With the world taking precautions against the rapid spread of coronavirus, working from home has become the new norm for many who’d usually be in the office. The #WFH hashtag has been trending, with many freelancers and digital nomads offering up their tips on the best ways to be productive while confined to your home office. Rightly so. Working from home can be challenging for those who aren’t used to it.
On Friday the 13th (chosen by chance, and not for its ominous nature), PledgeMe founder Anna Guenther and CEO Claire McGowan asked the PledgeMe team to work from home as a precaution. As a flexible work and online-based company, we’re already familiar with remote work, and know its value. Supporting transparency is one of our core company values, and we thought it was a good opportunity to live it by sharing how the PledgeMe team works from home as a team, tools and all.
Establish the right tools to have a remote working team
This is arguably the most important aspect of nurturing the productivity of your remote working team. A good place to start is by answering these questions:
- Which people/teams need to be in communication with each other?
- Which tasks need to be assigned, and which people/teams need to have access to them?
- What is the purpose of the tools you’ll need (write down what you’d want the tools to achieve)?
- Will someone in a managerial position have a good overview of the business operations with the tools you’re using/you choose?
- What kind of files/documents are used and shared amongst employees on a daily basis in your company, and can the tools you’re using/you choose support them?
Establishing effective and streamlined online communication is crucial when working remotely. You need communication channels which are purely functional, but also channels for light-hearted banter, the digital equivalent of sharing a joke at the office coffee machine.
How PledgeMe does it
Slack is one of the most important communication tools at PledgeMe. We have individual channels for each pillar of the business (such as #tech_chats, #communications, and #sales-delivery). These are purely functional and purpose-driven channels for alerts concerning new tasks, project updates, or client requests. Although these channels are primarily for the team members who are part of that pillar of the business, other departments have access to them too. This ensures everyone can see the projects and successes of all departments and offer support and encouragement. If people find it too distracting to be in all the channels, they can opt out.
We also have channels which are dedicated to light-hearted and less purpose-driven content. Examples include #projects-we-love, in which heartwarming project campaign stories are shared, and #random, where team members can share any thoughts, aspirations, and inspirations they have on their mind. Here’s an example post from team member Sarah:
To ensure everyone is using Slack the same way, and to explain the purpose of each channel we’ve created, we’ve written up an internal ‘How to use Slack’ document.
Email is also an important tool of communication. However, not everyone will diligently keep their inbox organised and tidy all the time. Everyone has their own communication style and preferences, and acknowledging and respecting these shows your team that you value them and the way they work. At PledgeMe, we’ve asked all team members to fill out a Communication Style Questionnaire, so that we can support each other in the best way possible. Key questions from this document include:
- What things do I find challenging?
- How does information need to be structured for me to get the most out of it? (Context etc, ideas, purpose etc).
- What’s the best way to get hold of me in a hurry?
- What’s the best way to give me feedback on something I’ve suggested?
- What’s the best way to check in on me if you’re concerned?
Team member Jess has this to say about it:
Now is a good time to think about how the people on your team communicate and how you work together. We used FigureNZ’s open-sourced policies to explore our own styles and learn about who likes written vs oral discussions, and who will only answer a ringing phone in a dire emergency. It gives us a better sense of how to give feedback to one another and check-in in ways that will be useful, not confronting or anxiety-inducing.
Establish regular check-ins
Establishing regular check-ins with individual team members is a good way to help structure their tasks, keep them accountable, and help identify any hurdles. It’s crucial that team members feel supported while remote working, and not keeping regular, structured contact with them can leave them feeling isolated and unappreciated. Check-ins also give them a space to voice any concerns (which they should feel comfortable to do), or ask general questions. It’s an opportunity to touch base and reconnect.
How PledgeMe does it
With our remote workforce, check-ins are built into the way we work. On Slack we have a #dailystandup channel where members post their goals for the day. This gives the other team members the chance to offer support/help where they think they can, advice, and to see the capacity of their fellow team members for the day.
PledgeMe has broken out our team into smaller groups representing the pillars of the business. We call them ‘pods’. Examples of pods include the Sales and Delivery pod and the Marketing and Community pod. Each pod meets digitally once a week or once every fortnight, depending on their needs. They establish pod goals for the upcoming 2 weeks and state what they need from each other in terms of support. They also reflect on the previous fortnight and share learnings and successes.
Weekly Team Meeting
Every week the whole team gets together in a Zoom meeting and touches base. Every team member shares their work ‘win’ of the week (though personal wins are welcome too!), and their ‘Ask for help’. An example of a win could be a delivery lead saying ‘Equity campaign x reached its minimum target in less than 2 days!’. Their ask for help might be asking the marketing department if this news can be shared on social media. Agenda items (any questions, ideas, or concerns that someone may want to discuss with the whole team) can be raised here too. The weekly team meetings are there for all departments to come together and support each other. Though the weekly team meetings are mostly structured, the team also takes the opportunity to show off their pets, to ask for house plant tending advice, and to show off the view from wherever they are working from.
