7 Remote Working Lessons Learned from a Distributed Workforce

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By Tony Schueth, Managing Partner and CEO

This, COVID-19 crisis, too, shall end. In the interim, don’t let your productivity be one of its victims.

To be sure, working from home is new for the vast majority of Americans. At Point-of-Care Partners, we have been doing this for 17 years.

What we’ve learned is that working remotely – or in a “distributed” environment, as it is increasingly being called – has both advantages and disadvantages. In our case, perhaps the most significant advantage is an improvement in productivity.

You may not feel like it’s improved your productivity yet. If you have not found a good work rhythm yet, we would suggest that’s just because it’s new – and maybe temporary – for you.

Until we know how “temporary” it is, consider some of the lessons we’ve learned.

Advancements in throughput begin with the generally, well, unproductive commute, which is now gone for most of us. There are also fewer knock-on-the-door interruptions or let-me-run-this-by-you on the way to get a cup of coffee, making focus easier.

There have been a ton of articles written to help remote workers be more prolific. Instead of an article highlighting the importance of a second monitor, docking stations or faster Internet, we thought we’d share some lessons learned and best practices from years of working remote. Consider:

Have a Plan. To be sure, none of us anticipated having the entire family home at the same time, with two parents doing eMail, conference calls and video chats, and kids either attending classes on-line, binge-watching movies or on Tick-Tok. Phone and cable companies are considered essential, so you may still be able to upgrade, if their backlog isn’t too big. Assuming you may not want to upgrade, or they can’t get to you this month, bandwidth may be scarce so you’ll have to decide who can be doing what at what times. Movie streaming takes up the most bandwidth and can be perhaps kept to after work hours, for example.

Have Signals and Rules. Most of us have signals that send subtle – or not so – messages. If you’re not working from your kitchen or dining room table, you might have a door. If the door is open, that means “I’m not doing anything super important, so you can come in (just remember I’m working and may be on camera).” If the door is closed, that means, “I’m working and really can’t be interrupted.” I’ve also made a red sign that says, “shh, do not disturb,” which means, I’m on an important call, unless it’s life or death, DON’T interrupt me.” It works most of the time. Sometimes you still get handed a note asking if they can order dinner. (Hey, they’re our kids!)

Set Ground Rules. Last week we had a family meeting. It was really between my wife and daughters (15 and 11), and the purpose was to make sure the daughters understood that, during the day, mom is studying. She needs to read and take online quizzes/tests in quiet. When the kids went to school, she would study while they were there. Now they’re home. They can’t be interrupting her like they do after school or on the weekends.

Have Fun. Every culture is different. Point-of-Care Partners’ is one that has a number of video calls throughout the day. When its internal, we generally start with a little light-hearted banter or ribbing of each other. For example, it’s not uncommon for them to tease me about being frugal, or some of our other team members for being curmudgeonly. Hair – or lack thereof – jokes are plentiful. When our call is with clients, we try to joke around a little before getting into serious business as well. If the client is on the serious side, we still try to keep the start light-hearted. It’s our way of setting the stage.

Be Situationally Aware. To be sure, there are times that the kids are going to miss the “I’m on a work call” signal. It’s also tough to stop the dog from barking at the UPS driver who delivers a package or the neighbors who are walking their dog outside. Your co-workers may overhear your spouse talking on his/her own conference call in the background or the baby crying. We need to be “situationally aware.” If it’s an internal call, it’s not ideal but stuff happens. If we’re on with a client and their dog is barking or baby crying, stuff happens. But if we’re on a sales, client call, or call with upper management, we should do everything we can to avoid our dog barking or baby crying.

Learn from The Disruptions. When stuff happens, I don’t just shrug it off. Instead, I think through what I could do differently to ensure that doesn’t happen again. Sometimes I’ll lock the door. (Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t get the note slid under it.) The dog can be put in a back room or the garage where he/she can’t see the neighbor walking the dog in front of the house. We’ll make sure that our spouses are in different rooms, with the door closed, or knows that I’m about to be on an important call.

Utilize Tools Effectively. We have a number of tools that we utilize to effectively work remotely, the most omni-present of which is Microsoft 365 and Teams. Teams or Skype let people know if you’re available, away or on a call. We use the chat function to connect. If they’re on Do Not Disturb or presenting, we respect that. If they’re on red, we’ll ping them to see when they might be available. If they’re on yellow, we’ll ask them to let us know when they’re back on-line. If they’re on green, we’ll reach out to see if they have a minute. If we are working on something that requires focus, we’ll simply set our status to “do not disturb.”

All of that said, there is no question that this is having an impact on us, as well. The grumpy among us can be even grumpier without human interaction outside of our family.

Remember, even if you’re on lock-down, you can talk to the neighbor as long as you maintain the 6-foot distance. You can go for a walk, bike ride or hike. If you’re with family, you don’t even have to maintain the distance. You can go to the grocery store, as long as you wipe down the cart and use sanitizer or wipes when you get back into the car.

Drop us a note letting us know what you’re doing. We can all learn from each other!