On 3-26-2020, Minnestar hosted the latest in the their educational series MinneAMA (Ask Me Anything) where they invite experts to talk about pressing topics in the world of tech and the future of work. This session was called Working Remote 101: Tips, Tricks, and How to Do It Right and featured Structural CEO Scott Burns who moderated the hour-long virtual conversation between Stephanie Hammes-Betti (SVP of Innovation Design at US Bank) and Eryn O’Neil (Director of Engineering at Cloudburst who happens to be currently hiring for her team.) They shared some great anecdotes and answered questions from the audience. Here is the full discussion as well as our top-6 takeaways:
Couldn't make it to the virtual event? Stream the entire talk now. (Clockwise from top, left: Scott, Eryn, and Stephanie during Minnestar’s MinneAMA webinar on 3-26-2020)
1. Declare your dedicated workspace
Try to find a place in your home that you can go to each morning and get into the “now I’m at work” mindset. Make sure that in this space, you have everything you’d normally need when actually in the office. Before you go and purchase a specific headset or monitor - check your employee handbook or talk with your manager to see if your company provides an equipment stipend.
For Stephanie, declaring a workspace was something she needed to do right away in order to adjust to remote work, mentioning that before she did so, she was wandering around the house with her laptop not sure if she was actually getting work done. As Eryn pointed out, having a dedicated room with a door is great - but if that’s not possible, even just a corner of your dining room table with a specific chair you sit in consistently will help a lot. It’s key to have these dedicated work vs. non-work spaces in order to truly separate home time vs. work time.
“I really recommend just recognizing the humanity of your coworkers first, then working back from that to set boundaries and figure out how to do good work together.”
- Eryn O’Neil, Director of Engineering at Cloudburst
2. Set clear expectations
Eryn had some great advice for leaders in regards to coaching employees and establishing best practices around working from home. As she put it, it’s extremely important to set clear expectations and then trust your team to meet those expectations, for example: “You will have somewhere that’s quiet enough to take calls, you will have a reliable internet connection. We will be able to get a hold of you during these hours, unless you set expectations otherwise. And then from there, we trust them to be adults. ”
She also made a great point about the fact this was a totally unforeseeable situation that employees are being called to adjust to, mentioning that there has to be some leeway and understanding on the part of managers.
3. Keep one another engaged
Instead of each virtual meeting revolving around a specific, pre-planned topic, try casual and open-ended coffee or lunch meetings every once in a while. This is something that has worked very well for Stephanie, who mentioned that she didn’t realize at first how much she would miss regular interaction with her teammates until everyone started working remotely.
Eryn’s team stays connected and engaged by keeping up the normal rituals that they created while everyone was in-office, such as regular stand-up meetings on the same day each week or even just little silly things that can be transitioned into the virtual world.
4. Over-communicate and have deliberate conversations
These are Eryn’s two cardinal rules of successful remote work. She made a great point that now, time needs to be set aside specifically to check in on one another, because those accidental run-ins and impromptu conversations that normally take place in-office are no longer happening.
Eryn believes that making communication a top priority truly starts at the leadership level, stating, “It’s really incumbent on us as managers and leaders to make sure that we’re setting clear expectations for people, so that they know what we want them to meet before we tell them that they’re not meeting it.” Stephanie echoed this idea, mentioning that with such a big shift in communication techniques, an entirely new agreement needs to be reached between managers and employees on what is acceptable.
5. Take care of yourself
Eryn, as a dance teacher, knows quite a bit about body care best practices! She was able to share some tips around staying physically healthy while working remotely, from avoiding eye strain to building a make-shift standing desk and even setting aside time for a walking break (even if only around the house) Scott, who is a great multitasker, added on to this last idea, encouraging listeners to consider taking virtual meetings while walking. Stephanie reminded everyone that even taking some time for simple stretches (i.e., “chair yoga” on YouTube) can make a big difference.
6. Empathy is key
This was an ongoing topic during Thursday’s webinar, and for good reason. We’re not all working from home now just because. It’s important to remember that this is a stressful time for everyone, with a long list of unknowns and priorities that are constantly shifting. Teammates and leaders need to realize that adjusting to remote work just is one piece of the puzzle. Eryn had a great way of putting this, stating, “I really recommend just recognizing the humanity of your coworkers first, then working back from that to set boundaries and figure out how to do good work together.”
Stephanie added to this thought, with a word of encouragement to listeners: “Tell people what you need, even if it doesn’t feel like a normal thing to do because it may not be a work need. It may be ‘I just need to take time for my family today.’” This is a good reminder for all of us. Think of all that you as an individual are thinking and feeling at this time and recognize that your coworkers, your direct reports, are likely having those exact same thoughts and feelings. If there was ever a time to embrace vulnerability and empathy, it’s now.
These are just some of the key takeaways from Thursday’s conversation. There were plenty of additional insights provided that many will find helpful during this unprecedented time, from advocating for more frequent remote to the most helpful technology and tools for new remote teams.
Are you a part of, or do you manage a team that recently went remote? Learn how Structural is connecting and empowering remote and distributed teams.