All members have a 1-on-1 check-in with their relevant manager every two weeks. They follow the same structure of the pod meetings. This is a good opportunity to identify anything which may be preventing the team member from achieving their goals, and to offer support and feedback. It’s also a chance to celebrate the person’s individual successes and talents, which can sometimes be overlooked in the team environment.
Team meetings aside, having regular check-ins with other team members is good for morale (more on this later). All meetings should serve a purpose, but remember that that purpose could be virtually sharing a coffee together and asking ‘How are you?’.
Project management in a remote workforce
Every department will have its own projects to work on, and you need the right tools to ensure that all tasks are recorded and allocated correctly. Oftentimes, the activities of one department will affect those of another, so it’s important that this is accounted for. We recommend project management tools which allow several teams to operate from the same platform, while still being able to maintain independence from one another. Having a central place also allows managers to have an overview of all business operations in one spot. It’s also important to remember, however, that some departments require tools that are more specific to their needs, but can linked in or integrated with the central project management tool you choose.
How PledgeMe does it
The PledgeMe team has experimented with a number of tools. We work remotely across different time zones and hours, so it’s important the requirements and deadlines of all tasks are clearly defined and accessible for all team members. Currently, we’re using Asana as a central project management tool. Although Asana is useful for task designation and setting deadlines (for the whole team to access), various departments have their own tools which cater to their specific needs better, which have been linked into Asana. Examples include Hubspot (sales team), Jira (tech team) and individual project management spreadsheets. Although it’s not ideal to have multiple tools, integration tools such as Zapier can help to keep everything updated.
An example is how the marketing team keeps the rest of the team updated on upcoming social media campaigns. We use Buffer to schedule social media posts. Zapier has integrated Asana with Buffer, so that when something is scheduled in Buffer by our social media manager, it automatically pops up in Asana as a task. The other team members stay updated about upcoming social media campaigns without having to log into Buffer, while the social media manager does not need to manually update it.
Don’t overdo the tools
Don’t have too many tools. Tools are only useful if all relevant team members are using them and understand their purpose. Clarity and transparency is always important, but particularly when your team is working remotely.
Too many tools risks people not knowing where to find tasks or missing them altogether. That is the opposite of what is supposed to happen. Choose your tools wisely, and use them well.
Maintaining self care while working from home
Working from the comfort of your own home is obviously very different than an office environment, where you’re expected to follow certain behaviours and possibly a dress code. At home, all that disappears. It can be tempting to give in to creature comforts, or skip over things you’d normally do. We’ve found it can be helpful to implement limits and habits for yourself while working from home. Here’s some self care tips from the PledgeMe team.
Sarah: Grab some exercise. For a lot of people, their commutes include a walk to the bus or cycling to work. Or maybe grabbing some gym time at lunch. Take a walk/bike ride when you normally would be commuting or at the gym.
Claire: Take regular breaks, and keep hydrated.
Jess: Take a shower. Yes, the best part of working from home is the opportunity to abandon social convention for comfort, but washing yourself regularly will keep you feeling human and not offend anyone with whom you share a home. If you’re not going to wear pants (and that’s totally cool!), make sure your camera is appropriately positioned during video calls.
Jess: Savour your lunch break. It’s tempting to eat at your desk and keep working, but taking a half hour to go to the kitchen and enjoy your food will help keep your brain fresh. Take advantage of having access to your kitchen to cook yourself something nice for lunch. Defrost some sausage rolls or bake scones and pretend you’re having a morning tea.
Although we agree with Jess that you should eat well whilst working from home, we also acknowledge that many people may be tempted by the readily available food to snack more often than they normally would. If this is the case for you, then we recommend you follow team member Janna’s advice:
Buy a padlock for your fridge and pantry.
Boosting Morale in your remote workforce
One of the trickiest parts of working remotely can be keeping morale amongst team members up. Many people thrive with people around them, and may struggle when they suddenly have to work alone. Morale boosting is important not only for individual team members, but for the company’s performance as a whole. Having online spaces to chat (like the aforementioned Slack channels) helps, and here are some other tips from the PledgeMe team:
Jess: Take more photos of your pets reacting to you working at home and share them in the work slack or on social media. Seriously. Whether the cat is sitting on your laptop, you’re dressing the dog like your boss, or you’re playing tic-tac-toe with your turtle, never underestimate the morale-boosting power of a cute animal.
