Remote working: how to adapt and keep personal and team’s productivity

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My experience with flexible working began in 2010 when I started to work in Microsoft Latvia. Since 2012, Microsoft in Baltics actively promotes flexible working, encouraging others to experience remote work themselves  and to join the “Work From Anywhere” movement. Now, most people have either volunteered or been made to be part of this movement. Even here at Citadele Bank, more than 85%, or around 1,200 employees, throughout the Baltics are working from home.

I am happy to share my experience and share ideas on how to organise the working day for yourself and your team without losing productivity, effectiveness and, most importantly, the personal touch.

How to organise your work and #surviveathome

You have to understand that flexible or remote work, as it has been since March 12th in Latvia, when emergency situation has been announced, is not the same as it was before. If before, for example, all children where elsewhere (at school or in kindergarten), and those working from home could dedicate 100% of their time to focus on work, now working from home  form most of us means working in chaos and noise. Although there are new skills I have to develop and new challenges I have to take (while working with three kids)  there are main rules which could be applicable  to everyone:

  • Rule 1: plan your day—enter all your daily meetings and tasks in an online calendar, so that anyone can see; if possible, strictly adhere to it; plan cooking and mealtimes too, as well as a break for some fresh air;
  • Rule 2: be equipped—know how to use digital tools and organise your remote work so that your work quality and productivity does not suffer (for example, a bad computer mouse or slow internet can ruin all your work plans); 
  • Rule 3: arrange your work environment and mood—think about your appearance (including below the waist), think about your background to avoid distracting from the contents of during a video conference; introduce a ritual, for example, by getting in the mood before sitting down to work—read the news while drinking a delicious cup of coffee;
  • Rule 4: avoid multitasking during calls and concentrate on one job at a time—if you are multitasking, you won’t be neither 100% present on your call, nor will perform best in other tasks. I would suggest to consider whether you should attend all meetings—if you cannot contribute, it’s better to spend time on result oriented tasks;
  • Rule 5: this is targeting parents who have become part-time teachers—plan your children’s day too, so that they know their own and the adults’ daily routine. This could be either a large calendar on the wall, or a family Google calendar which, for example, indicates hours when the parents can’t be disturbed because they are on a video conference, when everyone will be eating, when the family spends time together, etc.

Recommendations for businesses without remote working experience  

Of course, adapting to this situation has been easier for those organisations which had previously supported remote working, as they already have the necessary tools and information systems, and their employees and business culture will have matured to a certain extent. Organisations for whom working from home is something new will have to dedicate much more resources towards organising remote work—supplying all  necessary technologies and IT systems, equipping and training employees, as well as mitigating all possible risks. However, I am certain that this is not an impossible task. A few advices for organisations still on the path towards introducing remote working:

  1. ensure that you have all the necessary technical “tools” and solutions to enable employees to work remotely (computer, its accessories, programmes, permits and security systems);
  2. provide employees the necessary knowledge and skills to use these tools (organise online training, prepare advice sheets or procedures, give employees the chance to contact a technical support specialist at any time);
  3. help your employees to gain new skills and develop new habits—time planning, prioritising tasks, organising team work, arranging their workspace, etc.;
  4. stay in touch with your employees: send regular messages from management about the situation, organise joint online calls, create private groups for quick communication; be creative in strengthening loyalty of employees’ loyalty;
  5. encourage feedback and provide various channels for this purpose: for example, a hotline, anonymous email, comments on intranet articles; ensure that direct managers are regularly organising on-line 1:1 and team meetings to monitor team spirit;
  6. finally:  be humanly and communicate openly; be supportive and approach each employee as an individual, as each employee is a personality with their own fears, needs and daily challenges;.

Organising remote team work

The next level challenge is to organise team collaboration and maintain  belonging to organization for each employee. I will give a few recommendations for those managers who has this issue on agenda:

  • first, look after each employee’s well-being and ensure they are ready to work in these new conditions. This may take time, but having 1:1 conversations with each employee is the best method. Ensure that you are the first person whom  employee approach with questions or advices;
  • plan regular team work—in small teams daily contact is crucial. For example, our Citadele Marketing and Communication Department has a planning call every weekday morning and evening follow-up call to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to give feedback, discuss challenges and results of the day;
  • before you plan a meeting with any colleague, always check their calendar and respect it;
  • just like with in-person meetings, you have to prepare for remote meetings. The calendar invitation should include a call link, the agenda and aim of the meeting’s, and someone should be responsible taking notes and  sending a summary afterwards; to secure effective collaboration, documents in the “cloud” are the best option;
  • for a small number of people, use video calls—it makes the contact more personal and communication more effective; 
  • if there is an urgent issue that needs to be discussed by several colleagues and a joint decision made, I suggest organising a quick call—it will speed up the process and avoid sending emails back and forth; 
  • agree on basic rules—joining calls in a timely manner, one person talking while the others mute their microphones, using interactive methods where possible such as chat functions, polls, group notes, etc.;
  • never assume, for example, that a colleague will do something. Similarly, written communication has a large potential to be misunderstood—if you are sending a complex  task by email or chat, it is better to do a follow up by phone and make sure that your colleague is on the same page. Remember that written communication has a much greater chance of being misunderstood than speaking in person or by phone.

I’ve left the good news to  end of the story: one day this state of emergency will end, and we will be different—upgraded—people, who are flexible and can quickly adapt to new challenges.

Equally, we will certainly have more appreciation for direct face to face contact, the chance to have a coffee with colleagues and the personal touch.

Kristīne Mennika
Head of Corporate Communication at Citadele and mother of three boys