In the midst of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, more and more businesses are requiring (or planning for) their staff to work remotely from home over the coming weeks. Even though this means team members will not be in the same physical location, teams will still have the ability to stay productive and collaborate with each other.
There are plenty of collaboration/productivity tools and suites available (such as Google’s G Suite or Microsoft’s Office 365) – chances are your company will likely be using one of these. Each one of these suites have many collaborative tools which your team can use to stay connected during a period of working remotely.
Here we share our tips for how to plan for and stay productive during a period of working remotely.
Instant Messaging (IM)
Instant messaging is used to allow team members to collaborate and communicate while physically apart. You can ask a quick question of someone you work with, start a group chat with your team to keep connected, send files to each other for projects you are working, and much more.
In G Suite, Hangouts Chat is the tool to use for messaging team members. And in Office 365, Teams is the tool to use. If working remotely, add your team members to your contact list to keep in touch. IM tools provide a feature called “presence” – an icon or a colour alongside a contact’s name will indicate if they are available at their desk, away from their desk, busy on a call, in a meeting, or offline. You can use this to your advantage to determine whether to send them a message, phone them, or instead email them if they are unavailable to chat.
Although email is still widely used for work communications while in the office, it can be used in additional ways when teams are working remotely.
If you don’t have one already, arrange to have email groups/mailing lists set up for your team (with its own email address). This way, everyone in the team can be emailed at the same time at one address to quickly share notifications and information.
Businesses store their work documents in different ways. The best method is to store documents in the cloud using tools in a suite like G Suite or Office 365. Other businesses may store documents on premises on a network drive, or some other records management solution (depending on requirements).
Check the permissions on your team’s important documents to make sure that the relevant people will be able to access them while working remotely. You can even consider to create a new location to store files while working remotely for your team in Google Drive, Microsoft SharePoint, etc. Make sure the relevant team members have access the location while they work from home.
Meetings for teams can still take place easily while working from home. Instead of in a meeting room, meetings take place via an online meeting (video conferencing). We have written a guide for video conferences and shared tips with how to make them run more smoothly. Video conferencing allows for both video and audio to be shared by all participants, and presenters can share their screens to everyone in the meeting.
Book a meeting as normal through your Calendar (Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook) and you should find an option to make the meeting an online meeting. In Google Calendar, you can mark the meeting as requiring conferencing and a Hangouts Meet link will be automatically generated for all attendees which they can use to join the meeting automatically. In Outlook, there is an add-in for Microsoft Teams which will provide the option to make a new meeting request an online meeting. This will create a Teams link which attendees can use to join the meeting automatically.
You can even create an agenda and attach it to the meeting invite, along with any documents which are relevant to the meeting.
Working from home can be isolating and challenging to cope with for some. Holding regular meetings online can help with this and keep everyone in your team engaged, focused, and feeling connected to work. Team members with webcams can include video of themselves to feel closer to other team members and less isolated.
Notes and Work Tasks
There are a variety of ways to keep track of tasks and work items for team members while working remotely. Here are a few:
- Keep notes and checklists for action items in Google Keep or Microsoft OneNote. Share the file with your team members and check items off as they are completed. Team members can write their name alongside an action item to work on.
- An intranet team site can be created to keep notes, share resources and write tasks to be done. Google Sites or Microsoft SharePoint team sites can be created for groups to share information.
- A document with checklist items or notes can be shared with team members. Google Docs or Microsoft Word can be used to create a document.
- A group chat in Hangouts Chat or Teams can be used to share notes and keep tasks organised between team members.
Home Work Environment
Obviously different people have different environments at home. Some may have a quiet environment with minimal distractions, whereas others will have family members at home in a loud environment with lots of distractions.
It is important to find a quiet working area at home (if possible) where you can concentrate and focus on the tasks you need to do. If you live with others, you may need to communicate with them beforehand that you will need time and space each day in order to work effectively.
It is also useful to have a strong reliable Internet connection. Modern cloud-based productivity platforms like G Suite and Office 365 will save work as you go in the cloud. This means if your connection drops out for any reason, or your computer crashes, you won’t lose all of the work you have spent so long on. If other people at home share an Internet connection with you, it is possible that you may experience some slowness when working with video or other forms of media. If you have an important online meeting, talk to others in your household first to make them aware that you will need to take priority with your Internet connection for the period of the meeting to avoid drop-outs.
You need to find a way of working that works for you and others in your household. Try to minimise distractions, stay focused and keep collaborating with your team members while working remotely.
Google has created a great page containing a lot of useful information and tips for working from home, as well as for teachers and students for teaching and learning remotely. Check it out here.
We are living in challenging times with the COVID-19 situation, please look after yourselves and each other. Understand the reasons why businesses are making the decisions for employees to work from home (both for the health and safety of the workplace and the community as a whole).