frequent breaks away from the screen?
“Studies have shown that remote workers are spending more time working. While this may be great for an organization in the short term, ultimately it will lead to employee burnout, a reduction in productivity, and in some cases even health issues,” says Cedric Wells, veteran director of IT business solutions. “Getting away from your screen for a few minutes between meetings or even walking around your house or yard while you think about a solution, can prove to be very helpful. Also a change of scenery or making some calls without video, is a great way to get up, move around, and give yourself a break from looking at your screen. Constantly ‘being on’ and sitting in front of a screen for hours daily will have more negative impacts than there are positives.”
How much is too much? “Signs you are spending too much time sitting in front of your computer include not realizing how much time has passed since you last got up or how late it is and you are still working.” explains Wells. “Others could include blurry vision, watery eyes, falling asleep and yes, even your kids or partner complaining that you have been sitting in that same spot all day. Be sure to find balance, take breaks, and watch your productivity go up.”
7. Am I reinforcing transparency in my work or slowly chipping it away?
“You’ll know you’re being transparent enough if people generally understand what you’re working on and what the status is for each bit of work. You can ask your manager and colleagues to reflect it to you, and if they miss something major, that tells you it’s time to up your game,” says Rich Theil, CEO of The Noble Foundry.
“Signs you might be struggling in this area include bosses who suddenly demonstrate less trust and are interested in your day-to-day activities. You may also notice that the people you work with get caught off guard by the work you’ve completed or your status on a particular body of work,” says Theil.
8. Am I taking care of myself?
“Self-care is one of the last things many people think about. They often address their co-workers’, family’s, and friends’ needs first, which may leave no time left for self-care,” says Egts. “Schedule quiet time to recharge and focus on what’s important to you. This isn’t selfish; it helps you be more effective to help others. Just like the flight safety announcement, you need to put on your mask before you help others. You can’t help others if you’re out of breath.”
9. Am I in the same boat?
“Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, someone told me, ‘We’re in the same storm, but we may be in different boats,’” says Egts. “Our leadership, peers, and staff span generations, have different upbringings, and face different challenges than we do. Keep that in mind, as some co-workers may be struggling financially or emotionally and may also have to take care of their elders or children, which further strain their physical and emotional wellbeing."
"Give them a break and the flexibility to do what needs to be done. One of the best ways to do this is to focus on inputs and outputs. Give them the tools, resources, support, and psychological safety as inputs, and measure the quality and quantity of the outputs without dwelling on how the outputs were developed and delivered.”
[ Are you leading culture change? Get the free eBook, Organize for Innovation, by Jim Whitehurst. ]
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