As we enter what feels like the 100th week of working from home, the SCR Tracker team reflects on what it means to work from home, putting together tips and tricks for you, and sharing anecdotes from our time in isolation.
At SCR Tracker we decided to send our people home earlier than Boris Johnson declared lockdown, so that we could efficiently plan the transition in order to put the safety of our people first. This extra time in isolation has given us lots to adapt to, and so we wanted to share a few funny stories from our team along with tips and tricks that we have learned along the way.
Image source: Zoom screenshot (Zoom has always been our preferred method of conferencing, so it's been so nice to be joined by the rest of the world on it!)
Tips and tricks to be productive
When our team was asked for tips and tricks to work at home productively, our Director Gary Le Sueur shared: "Distractions are plentiful. You need to get into a routine, set working hours, get your partner to adhere to them with you, and close the office door. Maintain a to-do list (Trello or other) and just power through it."
Keeping set work hours, as well as adding these to your email signature can help you to differentiate between work time and home time. Just remember to stick to them! You may find that, depending on your company culture, people's expectations of response times vary, so it might be useful to add a note into your email signature on whether you are expecting a response, or whether this is not time sensitive. Shared calendars are often a huge benefit to remote teams to see others’ availability. We use tools like Zapier to update our employee’s Slack status based on Google Calendar entries, which gives us the space to be unavailable whilst we are busy. Using Slack's status 'Concentrating' or other custom statuses have also been useful for our team.
Technical Director Ben Gale shared: "Try and keep to a schedule. It's easy to let routines slip when there aren't other people to plan your time around. It’s easy to get sucked in and end up sitting still for 8 hours – you need to make sure you get up and move around. Also, the dogs get frustrated if you don’t look up for hours at a time."
Remember to get up, move, walk around and not be chained to the desk for the entire duration of the working day. It’s very easy to get sucked in to being more sedentary than usual as your working life and connections are all online. Consider using your (former) commuting time as exercise time, preferably in the fresh air. A walk/bike ride/run or any exercise you enjoy also “bookends” the working day effectively, helping to provide a mental separation between home life and work life. If you are struggling with your time management, see what Adam Grant says about 'attention management'.
Head of Business Development Julia Nielsen shared: "Don't fall into the trap of thinking that your dining chair will keep you sat straight and productive – it will just give you backache!"
You’ll want a comfortable chair, but not too comfortable. If you try a dining chair you’ll find a newfound respect for even the cheapest office chair. And consider ergonomics! Check that your chair and desk are at a good height, and that you aren’t reaching too far or flexing your wrists at a bad angle on your keyboard. If you can, use an external monitor or raise up your laptop and use an external keyboard. Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is a real thing, and if you’re a bit more stressed than usual you’re likely to be tensing up and placing more strain on your back, neck and arms. See this NHS advice pieces on preventing RSI here and NHS advice on good sitting positions for working here.
Co-Founder Luke O'Dwyer shared: "Have a morning routine, eat breakfast and make sure you have a lunch break away from your computer. I've been eating a lot better as I cook every day rather than finding the quickest bite to eat. And don't watch Netflix whilst working!"
Your brain might rebel if you’re not used to working from home. Try to make your working environment different from your usual hang-out places to emphasise the differences. Somewhere new, even if just a different chair, will make it easier to promote new habits and not just want to keep putting the TV on. Home is usually your sanctuary from work so you may find it harder to motivate than expected. Try to prepare lunch for yourself ahead of time if possible and eat as healthily as possible! Do not be tempted to wear your pyjamas to work, or spend your workday on the sofa. It will put you in the wrong mindset for work. No need to wear a suit, but find a comfortable medium that makes you feel comfortable at your new working spot, but also makes you feel professional and motivated.
Photo by Susanna Marsiglia on Unsplash
A new everyday: but is it the new normal?
When asked to share details of how their lives had changed, our team shared some intimate thoughts and details from their life. Gary shared: "Luckily I’m used to working from home! But I’m not used to the wife and boy being home every day, and they aren't either. They get bored easily it seems."
We have previously written up a full tool-kit for home learning during these times, full of hundreds of links to keep your family entertained and educated simultaneously. And remember – it's okay if you're working from home and your kids start yelling in the background while you’re on a call (or they casually walk into your home office/bedroom to ask you for something!). And it's also okay if you accidentally forget to hit the mute button and we hear you scream across the house for those same kids to be quiet! We're all human.
Ben shared: "I’m looking forward to seeing what new traits we have developed permanently and what things go back to normal. I wonder how the world will adapt to our new habits."
