COVID-19 and home office
A lot of companies are currently forced to pivot towards a work-from-home model in light of the current COVID-19 crisis. At Verhaert Digital, we are lucky that we have been a fully remote company for many years now, and therefore experience little to no impact on how we operate.
How are we managing this? Let us walk you through a breakdown on how homeworking has helped us build a mature company with happy employees and some tips for those just starting with it.
How it started
Since the start of our company in 2012 we have adopted the remote working culture. We have always had offices, but no one is obliged to come in and everyone can work whenever or wherever they want. This may sound bold, but technology today allows teams to stay in close touch without being in the same office, city, country, or time zone. Project management tools such as Jira, Pivotal Tracker, Trello, etc. are well-suited for our environment, and are important to track project evolution when most employees are working effectively asynchronously.
In a world ruled by technology, where laptops and internet connections are ultra-fast, the professional and private are no longer strictly separate aspects of one’s life. Rather, people are starting to think of the two more holistically, as two seamlessly blending parts of a balanced lifestyle.
In a stark contrast to the pre-digital era, employers are starting to recognize the need for a better work-life balance that allows people to manage their family and personal lives in ways that don’t overwhelm them or affect the quality of their work. Awareness of the fact that workers are people, rather than robots, has positively affected both the physical and the mental health of our workforce.
When people are given the time and the space to take care of important personal and family obligations, they are also more relaxed, focused and productive at work. The pressure and stress resulting from ever-growing expectations at the job have directly impacted many. This has led to an increase in the number of burnouts in white collar workers in the past 10+ years, to a higher number of sick days taken, and lower morale and productivity.
How we do it?
Now that the crisis hit us in full force and took us all by surprise, we see that a lot of companies and employees are struggling to adjust to remote working. We must admit that the current situation is not the best advertising for remote work, since a big part of the working population also has kids or teenagers to take care of. We are confronted with the fact that a significant part of their education is normally outsourced to trained professionals. But don’t despair, here are some tips to get the most out of it regardless of the current situation:
- As an employer, make sure that the remote worker has access to your existing infrastructure as if he/she was working at the office. One possible solution for this, is a Virtual Private Network. We’ll release a post about how to set up a VPN connection soon!
- Use decent communication and collaboration platforms that allow you to communicate both synchronously and asynchronously with your co-workers. Mail is not well-suited for conversations. The only times when we send an email are typically when a company-wide decision has been taken. Slack or Microsoft Teams are good examples of these tools
- Don’t feel the urge to get immediate feedback for questions asked on those communication platforms, people might be ‘in the zone’ or working on something with higher priority. Don’t be afraid to snooze notifications on those platforms.
- Use collaborative tools for creating content, such as Google Docs, Evernote, Confluence, etc.
- Use your “status” on these platforms wisely. When someone requires your attention, it can be very helpful for them to know if you are having lunch, are in a meeting, out for a jog, walking the dogs, etc.
- Agree on when people are expected to be available. It is important to make the distinction between availability and actively working, because this allows people to adjust their work schedule to their home situation.
- As a remote worker, make sure you have an office space at home where you feel comfortable. Away from distractions. If possible, don’t sit at your living table or in your kitchen, isolate yourself from daily life. It may be useful to explicitly agree with your family that working from home does not mean being available. You are still “at work” when you are working.
- Live meetings turn to video-calls, keep them efficient and make it an obligation to turn on the webcam. You’ll soon notice that video-calls are far more efficient than office meetings. Slack, Teams or Zoom are very efficient tools for this
- Don’t just call someone unannounced, put in a meeting request to see if that person is available.
- In some companies it is acceptable to call someone unannounced, but then it is also just as acceptable that your call gets declined. – Decide what works better for you.
- Use tools to track your time. Apps like Toggl, Tyme,… can be used to keep track of what you’ve been doing and have excellent reporting capabilities as input to fill out your timesheets.
- For software development companies, asynchronous standup meetings and code reviews are a big time-saver. Geekbot on Slack can ask everyone what they plan to do or if there are things blocking their progress, everyone can fill this in when they please and everyone is aware of what is going on in the company.
The pitfalls of remote work
As good as it sounds, there are some pitfalls in remote working. The human touch which we all need in our lives is an aspect that is totally replaced by digital communication and not everyone is cut out for that. Once you embrace the positive effects remote working has on your productivity and work-life balance, it gets easier to accept but one can still feel isolated from the ‘real world’ working full remote for a long period of time. This is how we cope with that at Verhaert Digital:
- Make room for chit-chat, for example in the shape of informal communication channels in your collaboration platforms. At Verhaert we literally have a channel called ‘coffee machine’. People can post funny, entertaining or serious topics for everyone to see and they mostly get a lot of response on that as if you would be talking to colleagues at a physical coffee machine.
- If you’re a full remote company, make sure you see your colleagues in real life on a regular basis. We organize a 6-weekly drink at the office to meet everyone in an informal setting. We always start with a talk, mostly from someone internal about a tech-related topic. Afterwards we eat, drink, talk and game together till late at night.
- Organize team building events: New Year events, summer events, hackathons, …
- Make sure your employees have room to improve themselves, reserve budget for conferences and training.
At Verhaert Digital, we are in a comfortable position to tell others that remote work is awesome, because it works for us, and we have been doing it for almost a decade. But when you are forced to make the switch when circumstances demand it, it is something different entirely. Every situation is different, and we can definitely not decide what will work for everyone.
What we can do is share our story, and how we made it work – rather well – for us. We think it may help others to better understand working remotely as a philosophy. We hope that we have inspired you with some ideas to integrate in your workflows!
Want more info about integrating telework? Contact us here!