Our team has worked in virtually embedded teams since our start. The shift to working from home last year was still a challenge, but thanks to having best practices already set in place, our team made the switch quickly.
Processes like daily standups, communication norms, cybersecurity practices and frequent check-ins for feedback continued as online as they had in-person. If we didn’t have these frameworks set in place from the start, the transition may have been much more difficult.
It’s been a year of working from home, and local businesses from tech startups to our universities have picked up a few lessons along the way. We had the chance to hear some interesting insights from local tech leaders at Communitech’s recent webinar The Future (of Work) Is Now: Managing Remote Employees. The panel, moderated by Lisa Brown, Vice President of Talent at Vidyard, focused on how COVID-19 has impacted and accelerated areas within the future of work.
Here are our top five takeaways from the local leaders on lessons learned working from home:
Gear up with the right tools
When the pandemic started, organizations all over the world quickly learned how to use the tools and technologies to facilitate remote work and learning. Software like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and more became a staple in daily life to stay organized, manage time, and keep up communication between team members.
“We adapted at a speed and utilization rate that I don't think would have ever happened without this crisis that's taken place,” said Pamela Cant, Chief Human Resources and Equity Officer, Wilfrid Laurier University. “We definitely want to retain some of the flexibility that we've come to enjoy and the digital literacy that has served us really well over the past year.”
At BitBakery, we traditionally use Slack as a tool for 100% of our internal communication, with guidelines for handling information flow through various channels. Email is used primarily for communication with external parties and partners, but we often use Slack to connect with clients by inviting them to our channels as well.
With this newfound digital literacy and proven ability to adapt and learn on the fly, it will be interesting to see how organizations continue to adapt and use these new tools as we move forward.
Prioritize communication and collaboration
Arun Zacharia, Manager of Global Talent Acquisition is responsible for managing talent acquisition across more than 35 countries at Sandvine. He said that transparency is key for managing a diverse remote workforce. “Work culture based on trust was a requirement and leadership skills focusing on empathy became the main need of a team. As a leader, I make sure to provide honest feedback to the team in a timely manner, rather than letting them assume about any instance.”
Another change Cant identified was that moving online levelled the communication playing field within the institution. Laurier has campuses in Brantford, Kitchener, and Milton serving over 20,000 students and over 2000 employees in addition to temporary workers and students.
“What we have found is that having people come together in a remote environment really gives the ability to have an equal voice to have an equal contribution, we've seen better participation in some of our important governance meetings like our Senate and our board,” said Cant. “Moving forward, we want to really think carefully as we try to retain some of that ability for all voices to be heard in a large institution.”
Separate work life from home life
While good communication is clearly important – is there a point when it gets to be too much? Stacie Dunlop, Director, People & Culture, Communitech said that while we should preserve our good communication habits, we also have to enable people time to get their work done.
Dunlop further recommended a strategy that Communitech has implemented – having a dedicated meeting-free day. “At first, people felt like they were jamming five days’ worth of meetings into four days. But as time went on, it became a best practice. People really started to enjoy having that meeting-free day. The feedback from team members has been really positive about being able to leverage that time.”
We can wholeheartedly agree that the flexibility of working from home has its perks. Morning person? You can start work at 6:00 am. Night owl? Maybe your most productive work happens after midnight. Need to throw a load of wash in between Zoom meetings? As long as the work gets done and your team knows they can reach you during key hours means great flexibility for everyone.
This flexibility, however, can unconsciously lead us to the assumption that if we can be working after hours because there’s nothing better to do, then we should be working after hours.
Zacharia shares his experience managing time at Sandvine, and emphasizes “...there is no expectation for anyone to be available 24/7. From an engineering perspective, we follow agile methodology. This has greatly helped us for a smooth transition to remote working as there is a good sprint planning, which gives a clear idea of both short term and long term deliverables with regular sync up meetings.”
The lack of personal connection takes its toll
Sometimes, no amount of virtual happy hours can fill the need for real personal connection. At BitBakery, we miss the spontaneous Union burger runs, the office banter, the plank challenge we were in the middle of last March.
“Even though we've done our best to connect virtually, we're a very student-focused university. And it's been very difficult for us not to have that personal connection with each other, but also with our students,” shared Cant. “What we're taking away from this as we're not going to be going fully remote as our strategy going forward. I think it's such an important part of who we are as an institution to have those personal connections, being really strategic about what we offer in-person and what we offer virtually.”
Staying connected with a larger organization doesn’t have to cause Zoom fatigue. Connection can be something as simple as an occasional short call with someone new. “At Communitech, I do random coffee matchups every two weeks where two people within your organization get connected to have a 15-minute chat,” said Dunlop. “Everybody can find 15 minutes and a two-week period to have a conversation, especially for those who have joined the organization during the pandemic and haven't had the opportunity to form relationships. This has been really effective for the team.”
For companies that use Slack, try random coffees or the Donut app for Slack to recreate water cooler conversations and help connect employees who might not usually have interactions when working remotely.
Cut yourself and others some slack
Adjusting to ongoing work from home requires self-discipline, time management skills, and new ways to allocate energy and resources. Add kids tackling online school, another adult working from home, or other home obligations to the equation, and you have a recipe for anxiety and exhaustion. The advice – take it all in stride.
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