Remember that, as we all eagerly anticipate what the 'new normal' (have we used that phrase enough yet?) might look like, these are things to be aware of right now:
- Trust your team – they’re doing their best and want to balance their work and their obvious concerns about friends & family
- Balance neglect vs. being overbearing – you must give clear output-driven guidance as you will not be able to task manage as effectively
- Diarise the formal stuff and have informal “check ins” to stay connected – try to implement regular touch points (we have shared some ritual suggestions below)
- Setting expectations – make sure your teams know when they are expected to be available to each other
- Presence – now that we are connected all the time, presence indicators can be less useful, but setting a precedent about how this is used can help
- Overcommunicate – invest time in telling people what’s going on as you don’t have the watercooler opportunities to disseminate information
Luke shared: "I do miss interacting with my lovely colleagues – Zoom calls aren't quite the same! Also, the coffee machine at work is a lot better than at home. I'm really looking forward to having a lovely macchiato when we go back to normal."
It's important to check in with your friends, your family, and yourself throughout your time working from home. We've shared advice on looking after your children's mental health and well-being, and also advice for school and university leaders on supporting community health and well-being. Please also see the below resources:
Photo by Jonny Swales on Unsplash
When the team was asked what they missed about the 'old normal', Ben shared "I miss KFC." And when they were asked what they don't miss, Ben laughed: "I don’t miss the guilt of eating KFC." Gary shared "I miss Nando’s, my parents and being less fat." Are you beginning to see a theme here? When they were asked what the first thing they'll do when they get out of lockdown might be, Ben said "KFC and Nando's", and Gary agreed: "First I would like to go clay shooting with my Dad. Also Nando’s."
Pre-lockdown our team had built up several strong rituals (mostly based around chicken) to work together more effectively. We would highly recommend continuing your company rituals throughout lockdown – and possibly even setting up new ones based around your new methods of working:
- Team Standups. To ensure your team feels connected and supported, it’s important to quickly check in with each member at least once daily. Some teams like to have a casual standup conference call, while others prefer an agile scrum on Slack. How you do it isn’t important, but gauging accountability and tracking progress is. We have used an automated slackbot and love it!
- Catch up on email. Avoid future “Have you followed up on this, yet?” emails by encouraging all of your team members to zero out their inbox at the end of each workday. Trust us, your clients and vendors will notice and appreciate your team’s accessibility.
- Plan your tomorrow. This tried and true productivity method is easy to integrate into your team’s daily routine with a slackbot.
- Casual Chats. Remote employees may need to be reminded that they work and interact with real human beings. Make sure to integrate efficient (but sincere) personal conversations into your work week by asking about kids, pets, trips, hobbies, or anything else that is exciting or unique about your coworkers. If you’re not "naturally chatty", block a quick one-on-one chat with each of your team members into your calendar or randomly pair employees with each other (including yourself) to connect during a scheduled time.
- Live Meetings. Every team, regardless of size, should come together at least once a week to report, plan, celebrate, and problem solve. How you connect (phone, video, in-person, or other) isn’t very important, but uniting over shared experiences or goals is.
- A Celebration. Recognise another stretch of a job well done with a celebration of some kind. You can start simple with extra compliments on Slack, then eventually graduate into Friday afternoon parties or breaks. Fun goals, like this, often make it worth getting through a tough few days and recharges everyone for the next week.
- Progress Reports. Voluntarily providing updates communicates trust and confidence, so make sure to offer some kind of reporting to your followers, including progress summaries, important news, and forecasting for the next month. It’s up to you to decide whom to share these reports – just your team, a department, the whole company, or even your entire community. Again, the message is more important than the medium, so don’t get too caught up in format or distribution tools.
- Unprofessional Activity. Forget about work and deadlines and clients for a minute and just do something outrageously fun or fulfilling together. Some teams host a Fitbit challenge, slack book club, or happy hour video call to enjoy together. Be creative. Tap into your company’s branding or common interests and goals for inspiration. This will not only support your company’s mission, but strengthen it.
- Temperature Gauges. Check in on your team members one-by-one to get an idea of how they’re doing in general. Think of it as an agile scrum, but for their big picture: Are you satisfied with your progress and accomplishments this month? What blocks are you noticing that are hindering your creativity? What can I do that might help you accomplish your goal for next month? If you choose to share responses publicly, make sure to follow up your posted response with a private message to display individual concern.
- Employee Evaluations. During standups and meetings, topics are usually discussed on a micro-scale, so this is a good opportunity to zoom out and look at the big picture of each worker’s progress, satisfaction, concerns, and goals. To encourage transparency, create a casual and comfortable environment, be open to any responses (positive or negative), and be as honest and compassionate as you expect them to be with you.
