Some home-working tips for the COVID-19 era

Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash

Last week the Humanise.AI team made the decision to become home-workers 🏡 for the foreseeable future.

The co-working space that we use had been dramatically shut last week for a suspected COVID-19 🦠 infection, which turned out to be a false-alarm (phew!).

However, that brush with the virus brought it home to us that we don’t need to be in an office and we don’t need to travel on public transport at this time. Of course, there are benefits to sitting together and we love our co-working space — but those benefits aren’t great enough to outweigh the additional risk at this time. So we decided to become remote workers.

I have had some experience of home-working before and that experience taught me a lot about how to make it work (and quite a lot about how not to do it).

Home working is not always as easy as we might think, so here are my top tips:

We usually spend time travelling to work, which acts as a form of exercise and time to think and wind up/down ↕️.

When working from home it’s tempting to try to be more productive and convert that travel time into work time. But that would be a mistake.

Instead, try to find ways to mimic your travel time as a way of relaxing. e.g. a brisk walk in the morning before you start work can help to connect with the world and ensure you start enthusiastic and raring to go, rather than rolling out of your bed in a semi-awake manner. Home working can take over your life if you don’t make conscious decisions to avoid that — so take those conscious decisions.

Put in place regular calls to connect the team on a daily basis. When everyone is remote, there’s a danger one of us goes off an a tangent, so we connect every day on a regular call to keep in sync.

As with all meetings, it pays to keep these calls focussed. The daily call’s purpose is to connect ↔️ the team and make sure we’re all aligned in what we’re doing. We have a very simple agenda that has everyone explain:

  • ⬅️ What we did yesterday.
  • ➡️ What we plan to do today.
  • 🚧 What, if anything, might hold us up and needs others in the team to prioritise.

The purpose of this call is not to go into detail on a particular topic. Its purpose is to connect people, not to address specific issues.

If one of us starts to dive into the detail of a topic, we pull them back and suggest a separate call with a subset of the team. The daily call needs to be purposeful and brief, so that it doesn’t become a chore.

It’s useful to set some boundaries and to know when people start 🎬 work and when they finish 🏁 — so that we know not to disturb them when they don’t want to be disturbed.

This is simple to achieve with sending sign-in (“Hey guys, this is me starting the day!”) and sign-out (“Yo! That’s me done for the day — see ya tomorrow!”) messages on your team messaging system (you do have one right? If not, grab the free version of Slack and set one up quickly).

At Humanise.AI we’ve built an incredibly tight and mutually supportive culture and team. But, we’d be crazy to pretend there aren’t the occasional tensions or areas of disagreement — that’s both natural and healthy in any work environment. My previous experience has taught me that we can prevent any tensions or disagreements from getting out of hand with some very simple rules.

Firstly, without the visual cue of someone’s face, it’s very easy for a funny quip to come across as aggressive or snarky. We may like emojis, but something as innocent as 🤪 can come across the wrong way. Sarcasm and snark must be complete no-go areas when working from home. I like to ask myself mentally “is this message kind?” before pressing enter. If the answer is no, I don’t press enter.

It’s also important not to let things fester. Without the serendipity of meeting people face-to-face in the office, it’s all too easy to hide away, let a comment get out of proportion and get angry 😡 about things that really don’t matter. If anger rises, stop, pick up the phone 📞 and talk.

Angry messages or emails are completely off limits. Sometimes people take on an alter ego behind a keyboard ⌨️ — the lack of physical contact emboldens them to write things they’d never say. That’s a big mistake and if it’s you, STOP TYPING! Don’t write anything you wouldn’t say. If annoyance is rising, pick up the phone 📞 and talk.

A lot of the time arguments are based on misunderstandings. In person we might say things we regret, but our words are usually quickly forgotten. In contrast, written words stay forever and continue to hurt long after their relevance has expired. None of us want our angry misunderstandings to be quoted back to us a month later — so never commit such things to writing. If there’s a disagreement, pick up the phone 📞 and talk.

Talking 🗣 regularly, being kind ❤️, picking up the phone 📞 , setting some boundaries ↔️ and keeping a sense of connection with the world 🚶‍♂️— if you practice those techniques you’ll be a star remote worker!

Eclectic tastes, amateur at most things. Learning how to build a new startup. Former CTO for IBM Watson Europe.

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