First anniversary of WFH

A collection of personal coping techniques for working from home and resources for virtual productivity and collaboration.

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.

Physical support

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.

Social support

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

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.

Virtual Productivity
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).


Local comms: the view from where you are

Reflections on what internal communications looks like outside of the corporate team – and a reminder of how effective local comms are an essential building block for corporate internal comms.

Effective local comms is an essential building block for corporate internal comms

The view from the Yew Garden at Packwood House (through a narrow gap).
The view from the Yew Garden at Packwood House

When you are working in corporate comms you feel that you have to focus on supporting communications which further the org’s strategy.

Very often, sat in a corporate team, I’d despair at the functions who wanted help with their local comms. (In every corporate team we were never resourced to support local comms.)

I’d give some top-level pointers on what they could do and then move on to looking for stories to demonstrate our corporate messaging, all the while bemoaning the quality of line manager communication.

And sometimes we’d run comms communities to upskill and pool info.

Catch 22

The Catch 22 is clear. And all the clearer for recently spending five months embedded with a team outside of the world of corporate comms.

Good comms within your function reduces frustrations and confusions in your role and makes you feel better about work.

It also makes your team more efficient, reducing duplication, overlap and work at cross-purposes.

And it makes it easier for others to work with you. Especially key if you are offering services and products to others.

Lastly, it also makes it more likely that you will use and support corporate messaging and campaigns by carrying out the essential local context-setting and relevance-adding.

So, my new perspective has confirmed what I secretly knew all along. By not investing in, and supporting, good local communications, corporate internal comms teams are missing a trick.

Good basics

My recently-drawn observations about good basics for local comms (and there’s no rocket science in this, just salutary reminders) are:

  • Two-way face-to-face is still king – equip your local managers and be human about it
    • Brief them regularly with useful info and content – give them a chance to fully understand and interrogate the info
    • Task them with getting their people up to speed face-to-face (but however works for them) – and give them a reasonable amount of time to do it
  • Functional, regular, very short and disciplined, stand-up briefings (in person or online) help people to share essential updates and give visibility of who’s doing what right now
  • Minimise the amount of push and inbox comms
    • Try and consolidate as much as possible into round-ups (including the corporate and divisional comms)
    • Try and allow people to opt-in and out of as much as possible so they can tailor what they receive as a push
  • Maximise the amount of pull communications – and make it easy and effective
    • Build an easily navigable, single place for pull communications which has everything they could reasonably want including the links to the corporate resources they need (recruitment/ reporting/ induction)
    • Make your local management meetings and decision-making transparent by sharing agendas, minutes, meeting dates etc.


This is part of the prescription for the team I’m working with right now (backed up by some proper comms research) – but it’s close enough to my guess in week one. The key is to invest time in taking the people on the journey and getting the buy-in so that they can own and operate the approach themselves.

Inside out

Meanwhile, on the other side of the job, I’m looking at improving communications with customers and stakeholders within the organisation. And the other truism is that it’s hard to do that without getting the team’s own internal comms in hand. More on that in my next post….

Good multi-site huddles: land of make-believe?

10 effective and engaging minutes weekly

Is it possible to manage an effective and engaging 10-minute huddle across different locations?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say yes.  But you have to be disciplined.

And to have to be issued with a good headset with a microphone as a standard piece of IT equipment.

Lessons from Smarter Working

I was very struck by a story about virtual meetings on the DfE intranet last week:

We used to hold our weekly team meetings by Skype – with the majority of our team located in Sheffield dialling in from a meeting room, and then just a couple dialling in from other sites.  Inevitably, the people in the meeting room dominated the conversation and the others struggled to interject.

We were aware it was making some of the team feel isolated. So we tried a meeting where we all dialled in from our desks, putting us all on the same footing.  It worked really well, everyone felt equally included and able to contribute.  We now do this for every weekly team meeting.

Here’s the proposal.

Everyone dials in promptly and puts themselves on mute with video.

One person opens the meeting and chairs. Each team decides in advance one or two speakers who work briefly to the following agenda:

  • How did we do last week?
    • Well done: well done to X for achieving Y and doing it by demonstrating behaviour Z
  • Were there any significant issues that carry over and still require our attention this week?
  • What are our priorities for this week?
  • What do we need help from other teams on?
    • Who can help?  Find the people and take it offline.

Anyone can ask questions by typing them in the chat – they can unmute for a brief discussion once the question is picked up.

The chair must make sure that it stays brief and/or gets taken off line. 

Any Change Champions can give brief updates.

There’s an open section for questions at the end.

The session is recorded and subsequently shared (on Teams, or whatever you’re using).  Any docs/info referenced are also shared there.

Meeting rules

  • Have an active chair
  • Have your video on
  • No multitasking
  • Have you mute on
  • Ask questions in chat
  • Keep it brief
  • Assign a Yoda
  • Finish with the water cooler

Meeting Yoda

Assign a Yoda.

Candour is difficult even for co-located teams, but it’s the number one gauge of team productivity. To keep people engaged during virtual meetings, appoint a “Yoda.” Like the wise Jedi master in Star Wars, the Yoda keeps team members in line and makes sure everyone stays active and on topic. The Yoda keeps honesty from boiling over into disrespect by being courageous and calling out any inappropriate behaviours. At critical points during the meeting, the leader should turn to the Yoda and ask, “So, what’s going on here that nobody’s talking about?” This allows the Yoda to express the candour of the group and encourage risk-taking.

How to run a great virtual meeting​ (Harvard Business Review)

Water Cooler


Have everyone go around and say what they would’ve done differently in the meeting. This is like the final “Yoda” moment – it’s the “speak now or forever hold your peace” moment. This is the time when you say what you disagreed with, what you’re challenged with, what you’re concerned about, what you didn’t like, etc. All of the water-cooler-type conversation happens right now, or it never happens again. And if does happen later, you’re violating the ethics of the team.

How to run a great virtual meeting​ (Harvard Business Review)

Why huddle?

  1. Because everyone gets a chance to see the big picture
  2. Because everyone can see themselves as part of a wider team
  3. Because everyone gets a sense of relative priorities for the team as a whole
  4. Because it helps information exchange
  5. Because it makes you more focussed and productive