- Personal Gifts. Remind your team about how much you appreciate their work and value your professional relationship with them by sending them a little something every now and then. Budget these into your necessary expenses, so if a special occasion pops up or morale seems to sink, you won’t have an excuse to hold back.
Establishing rituals with your team might be the most direct path to becoming a more engaged and productive remote leader. With consistent habits and rituals, you will notice a higher rate of employee satisfaction and a more positive vibe to your company culture.
Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash
Tech & productivity apps
Julia shared: "I find that one of the things I miss about being with colleagues whilst you're working is the occasional interruption: a question asked, a coffee shared, a problem shared. So at home, I've used productivity apps to keep me focused for set times throughout the day with short tea breaks in between. My favourite app is Forest!"
Forest is one of many productivity apps that can be downloaded on the app store which forces you to put your phone down for specific lengths of time (and grows actual trees in the world for you), but we've put together a list of productivity apps in case these work for you:
- 15Five – named after the 15 minutes it takes to complete a report and the five minutes it takes to read it, this gives either you or your team a macro analysis of performance each week.
- Todoist – replacing your paper notebook is this smart to do list, which processes natural language to understand what priority your tasks are and when they’re due.
- Any.do – different programs work for different people, so while this is another digital to do list, you can access it from anywhere, including a smart speaker, and it comes with a really clean, simple interface.
- ClickUp – full-featured project management tool with native time tracking that allows your team to stay in sync on projects, deliverables, tasks, and processes.
- Asana – a project management tool to help you stay on top of priority tasks, the Chrome extension allows you to create a workflow from any web page and share it with team mates instantly.
- Timpler – another powerful, simple task manager, this one helps collect your thoughts throughout the day, organise tasks and schedule work for the future.
- OKRs App – OKRs are the new KPIs, in that it’s a name for you to call ‘targets and performance tracking’, this app promises to make hitting them more likely by helping you stay on top of them.
- Droptask – a project management tool that works by dragging and (as the name would suggest) dropping tasks into your workflow, it’s a user-friendly way of seeing all the moving parts of your business in one place.
- Effortless – a nice Mac app which will focus your mind, simply set your goal, set a time limit, and go for it.
- Slash – a productivity app that forces you to do one thing at a time, useful if you’re in the middle of something like a meaty search, get interrupted by a phone call, and usually struggle to get back to what you were doing, this app’ll sort you out.
- Collect – a nice tool to request documents and data from your clients or your team. You can easily track responses and make sure you get everything back.
And remember, it's okay if you’re new to working remotely and we can see everything in your closet behind you. Or if your wifi goes down and the call drops, twice. Or even if your dog starts barking in the middle of your sentence and your main presentation point is completely drowned out. We're all human! There are a few things you can do in order to prepare for these situations:
- Find out how to manage the “mute” – your collaboration tools probably have tools to help you mute one or even all of the participants on a meeting. Experiment with different audio inputs/options, what sounds best when you record it, and how to do multi-media sharing: screensharing, video sharing, using the chat, etc.
- Can you “blur background”? – it’s not always possible to work in a quiet and distraction free space, not everyone has a home office. Blurring the background behind you can help keep focus in the meeting and also means no one has to see the mess we all inevitably actually live in! Fun alternative: use Zoom's virtual backgrounds!
- Create symbols for your family – is there a sign you can put up, a light you can turn on, or a flag you can raise to show your family when you need quiet time to work so they can do their best to avoid disturbing at the critical moment.
- Get some headphones or earbuds ready – if there is a lot of background noise, then it’ll be potentially difficult for you to both hear and be heard. Using some decent quality headphones will help on both ends! Make sure you’ve set them up correctly in advance of the meeting (especially if they are Bluetooth headphones!). Tip: we've been using the excellent Krisp software, a new AI technology that drowns out background noise and only shares your voice. Yes, it actually works!
- Use video wherever possible to discuss team actions and help you feel connected to your office base and your colleagues. It's nice to see a friendly face!
Thank you to our friends at the Remote Work Survival Kit who have happily let us share their resources and excellent advice. We will leave you this funny story from our Co-Founder Luke when asked what funny things had happened to him since lockdown:
"I had a surprise 30th birthday on Zoom, meticulously organised by my girlfriend, where we were supposed to play an online game with around 25 people but the game didn't work... So we had 25 people (mostly strangers to each other), dressed as characters from Tiger King all wondering what is going on – it all worked out in the end though. Definitely one to remember."
And finally, a throwback from less socially distant times – all our best wishes from the SCR Tracker Team!