In the past whenever we have discussed the future of work the idea of remote working often emerges. Whether it be a simple ‘working from home’ arrangement or a full on ‘digital nomad’ existence, working free of a physical office or set working hours was often touted as a progressive choice for people who wanted control over their work, life, leisure and productivity. The optimum word here is ‘choice’.
The current global environment – the continuous spread of the coronavirus – has moved remote working from a lifestyle choice to a working reality. Social distancing, social isolation, and municipal lockdowns have moved most of us (who are not ‘key workers’) into an office that is likely to be located on our kitchen tables or spare bedrooms. This is a new experience for many of us.
The routine of the office, the warm cup of coffee from your favourite shop, the friendly banter of your co-workers all served to maintain a rhythm and a predictability to our days that many find necessary to be productive. That routine is no longer an option for the foreseeable future.
We here at FinTECHTalents decided to survey our friends and family, who have years of experience navigating ‘working from home’ to offer advice and guidance for those who now find themselves plunged headfirst into the deep end of remote working. This week’s advice is from: Teana Baker-Taylor, Managing Director, Looking Glass Labs, Ghela Boskovich, Chapter Leader/Head of Europe at Financial Data and Technology Association, Julie Lake, CEO, The FinTech 50, Sharon O’Dea, Co-Founder, Lithos Partners and digital media specialist and Pam Bateson, CEO, Thrive Partners.
Most advise sticking to a routine, love the absence of ‘distractions’ when WFH and almost all use Zoom for video conferencing.
When did you start WFH?
I’m very lucky that I’ve been working remotely for the last 18 months, and fortunately had processes and tools in place ahead of the ‘stay home’ initiative. I embrace the solitude and believe I am far more productive with less distractions and interruptions we often experience within an office environment. – Teana Baker-Taylor
I’ve been WFH for about 20 years off and on, sometimes for years at a stretch. My first WFH gig started in 1996, and only two jobs in the last 23 years have really required me being an office daily. So, early WFH adopter here, and the muscle memory is still strong. – Ghela Boskovich
As soon as I could – officially, 2014 – Julie Lake.
I started doing a day or two a week back in 2012, then switched to majority working from home when I left my last full-time job in banking to work for myself. – Sharon O’Dea
What are your tips for being productive, personally?
I set my alarm and start my day at the same time every day, just as I would if I were going into the office. I try to take a regular lunch break each day and often take a short walk during that time to get fresh air and stretch.
I prioritise a daily to do list and work through it the same way I would in a traditional environment and I block out time in my diary to actually do these tasks. My calendar is open for colleagues to schedule meetings, so this ensures my daily diary is balanced between meetings and achieving my deliverables. – Teana
For me to be productive, I need silence. Honestly, I have the most difficult time being productive in an office outside of officially sanctioned meetings, because I’m prone to give into distractions. Working from home makes it easy for me to ignore what’s going on around me because it’s ridiculously quiet.
I don’t have a television or radio (yes, I have Bluetooth speakers and iTunes, but they don’t get attention when the laptop is open). I control the notifications I get on social media, and texts. My friends know how easily I ignore/miss texts from personal experience. Limiting the number of times my attention is pulled away from the task at hand helps me be productive.
Concentrating all the scheduled conference calls or phone calls into clusters helps me get huge chunks of time to focus on the task at hand (usually a lot of written work, from white papers to position papers, articles and strategy plans).
When I’m at home, I have a designated spot in my front room to work; I never work anywhere else but there, and I never take work into another room. It’s psychosomatic: when I’m in that spot, it’s go time. I never sit in that spot to relax, either. It helps me focus to have a dedicated area just for work. – Ghela
When I worked in an office, I recognised that there were times when I wasn’t productive at certain things. I prefer to write in the morning, connect with people in the afternoon and research in the evening, and WFH lets me do just that. – Julie
Work when the mood takes you, whether that’s 5am or 9am. You always end up doing more hours and getting more done than you do in an office. If you lose focus, walk away, do something else and come back.
I make myself a lot of to-do lists and set myself personal daily and weekly sprints. I work with a handful of other teams remotely, so I share what I’m planning to do both to keep them in the loop and keep myself accountable. – Sharon
What strategies have your team put in place to stay connected and collaborative while remote?
I think Zoom and Google hangouts are great tools. I’ve trained new hires remotely and used these tools in early days by simply leaving the line open all day so that we can ask questions of each other as if we were sat across from each other. – Teana
We’re a virtual team anyway, so communication lines have been in place since day one. We use Google Docs to manage joint work. Slack is coming in handy as well, and there’s lots of WhatsApping. We have the usual conference calls, too, but those have always been in lieu of in-person meetings since we’re a global team. Not much has changed in terms of our daily collaboration habits. – Ghela
I doubt we are the only ones connecting with more people at the moment. One thing I have noticed this week. There are some extremely thoughtful emails/msgs being sent right now. – Julie
I have a different set of tools with each client, but we have regular rituals to keep in touch and maintain a routine. Daily standups, jumping on video calls, and at one point we had a joint Spotify playlist so we could listen to (and complain about) each other’s music while hundreds of miles apart. – Sharon
What is your favorite ‘go-to’ collaborative tool?
