Social distancing is the hottest new term in our culture's arsenal. The unique side of this is that it is not so much of a social disconnection, as it is an experience of physical distance. We've had years of being social online, with people we have never met. Outside of your Mom wishing you and the kids would visit more, the pressures of distance have been eased by Facebook, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, and others. Yet, the challenge that so many are experiencing right now is not how to be more socially present, but how to cooperate and collaborate well in their space.
At PRIME, we are working with several people through this challenging time, helping them to reach their clientele better and drive a pipeline of information to their audience. As we all know, COVID-19 is changing the lives of people and communities around the Globe. One of the current challenges of working together when we can't physically be together is the surprise difficulties that complicate our workflows, in the remote work world. That's why we decided to share five ways to work together while we're apart.
Be Aware of Stacking Up Deadlines
This one is less about the use of time and more about the culminating list. When people aren't in front of us, it is very easy to let rabbit trails of conversation turn into an overwhelming number of deliverables. It is often hard to decipher priorities when you are using 2-3 methods of communication, and someone misses part of the conversation, requiring a repeat or a subtask. The by-product of the back and forth on a Slack channel or a video brainstorm that delivered a full plate of action items, may be an overload of “what do I do next?” on the part of your team. It is safe to say that managing the timelines of things to get done gets rougher when we are out of our regular habits of communication.
An excellent way to approach this is by using a meeting agenda and keeping a list in front of you. That way, they can be called out for a timeline, at that time, and expectation can be framed at a reasonable rate for everyone. You can also apply a follow-up device to a meeting, like a summary email, a task-tracking system like Asana or Trello, or an open chat thread for questions about that project's deliverables.
Be Serious, But Not All the Time
Freshness is one of the keys to this game, especially in the long haul. Video chatting can be a valuable connection method from the silo of your remote location. Still, serious call after serious call, over a few hours, is enough to make your brain melt. Give yourself time to acclimate to the digital connection workplace, as well as time to get your tasking done. Part of that tasking needs to be built-in breaks.
Maybe you usually take a walk with your coworkers, or get a coffee, or hit the gym; our time right now is just plain, not the same. But, this doesn't mean that the idea behind the practice still doesn't apply. It just has to look different. Maybe you disconnect and throw the ball a few times for the dog, or play a quick game of duck, duck, goose with the kiddos. Your ability to unplug for a few may give you the energy to be more productive, with bursts of intensity, and counter-bursts of unplugging.
You can also do things like adding a humor channel to your chat tool. At PRIME, we have a channel called #Shenanigans on our Slack to keep the LOL's rolling in, while we bang away at the keyboard. Come up with something that works for you and the way you work. Make sure it affords you responsible ways to focus the way you need to, and relax the way that helps you.
Preparation Time is Key
When it comes to a meeting time, preparation is key. Whether you need analytics to support the decisions, KPI's to inform your team, or action plans for the next stage of the project; if you're not prepared, the meeting can be frustrating and reactive, rather than empowering and proactive. With less face time in our offices, this means that meetings need to carry more impact so that fewer follow-up conversations are required. Being prepared and prepping your team are extra steps that will pay off in spades.
One of the other ways that preparation helps is in affording a better work environment is keeping on top of the total meeting time in the day. This happens consistently in remote work situations where people conduct hour-plus long meetings, then delineate deliverables that take an entire day to complete. When this happens once in a day, you feel stressed. When it happens two or three times, your workers become overwhelmed, distracted, and disconnected. What's worse is that your team will begin disengaging from the meeting, so that they can get tasking done during the call. Team members in this situation often end up feeling like these touchpoints are obstacles to their productivity, rather than fuel to drive their deliverables forward.
To help your team stay engaged, empowered, and proactive, an on-agenda, focused meeting with a set time limit will always work better than a multi-faceted, laundry list of items gathering. We recommend setting a time on either side of the meeting, first to prepare what the goals are, and then after, to summarize what was said and compile any action items. Functionally, meetings are with an image on the same screen, over and over, so your memory can jumble details between different conversations. Something as simple as a note-taking software, like Evernote, can be a lifesaver.
