Working Together Separately: 5 Methods Helping Our Small Business Work From Home
Whether you were already a work-from-home warrior or you’re still straightening out the wrinkles in your new remote working strategy, this new normal we’ve found ourselves has been (to put it mildly), a bit of a struggle for us all.
Here at Altos, we’re hanging in there. We’ve eased into our new (home) office life thanks to some WFH protips we already had in our arsenal—plus a few new ones we’ve learned along the way.
In the interest of spreading positivity, and the hope of giving other small businesses some useful ideas, here are a few strategies helping us bridge the gaps between our individual home offices across New England.
Optimizing our offices away from the office
When we realized that a lengthy work-from-home arrangement would need to be in order, our team leaders immediately began setting everyone up with the tools needed to work productively within our own walls.
As a digital marketing agency, working productively meant maintaining a strong connection with our office network: our development team needed access to our servers to keep client sites, published and in-production, up and running; the design squad required a means of downloading virtual assets to utilize in upcoming projects; our marketing crew needed to be able to grab images from client photo galleries at a moment’s notice.
Our fast-responding leadership team, talented Director of Technology (Thanks Brian!), and IT partners made sure we’d be able to accomplish all that and more with a few helpful programs & strategies:
- Enabling VPN access to maintain a link to our office network
- Installing Splashtop, a remote-desktop software enabling us to ghost control our office desktops
- Rerouting office phone lines so no call was left hanging or trapped in voicemail purgatory
- Turning our mobile numbers into office phones with Google Voice
Honestly, it’s as if we’re still sitting in the office...albeit in some cozier clothing and with the company of a few furry, four-legged coworkers.
For us, the best thing about these arrangements was the fact that many of them were already ready and waiting for us to pull them out of our toolbag. While we weren’t expecting our business to go remote as fast as it did, we did have these capabilities in our back pocket just in case.
If you’re thinking about equipping your business with similar programs, we say go for it. If the current situation has taught us anything, it’s that unexpected events can happen quickly and with little warning. We’re grateful we were prepared to hit the ground running from home and content with the knowledge that we’ll be ready for anything, big or small, that might require our teammates to work from home in the future.
Structuring the work week with valuable team facetime
These days, it gets tricky to distinguish one day from another. Time manages to tick by slowly some hours, and zip by at warp speed during others.
In our previous edition of work from home tips, we stressed the importance of maintaining a routine to stay productive. This is just as important on a team level as it is on an individual level.
When our migration began towards our respective home offices, we were thankful for the standing meetings already on our calendars and added a few more to give our home schedules some structure:
- On Mondays, our team leaders kick off the week with a production meeting to coordinate projects and visualize what the next few days are looking like.
- On Fridays, the whole company gets together for a weekly round-up to chat important updates, project progress, and how everyone is holding up at home.
- All throughout the week, individual departments hop on touch base meetings to keep everyone on the same page (and, if we’re being honest, to squeeze in some much needed socializing).
If you haven’t already, toss some standing weekly check-ins onto your team calendar. Emails and instant messaging are helpful, but they can’t replace real-time communication. If video chat isn’t available, a conference call will do!
Swapping tried & true remote working tips
One of the great things about these regular touch base opportunities is the ability to exchange new work from home hacks and information that might make quarantining at home a little easier. Some examples from our own chats include:
- The best times of day to reserve a grocery store pickup (usually just after midnight - thanks Kathy!)
- Yoga with YouTube to de-stress and stay active (a pro-tip from Amy)
- Which department to visit to FINALLY get your hands on some TP (Another of Joseph’s helpful hacks)
- Music suggestions to shake up the typical WFH playlist (we started a separate team chat for this one!)
In all seriousness, this shared experience has been a challenging one. But including coworkers in the network of people that you can lean on when times are tough has made a huge difference.
During your next internal company meeting, prompt the group to share what’s helped them be more productive or keep the cabin fever at bay. Offer up your own findings. A small piece of advice can go a long way.
Encouraging online status updates
When popping your head into your teammate’s office to see if they’ve already gone to lunch, tapping someone on the shoulder when a creative thought suddenly hits you, or pulling someone into the conference room last minute to provide some insight is out of the question, coming up with a way to electronically keep track of everyone’s whereabouts is a helpful substitute.
We lucked out with Teamwork’s built-in status update feature. Whenever we head out to lunch, hop on a call, or sign off for the day, we can adjust our status accordingly.
To update our statuses like it’s Facebook in 2009 (i.e. as frequently as possible). That way, we’re not poking anyone needlessly after they’ve already started cooking dinner, or being a bother while the coworker we need to speak with is with a client. It may not be as immediate as seeing someone walk out the front door, but it’s still pretty helpful.
Even if you don’t have a project management system that enables status updates, identify a way for your coworkers to signal their statuses. A couple of potential alternatives:
- A shared calendar, where scheduled commitments are visible to all team members
- Sending a quick message to your closest contacts when you expect to be unavailable
Loosening up with some icebreakers
Icebreakers have gotten a bad rap. But occasionally, the situation really does call for some silly questions and lighthearted prompts so everyone can take a much-needed break.
For us, most of these icebreakers take place over our company-wide chat. Different people have chipped in to pose a question to the group or offer up something for our amusement. So far, we’ve seen the likes of:
- Funny things that our housemates/pets have done during the day with the introduction: “Today, my coworker…”
- The meatloaf debate: sauce on top or no sauce?
- Meme swapping
- What we’re grateful for while working from home (awww)
It pays to veer from the usual “How was your weekend?” or “How are you doing today?” Engage your co-workers with some less-typical questions. Here’s a few off of our icebreaker to-do list:
- This or That: Pinterest is chock full of themed lists that prompt people to choose between one thing or another. Try sending one in an email or chat and ask people to respond with their choices.
- Favorite Things: Prompt the group to share their recent favorites, like the best movie/TV show they just finished, a recipe they’ve been enjoying, or a hobby they’ve been partaking in to pass the time.
- The Hypotheticals: Pick some fun “What if” questions, like the classic “What three items would you bring to a deserted island” or “If you could meet any celebrity, dead or alive, who would it be?” Here’s an even more exhaustive list.
Staying Productive By Staying Connected
Ultimately, there should be an important byproduct that results from implementing these four methods: maintaining an open line of communication from teammate to teammate.
We realize that a seamlessly connected internal network is what enables us to work with our clients as a unified front. Consequently, we’re able to produce the creative solutions that our team leads and clients alike have come to expect.
If you’re navigating the remote work life with your coworkers, give some of these ideas a try. In the meantime: good luck & stay safe!