7 elements to consider when using technology to work from home
The coronavirus crisis means working from home is something that has been thrust upon us and has presented a number of challenges for organisations, teams and individuals.
By the time you are reading this, hopefully you and your team have found their rhythm and are starting to settle into a pattern that navigates some of the challenges of lockdown.
We recently wrote about some of the specific elements that in-house professionals need to consider when working from home, covering:
- Maintaining workflow
- Ensuring connectivity
- Carrying out meetings
- Managing your team
- Personal Effectiveness and well-being.
One element of working remotely is the increased use and reliance on technology, particularly using collaborative and communication tools. Some offerings such as MS Teams and Zoom have experienced a huge surge in adoption and usage.
In this post we are going to explore some particular things to consider which can get missed when we use these tools.
1. Look at the small print
OK, it might be a bit strange reminding lawyers to look at the small print on Terms and Conditions, but the expediency of rolling out remote working very quickly means that some tools in use may not have had the more thorough review and due diligence that would normally happen.
Check privacy and security policies and make sure these are compliant and do not provide risks. Of course, the use of these tools extends to people across your organisation so a wider review by in-house legal teams is probably appropriate here.
2. Focus on meeting etiquette
In physical meetings a lot of the way they flow happens naturally, but when you switch to online meetings there may be some “etiquette” that needs to be established. If some of your team are not used to online meetings or working from home and have uncertainly about how to conduct the specifics of the meeting, there can be some hesitancy and awkwardness that can impact the success of a meeting online.
For example, it really helps to answer questions like:
- Are we going to use video?
- Can we use virtual backgrounds in our call?
- How should we be dressed?
- What is the optimum time for everybody to meet, taking into account children at home?
- Does anyone mind if the dog barks during the meeting?
- Should we mute ourselves when other people are talking?
Most of these questions sound trivial or the answers obvious, but actually they can be quite important and knowing the answers make people more relaxed and avoids misunderstandings. Clarity is the key here.
3. If you had too many meetings before then don’t repeat that mistake
Working for a corporate means you probably may have come from a culture that spent too long in meetings, with some days a procession of endless trips to meeting rooms where you didn’t actually get any of your real work done. With the ease of using online meeting tools and teams anxious to replicate their regular working patterns, there is a temptation to replace days with too many physical meetings with days of too many online meetings.
If you can, try and avoid this and use technology for what is truly necessary. For example, can you use online tools such as Instant Messaging to quickly check in with people or get answers? The new emphasis on remote working is an opportunity to reset working patterns and to make better use of time.
4. Align your connectivity and space with your household
Your partner might be working from home and your kids may be streaming Netflix. Not always, but this can sometime mean there is a battle for decent connectivity and even for quiet space. If you have online meetings you may need to make sure the others in your household are aware.
5. Establish the tool set
There are a wide range of tools that can be used for different things including instant messaging, sharing documents, online meetings and so on. There is also still email. It really helps if everyone is on the same page and using the same tools for the same purpose; having clarity allows everyone to work in a more efficient way.
A member of your team should not have to look through multiple systems to wonder where somebody placed a particular document. Establishing the tool set and getting everyone to agree to it will allow your team to work more efficiently.
6. Build a channel for informal connection
Working at home can be lonely. When a team works in the same physical location, they may have a high degree of informal and more social connections, for example talking at the coffee machine or chatting over lunch. Creating a digital place where people can interact socially can provide a little bit of connection and also some levity to the working day, especially in stressful and uncertain times.
Examples of the kind of digital social might be a channel in Microsoft Teams or a private group on your social intranet to swap tips about working from home, observations, funny stories, recipes, Netflix recommendations and even those infamous cat videos. You could even go and organise virtual drinks over Zoom.
One observation is since the crisis started people are starting to get to know each other better with many of the formalities and hierarchy of the office gone; for example, when everyone is working at home there is a sense that everyone is having some of the same issues. You may even see someone’s pet dog interrupting your meeting. You can use informal social channels to build on that.
7. Spend time configuring your tools
Tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams have a lot of options to configure and set up which can make them easier to work with, for example improving accessibility, and even saving you time. Microsoft Teams in particular, can be configured so that it can effectively become a virtual working hub with different channels, links, tabs across the screen and even integration with different apps. It is worth spending some time investigating your options and then configuring your tools so they work better for you and your team.
Lockdown in whatever form it takes means we are all going to be working remotely far more often now and in the future. It has proved challenging, but organisations, teams and people can be extraordinarily adaptive and generally most of us seem to be getting into a routine. If you now have more time, it can be good to take a step back and start to look at the way you use technology and provide some clarity around it to enable your team to work more effectively.