Two weeks into lockdown, the realities of an entire workforce working from home en masse have finally hit for most companies across UK (the world, too). We’re no different. Thankfully for us, the right conversations took place a month ago.  

But in many ways I was actually pretty blasé about the prospect. Over the last year, the digital team here has been ramping up its remote working processes organically. From there many of our most useful tools and processes started to ‘leak’ out into the rest of the agency. Slack, for example, was adopted by everyone at RY before the turn of the year.

So while many companies were panicking about their people staying productive while working from home, we found ourselves in a decent place. It’s not the same everywhere, of course. Over my career I’ve been part of small companies willing to try anything new, and cautious behemoths too afraid to change anything – and everything in between. But regardless of how this change feels, this crisis brings real opportunity.

What might have taken years of unbearably slow incremental changes is now literally happening within a matter of weeks. While this is an enormous challenge for most companies, it is a fantastic opportunity to modernise with conviction. Adapt or perish!

Keeping connected

Keeping your employees productive and inspired relies on them still feeling valued and connected, even if they’re miles rather than metres away from their nearest colleague. There are lots of ways to do that, but most of them comprise of finding harmony between addressing the ‘human’ behind the employee and making the most of the right technology for the task at hand. 

The human employee

In my experience, working from home is definitely not right for most, so consider the possibility that isolation and depression can settle in – fast. Pay extra attention to their mental health by ‘over communicating’ and incorporating measures that actively encourage something like normal chat throughout the team.

Simple ideas to start today include:

  • Seeing a person’s face is very important. Make sure everyone has a decent webcam and microphone for video calls if at all possible
  • Hold a Monday – or even daily - morning video ‘stand up’ with the entire team or department. Share what you’re working on, what you’re struggling with and anything else going on in your lives. Don’t miss out the TV shows and family stuff people have been enjoying after they last logged off from work
  • Get your people to proactively share their routine with the team - when they’re heading for lunch, busier than normal, signing off… Be respectful of everyone’s working habits
  • Experiment with a permanent Zoom or Slack video call so people can see real faces all day
  • Run a weekly retrospective on Friday to discuss what has been working, what can be better, and what advice people might have for others 

Our own Friday retrospectives over the last two weeks have pinpointed the importance of these kinds of measures. In particular we’ve all appreciated everyone keeping track of, and adjusting to, shifting moods across the day. We’ve also felt the benefit of inter-departmental interaction – this might have even improved since lockdown began.  

The tech behind the task

All these human interactions are underpinned by tools that keep productivity charged and the schedule seamless. Aside from Slack – which we find essential for collaboration in all kinds of ways – here are simple tech tips:

  • Zoom has been invaluable, taking over all other forms of conferencing in most cases. Our Slack feeds have seen an influx of screengrabs from our most popular meetings
  • In terms of projects and planning, Stories on Board integration with Jira has been a true success story with our Scrum practices
  • We are using Trello more often to engage entire teams in project process and progress

Final thoughts

Blending the right human interactions with the right tech is the job here. We all need to think more flexibly around all this but, most of all, we need to listen to our employees. 

Don’t just tell your business what your policies and processes will be. It’s always surprising how people work differently with each other when they’re at home. Set some baselines and give your people the tools to get them going – but then be ready to listen, respond, experiment and adapt.

That’s where success lies. After the dust settles, my hope is that most businesses will hold on to the new processes, allowing people to work from home more often and explore new ways to work faster and more intelligently.

By Anthony Dang, Technical Director

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