Lockdown appears to have crept up. One moment we were looking at an epidemic in China. The next, a global pandemic that has seen businesses the length and breadth of the UK shut up shop.
On the 3rd of March, the official line was positive…
Authorities are not currently recommending that companies impose working from home measures, noting that the disease is still not yet widespread in the UK.
As of the 23rd of March, Boris took to the lectern to announce a ramping up in rhetoric...
The UK public “must” stay at home.
And so the lockdown began.
Employer, the sudden switch to a remote working team can throw up a litany of technical, practical and cultural challenges.
Employee, going from a workplace of coding camaraderie and face-to-face teamwork to working all alone isn’t just hard on happiness, it’s a serious challenge for workflows, too (agile working at a distance, anyone?).
Employer, let’s start with you.
Five Fast Remote Worker Fixes for Employers
1. Be a champion of mental health (especially during these uncertain times)
Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress.
Mental health issues are sky-rocketing, with two-thirds of Britons saying that they’re struggling to stay positive about the future in the face of the epidemic. Now, more than ever, employers must take worker well-being seriously.
Ask about your worker’s home set-up - can you advise on how to ‘split’ the home and workspace more effectively?
If you’ve not yet considered a corporate exercise program, don’t rule it out now that you’re remote. Video conferencing software can make group workouts relatively simple to put on.
Finally, make time for small talk. Even if you check in once a day via video, make a conscious effort for it not to be all business. Contrary to popular opinion, office chit chat has never been a waste of time. It builds relationships and rapport. At its heart, it’s about networking. And colleagues that get along socially, are more effective at collaborating.
2. Connect and communicate via video rather than by voice alone
Facial expressions, hand gestures, body language - so many things can be missed or misconstrued when speaking by phone and voice alone, which makes video conferencing an obvious choice for remote working teams.
Video conferencing software starts free and rises to monthly subscriptions that top £20 for the most feature-full. Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Slack Video Calls are just a few of the choices you have at your fingertips for traditional group video calling. For a detailed breakdown as to their pros, cons and defining differences, read this guide on the Top Ten Free Video Conferencing Tools.
There are also platforms that are built for all-day-through communication, with the aim of placing you side-by-side virtually. SoCoco is one example, which makes large office collaboration easy.
3. Appraisals - Make them longer and more frequent
As your team adapts to remote working, longer and more frequent employee appraisals can provide a window into your workers’ new 9-to-5. But these needn’t all be official reviews. Regular five-minute check-ins can be worth their weight in gold for bringing issues to your attention more quickly.
You should also consider making mental health a topic for inclusion during regular ‘temperature checks’. And be explicit with your line of questioning, with queries like: “How are you managing?” and “Would you like any more support?”.
4. Choose between two ways of being boss - Employee empowerment or micromanagement
Micromanagement is harmful to productivity. Full stop. Rather than using overbearing tracking software, show your workers you trust them - be clear on the expectations you hold and set short, medium and long term goals.
5. Cultivate culture - even from afar it’s more than possible
Providing purpose for your workers is critical for employee satisfaction. Company culture (and conveying it) may require a re-think if it’s to reach into the homes of your newly remote workers.
1. Take a break (regularly)
Get up. Stretch. Run. Walk.
Grab yourself a minimum of a five to 15-minute break every two to three hours, as well as a proper length lunchbreak.
Studies also show that regular exercise can improve your concentration, prolong mental stamina and enhance creativity - a good way to start each day if you ask us. And it really doesn't require a half marathon before 9 am.
It could simply mean taking on yoga for twenty minutes to kick start each day (check out the Yoga with Adriene Youtube channel, or the MadFit YouTube channel for plenty of varied, and more challenging, cardio exercises).
2. Create a working space which fuels productivity
You’re about to learn just how many distractions there are at home. From the TV to the fridge, they are EVERYWHERE. This is why the creation of a separate working space is going to prove critical to your output.
Ideally, you’ll be able to set up shop upstairs in a quiet spare bedroom with space for a comfortable desk set-up.
But not everyone has the luxury of a spare bedroom. Indeed, in London the fortunate have a bedroom separate to their living space. Others must zone off their every day as best they can, such as a rug on the floor under your desk and pinboards on the walls.
Lastly, if you have kiddies, you can do your cortisol levels a favour by creating a traffic light system to let them know when they are free to step into your ‘office’:
- Red - Absolutely NO disturbances unless the house is falling down
- Amber - Can knock and come under certain circumstances
- Green - Are free to come and go in and out of your work area as they please
3. Carve out a healthy work routine (but stay flexible)
40% of people feel the greatest benefit of remote work is the flexible schedule.
It’s tempting to grab that extra 30 minutes among your pillows, wrapped in your duvet (the 30 minutes that you’ve yearned for EVERY Monday for the last few years). But there’s a lot to be said for maintaining your morning routine as much as possible. Showering, dressing (in something other than PJs) and then breakfasting creates a mental marker for the start to your working day.
And remember, home working isn’t immune from the odd hiccup. From technical problems to colleagues late to the conference, be ready to stay flexible.
4. Eat well
Poor diet comes at quite the cost - driving down productivity by up to 20%
Consume food to fuel your energy levels - bananas, fatty fish (like salmon and tuna), brown rice, sweet potatoes, eggs, dark chocolate, lentils, quinoa, oatmeal, yogurt, and apples.
Finally (brace yourself for the most repeated diet advice EVER) - try to consume as close to two litres of water per day (around eight glasses).
5. Plan your workload with meticulous care
Keep yourself to a schedule and leverage your most productive times (powered on by music, if that increases your output and/or job satisfaction).
Pencil in a daily no slack/phone/video conference time, for a much-needed disconnect that can work wonders for concentration.
Finally, there are a few platforms out there designed specifically with remote working code reviews in mind (like Gerrit ). Code reviewing in this way prior to pushing into a git repo can add an extra layer to check everything is working well before being committed.
However long this lockdown lasts - three weeks, three months or longer, we’re here for the long haul. And one thing’s for certain - the way the tech world works must change (and there’s no industry better placed to do so).
So, let’s go. Let’s grow, despite these uncertain times.
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