Use the Right Tools for the Right Things
There are a lot of different ways that we communicate in our office environments. You may have some variation of chat, web ex, text, instant messaging, emails, phone calls, and face to face. Using the correct tools to supplement communication goes a long way to support a healthy workflow and management of tasking. In the remote work world, where face-to-face is digital, some of these tools take a front seat as we drive our projects toward their goals. This can be a blessing and a curse when it comes to best practices and how people use their tools.
We all have had that experience where texting has gone awry. The words were right, but the emotion was off, the emphatic was too much, or the autocorrect made for a red-faced reaction. This can be particularly invasive in the remote work world when communications are off, expectations are set, and details are threaded, but not specific.
One of the ways to succeed is to learn the practices and etiquette of the tools. This may include not using chat space to brainstorm ideas, or using a video call to ask someone a question. Think about how you would go about your task in the office. With that, use the most appropriate and efficient way to make it happen.
Navigating the overload of communication tools calls us to be sensitive to other's digital space (as existential as that sounds) to use your tools well. Whether you're talking on mute, putting a busy background on your screen, or hashtagging the wrong channel, make sure you are on top of your remote work game.
When Doing Needs a Break, Learn
Are you feeling like you are going like a freight train in your remote work world? Perhaps you are struggling with motivation and staying on task. Keeping a schedule and taking regular breaks can keep you motivated throughout the day. But when you encounter those unexpected lulls or overloads where you need to break away for a few, there’s a number of outlets that we use in the PRIME office. From Lynda.com, now LinkedIn Learning to Hubspot Academy or Udemy — you can get your learn on when you hit a wall, need to recoup, or are waiting for the details on the next project.
Your brainpower is a valuable resource that needs to be stimulated, engaged, and rested throughout the day. Utilizing your brain effectively, especially while on the potential overload of the digital workspace, is something that can keep you healthy and focused for your tasking. Check out this short clip from Simon Sinek on the thinking you do with two brains.
Your creative brain is different from your analytical mind. Your email writing brain is different from your meeting and interaction mind. Switching gears, wearing lots of hats, even handling multi-faceted goals, can spread our grey matter a little thin. There’s nothing wrong with engaging inspiration and or knowledge amidst a day of rapid output and execution.
Of course, this may differ from industry to industry or person to person. If you are in a design role, inspiration may look like a user community like Behance or Dribbble. If you are in a management role, it may be streaming a book on Audible or watching videos on Youtube from people like Simon Sinek or Jack Welch. If you are a coder, you might need a break from your BitTorrent and just get a snack. (Only kidding Dev friends) Whatever the break is that you need, make sure it is a priority in your schedule so that you can keep your output high and your mental breakdowns low.
Bonus tip: H.E.L.P.
The idea of helping each other when the need arises is an essential part of being together in community. As Frederick Buechner says, "Lending a hand, when we're in need... is perhaps the only work that matters in the end." As you work together and manage the workload, we want to H.E.L.P. you and set you up to succeed at what you need to do.
At PRIME, we are focused on being a H.E.L.P. to our partners, our friends, and our community. We want to encourage you to H.E.L.P. others as well at this time, amidst the current circumstances. For us, this means hearing the need, engaging your audience, leading with confidence, and promoting responsibility and empowerment along the way. We will be a resource through this uncertain time to H.E.L.P. you so that you can H.E.L.P. others. We want you to do much more than survive in the current experience, we want you to come out ahead.
Well, that's it for today. Hopefully, this helps you manage your workload and work together more effectively. We are dealing with a variety of changes in our lives right now. Above all, be empathetic to those around you and practice patience and grace with your coworkers. At PRIME, we want our partners to be able to foster hope and manage the return on their investment of time, energy, and resources.
Hopefully, some of these tips will help you work together better and stay focused on your goals. Adapting to what the market needs is the everyday reality of being in an agency environment. We help a variety of industries adapt and pivot as necessary through this season of business. Contact us and let us know how we can help.