Tips for being productive and inclusive virtually
This week is the first anniversary of starting to work from home full-time. Many of those of us who have office-based roles will be in the same boat.
I marked the anniversary on social media this week to a very mixed response.
Some friends have settled in and prefer not having to commute; others are desperately missing the society of working in an office.
One asked me what I’d learnt that was making it work for me. And I’ve been reflecting on that point.
The organisation that I’ve been working for over the last 18 months was already well advanced in terms of supplying everyone with good mobile kit, good remote connectivity, and good video-conferencing.
The other benefit is a remarkably well-used Yammer presence which offers work social networking and a wide variety of staff networks and interest and support groups. I’ve rarely seen the like of it – these things usually fester unloved in a corner.
But, on top of that, they were very quick to organise ancillary screens and kit and even office chairs for delivery to home addresses. Latterly, they’ve also offered a contribution towards tables that we’ve bought ourselves.
Having the right set-up makes a difference.
Moral and financial support
But more than that they were also extremely quick to acknowledge that homeschooling and caring responsibilities meant that people would have limited capacity. So they asked people to work out what they could manage in terms of hours and replanned organisational priorities – while keeping everyone at full pay. The impact on wellbeing, engagement, and discretionary effort is incalculable.
I don’t have any caring responsibilities myself but even so felt the benefit of working for an organisation taking such a progressive stance.
Colleagues have been similarly quick to step up and offer peer-to-peer contact.
One is running a series of virtual 15-minute show and tell sessions – there are usually a couple of week from different contributors of the most ecelectic and fascinating range of topics.
Another is organising a kind of coffee roulette – she draws names out of a virtual hat every week and you meet for a 10-minute chat to talk anything but shop. She says it’s designed to replicate the kind of incidental contact that you have in the office kitchenettes.
Contact time with line managers has increased – one colleague told me that she now had more regular 121s than before because her manager works in a different office and they used to wait until they could meet face-to-face.
Health & Wellbeing
The organisation has also put a heavy focus on health and wellbeing with all kinds of outside experts running short video sessions on physical, mental, financial, nutritional and relationship wellbeing.
I particularly valued a six-week course on resilience techniques, and picked up all sorts of tips.
Making us more productive and inclusive
My own contribution has been in helping people to understand how to make technology work for them through better meeting practices and better asynchronous collaboration. I’ve added a whole list of resources at the bottom of this post.
Colleagues have also been running 15-minute sessions on personal lean techniques – my two personal biggest takeouts have been the Pomodoro Technique and the ‘second brain’.
Sharing what works for us
We’ve also been taking turns in sharing what we’ve been learning and what’s working for us. Here’s my contribution last summer:
Resources: being inclusive and productive virtually
- What I’ve learnt in a nutshell
- Liberating Structures
- Deloitte’s virtual facilitation guide
- Methods and tools curated by Hyper Island
- Liberating Structures kit for Mural
- Collaboration tools list by Andi Roberts
- Virtual Liberating Structures Community Handbook
- 9 exercises to promote psychological safety
- Questions for check-ins
- Session Lab on online collaboration and virtual meetings
- The New Future of Work by Sam Harris (Making Sense podcast)
- The silent meeting manifesto
- Turning MS Planner into a Kanban Board
- The head-heart-gut check-in
- How to run a great virtual meeting (Harvard Business Review)
- Check-in generator
- List of check-outs and retrospectives
An excerpt from what’s working for me personally
Quality time – quality of life
I’m loving the extra three hours a day gained by cutting out my (fairly average) commute. I only live in Coventry, but by the time I’ve walked to the station, waited for the standing-room-only train, and got to New St, it’s an hour and a half each way.
I’m also having an actual lunch break every day – saving an incredible amount of money by eating lunch at home and eating better lunches. I realised that (because I’m lazy about packed lunches) I was spending about a tenner a day on grab and go lunches from Grand Central. Now I mostly have leftovers from the previous night’s dinner, or a quick omelette or lentil pouch.
I’ve dramatically cut down my caffeine intake – to one single freshly-ground cup of coffee each morning. So much better for my wellbeing and it’s turned that cup into a treat that I often take out to the garden for a moment of decompression. (I’ve also cut right down on alcohol because daily evening aperos and nibbles were featuring a bit too heavily in April and May!)
In the extra time that we’ve gained in the mornings I’ve started Yoga with Adriene and I’ve become an enormous fan – I like her relaxed and compassionate style. It’s yoga for every body (which is just as well!). Over the summer I’ve often popped out after breakfast to do a bit veg harvesting – we’ve made a real effort to grow lots this year – my partner has done amazing things in germinating some extremely old seeds left over from our allotmenteering days.
In the evenings I’m cooking proper meals again – and a far greater variety (except when we’ve had to use up various garden gluts). I’d fallen into a time-pressured rut of a few boring, but quick and easy, standards.
We’ve started a Sunday Walk club with two close friends and neighbours – we’ve now covered the whole of the Coventry Way and most of the Coventry Way circular walks. And we’re all now investing in winter walking gear so we can carry on as the weather turns. Having a fixed social point in the week has made a big difference, we finish each walk with cake and tea and have a snack halfway – and it’s even replaced our Saturday night Zoom Pub calls from earlier in lockdown.
Workwise, having a routine has also been key – daily huddles with the internal comms team, and frequent catch ups with my Sixth Gear team mates.
I’ve also found a lot of the Lean15 techniques valuable for productivity – a special mention for time blocking and pomodoro technique, and my ‘second brain’ that I’ve started in One Note and refer to daily.
Each morning I set up my work station on the dining room table, check my inbox and Yammer, and then fill in the IC Huddle board before our meeting, and each evening I update my ‘second brain’ and do my What Went Well listing before packing my work station away again. Getting these routines in place has been crucial.
Also, I’ve learnt a huge amount about making teams and meetings productive and inclusive virtually, including using Liberating Structures and other exercises – and this knowledge has really meant that I’ve been able to be as efficient and productive as I would be in the office. In fact, possibly even more so, because it’s now much easier to block out focus time and get my head down.
That said, I couldn’t do this if I didn’t have the necessary counter-balance of Yammer, Tiny Talks, Gilda’s coffee meetings (I’ve met people that I’ve never met in the office), and the Corporate Enablers huddles and socials (special mention for Through the Keyhole).