Emma: Take advantage of the office-free environment to switch up your working spots. If you have a balcony, enjoy the breeze and view while you work. If you have a backyard, create a mobile hotspot and sit under the trees. Sit at your desk space or dining table when you’re doing the day-to-day activities, like answering emails, and snuggle up into your comfy couch later on when you need to do something more creative, like writing a blog article. At the office, you’re confined to a single desk, but your home offers a variety of spaces to work from (blanket fort?!).
Remote work disrupts the 9-5: Make a plan to ensure you’re still available for your team and clients
Remote work allows for more flexibility with work hours, and team members may naturally want to take advantage of that to visit the doctor, post a package, or run any other errands which they usually wouldn’t be able to do when constrained by the 9-5 schedule. If your team members have a set amount of hours to do, you may find yourself receiving emails late at night as team members shift their hours to when it suits them best. This is a good thing (though it may seem odd at first) because it means they are choosing to work when they feel most productive.
The difference between the home and office environment also needs to be accounted for. If school’s out, for example, team members may have to balance taking care of their children with their work life. This doesn’t always work out perfectly, as Professor Robert Kelly found out during a live BBC interview in 2017, and employers need to allow for that. Team member Tania, a mother herself, has this to say about it:
Expect distractions and interruptions and build it into your schedule. If you’re an employer, prepare for lower productivity as employees may also have to deal with school or childcare closures, or advanced age family members. Even those with children who are usually cared for at home may find they are wanting more attention from the parent who is suddenly working from home. Same goes for pets (“my human is home!! Rad!!!”). Embrace and encourage all of this and use it as an opportunity to get to know your team better.
On the other hand, team members need to ensure they’re still readily available to the team and clients. Having set meeting times helps, and ensuring inboxes are regularly checked (even if the hours aren’t regular). Clients and team members should reasonably expect to receive an answer during more traditional working hours (flexi-hours does not mean everyone else should work around them). Take extra measures to be available to fellow team members and clients while working from home.
Liz – Home alone working is pretty straightforward once you get into the swing of things but when your partner/family decides to join you it can be challenging! So like in all relationships, setting a few ground rules helps.
Maintaining self discipline while working from home
Another tricky aspect of working from home is maintaining the same level of productivity as you would in the office (as we saw in the previous paragraphs). Kids, pets, and errands aside, it can be difficult for people who are unfamiliar with working from home to put their heads down and stay focused. In the office, you will raise a few brows if you take a full half hour to make and drink your morning coffee. At home, that’s simply not the case. At the end of the day, however, it’s your performance that will be affected, and your team members who are relying on you who will be let down if you don’t maintain self discipline. Here’s some tips from the PledgeMe team to help:
Claire: Think about where you are working; is it somewhere that is comfortable to sit at for extended periods of time? Good lighting? If possible, try and have a place that you can use regularly to set up for work, so when you sit there, you are connected quickly.
Sarah: If you don’t have flexible hours, keep to your work routine. Do you always get into the office at the same time? Start working at home at that same time. Always grab a coffee at 10? Keep at it. Your mind and body thrive on routines, so keeping up your same routine while working from home will help your mind stay in flow and feel productive.
Liz: Ensure you have plenty of work to do and a clear idea of how you’re going to do it, be kind to yourself and recognise that it’s okay to take a walk to do some thinking.
Morgahna: I always wear a black t-shirt and the same shoes as this sets my brain to know I’m in my work zone. Picking up my backpack and putting it beside my desk (even if I walk only 1 metre) also does this. I never eat at my desk (bad bad cycle, been there many times). I use Kanban and the Pomodorro technique to section work into 25min chunks, then I do 5 – 10 min of stretching or standing desk work.
Establish a remote-first approach to your team
There’s a difference between ‘remote-friendly’ and ‘remote-first’, a difference explained in plain terms in this article:
“There’s a split between being remote-friendly — hiring some workers in a different city — and remote-first, meaning you build your (team) around a workflow that embraces the concepts of remote work, whether or not your employees are remote.”Zach Holman, Startup blogger and advisor.
Shifting to a remote-first workforce can be difficult, especially if you’re used to the usual 9-5 schedule in the office. However, if you have the right tools and the right people, you’ll find it to be truly worthwhile.
Please feel free to use any of the documents or tools shared in this article to help your business function better working remotely. If you’d like extra tips or advice, please feel free to get in touch with the PledgeMe team.
PledgeMe is the only combined equity, lending and project crowdfunding platform in the world (we think), and crowds (both on and offline) are at the core of what we do. We have a remote team that works out of Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, Bundaberg and Brisbane (when the team members are not travelling elsewhere – which they definitely aren’t at the moment).