WFH Doesn’t Need to be WTF

It’s not business as usual, and we’re all looking for reliable clues on how to tackle the challenges of remote work.

With maybe the exception of 9/11, I don’t recall another event in my 25-plus-year career that has required us to collectively pivot our everyday lives — personally and professionally — as quickly as COVID-19. And it’s filled us all with a lot of anxiety.

For those fortunate enough to be able to do so, working from home (WFH) has become mandatory. And for good reason. Social distancing is the best way to flatten the virus’ curve, slow the outbreak and, hopefully, give the populace a chance to get healthy.

We’re not workplace experts. We probably have the wrong chairs and don’t know the proper height for a standing desk. But, since starting Look Left in 2017, we’ve been a 100 percent remote workforce. And now we’ve got folks in San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, New Hampshire, New York and Missouri and are expanding into other areas. We’re by no means perfect, but we are very good at WFH.

It’s not business as usual, and we’re all looking for reliable clues on how to tackle the new challenges this situation has thrust upon us all. Based on what we’ve learned as a remote company, we’re advising clients on how to handle the new normal that is WFH. We thought you might benefit as well.

Communicate Often: Your employees are looking to you for sound direction, now more than ever. Without the benefit of gathering for face-to-face briefings, a higher frequency of updates will help your staff feel more informed and engaged. Right now, employees will want clear guidance on information that extends beyond their jobs. You can point them toward official resources both internally and externally. It’s a terrific time for your human resources team (among other advisors) to shine, show their smarts and provide useful information.

Additionally, this is not a time for wishy-washy communication. In the absence of clear, bright lines, employees just speculate, spin their wheels and anxiously waste time. Make sure everything you communicate is to the point and concise.

Open New Channels: Creating lanes for specific areas of conversation will help keep virtual discussions on the right track. Set up a “remotework” email alias for all individual technology and resource requests, and other items that an employee might need. A public #slack channel for everyone to share tips and tricks will keep staff connected and informed. And collect all the questions into a live Q&A that builds a resource in real time. But be sure to keep the HR stuff to your established, private channels and policies, and remind employees that those requests remain in those channels. 

Stay Abreast Of Changes To Remote Tech: At our company, laptops, mobile phones, #slack, Zoom and Google are our lifeblood. But this pandemic is creating tech friction. Not all industries, employers or customers are as tech-savvy as Silicon Valley. And the infrastructure will be strained, as we’re seeing right now with Microsoft Teams in Europe. Business Insider has a great piece on using #slack in a crisis. Zoom is pumping out a ton of useful information for working from home, conducting conference calls and even how to create a virtual background to hide your poor cleaning skills. 

Incorporate Fun, Tasteful Engagement: Coronavirus is nothing to make fun of. Period. But work can still be fun and should continue to include your traditions in a new WFH posture. Keep team-building activities like birthday celebrations and other events going virtually. Get creative. Have fun with Zoom backgrounds. We’ve begun incorporating a Swedish tradition called fika to give us all a pause from work. It’s an intentional break where we meet on Zoom at 3:00 with coffee, tea or whatever’s in our Yeti cups. For 15 minutes we talk about what we’re doing to entertain the kids, the dogs, the parents. It’s open to any topic except work.

Give Resources Without Restrictions: There are very simple things you can creatively do to make life easier for staff. At Look Left, we tripled our internet/mobile stipend until further notice, with no paperwork. Employees can use it for work, to load up on streaming services to distract the kids while you write and schedule a week’s worth of social media in Sprout. Things like that can go a long way to show employees that you support them during this challenging stretch.

Lead With Empathy And Flexibility: There’s this great saying (well, internet meme) that’s so apropos right now: Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. This pandemic has changed our personal lives in different ways, and adding work into the recipe further complicates things. It’s absolutely critical for everyone, but especially leaders, to put empathy at the forefront and give each other the flexibility to work and tend to personal matters.

As Don Draper noted in Mad Men, “They’re creatives! They work when they work.” Not bad advice. And keep in mind that dogs will bark, kids are going to interrupt. There will be shelter-in-place orders, mad dashes to grab college kids, sickness — all of it. Most work from home advice says “create structure, blah, blah.” Right now, throw that out the window. Instead, recommend and embrace flexibility and adaptability to daily situations. Your care and kindness will be returned hundredfold in ways you won’t see on the spreadsheet.

Know When To Say When: The big problem with WFH is that it’s so easy to keep working, and right now it’s Crazytown. But at some point, you have to close the laptop and take care of yourself. Go for a walk. Turn off #slack. Don’t eat lunch in your workspace. One episode of Scooby-Doo with the kids won’t break the bank. (Spoiler alert: He would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling kids!) In fact, schedule time for a break, and keep it daily to release some pressure.

 That said, don’t go radio silent. Over-communicate when you plan to be offline. A simple “Gonna go work out, back online in an hour” over #slack will help keep everyone on the same page and prevent anything being dropped.

There’s no silver lining to the coronavirus. However, it is forcing us all to sharpen our WFH skills through creative communication and team building. Remember that you’re now in your employees’ homes. They’ve graciously invited you in, so lead with patience and gratitude.


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