Google shared docs make real-time project collaboration really easy. Trello is a great tool to group project manage deliverables. – Teana
Right now it’s Google Docs. It’s brilliant to be able to track versions and see all the edits. It’s great for real-time joint writing/editing. It’s much less hassle than circulating a Word doc for everyone to edit, making sure we’re all reading from the same version. I’m a big fan. – Ghela
DropBox, WhatsApp, Facetime. In that order. – Julie
Trello. Working on a bunch of different projects and clients I organise all my work (nay, my entire life) with Trello. For being able to see and track what you’re working on as a team you can’t beat it. – Sharon
Which video conferencing works the best?
Zoom is my preferred VC/CC tool. Many people I work with are limited to legacy tools like Skype for Business or Citrix – I often have more issues with those than the new tools like Zoom or Google Hangouts. – Teana
Big fan of Zoom. Really like that you can record the sessions at any point in the call. It works great on mobile and tablet as well. – Ghela
Looking forward to other people’s answers, particularly for hosting discussion groups of 8+. We will (v likely) take our selection panel meetings online this summer, but it would be good to involve wine… – Julie
Zoom. – Sharon
What strategies are you using to support your physical and mental well being?
I take a break at least once throughout the day to walk my dogs and get fresh air. Unless I’m up against a time sensitive deadline, I make a point to log off around the same time every day. When working remote, it’s very easy for you ‘work life’ to bleed into your ‘life life’ if you don’t set boundaries.
I’m fortunate that I have a separate work space, which I leave at the end of the day. But the same effect can be achieved by logging off and putting your work computer away at the end of the day. – Teana
Not a lot, frankly. But I do get up at the same time every day, and I do follow my favourite morning routine. I limit my news consumption to once a day. I’ve stocked up on digital books (love my online lending library), which is more of a treat than anything else, and I’m overindulging in trashy novels for my evening entertainment. I’ve had long stretches of being alone over the years, so this hasn’t been an emotional burden for me, unlike others I know. I am trying to make an effort to check in with those I know who struggle being alone, but I haven’t had to make a concerted effort to keep my spirits up. I’m okay with hibernating for now. – Ghela
WFH works for me, so it’s already good for my mental well being. I also have a demanding outdoor gym – aka a garden. – Julie
If you’re only just getting set up with home working now, chances are you don’t work in a remote-first environment. Which means you have to accept outcomes are going to be less than optimal for your business and your people.
- Accept that you’re going to have to make it up as you go along. Cut yourself some slack. Cut corners where that’s acceptable, so you don’t have to do so on the stuff where it matters.
- Accept that deadlines will slip, and rules will be broken.
- Accept that you are abruptly working from home under incredibly stressful circumstances and with little planning. Above all, please monitor your and you team’s wellbeing and adjust as you need to.
- Be kind to yourself and others. We are in this together. – Sharon
What is the one thing you miss most about ‘going to the office’?
I miss varied options for lunch – lunch at home can get a little boring unless you plan ahead! I don’t live in central London, so I miss meeting friends and colleagues for drinks or dinner after work. – Teana
I’ve never been a fan of being in an office, but the bits I did enjoy were the company and camaraderie of my work friends. I always enjoyed the hugs and affection, too, and I will admit to missing out on a good proper hug from someone I like and respect. I miss the laughter, the shared laughter where seeing someone laughing makes you laugh even harder. Like I said earlier, I’m easily distracted in an office, and most of that distraction was joking and gossiping with work friends. But I certainly don’t miss the bad coffee. – Ghela
The office? Nothing. But I do miss meeting people. There is no tech substitute for that – yet. – Julie
Company. Despite being a long time nerd – I’ve been interacting with strangers via the internet since the 90s – I do miss the noise and the serendipity that comes from hearing and seeing what others are working on. There are ways to re-create that when you work remotely, but you need the entire team to be deliberate about it. And I’m yet to see that work as well in a remote setting. We’ll get there, eventually. – Sharon
Have you found your best side for video conferencing yet (and what is it?) 😊 (Note to readers: all these women are gorgeous – please ignore some of the answers)
I elevate the back bottom of my laptop so that the camera is looking down on me slightly! – Teana
I have reconciled myself to the fact that I don’t have a good side: neither my face nor my personality has ever been called good. I don’t burden people with videoconferencing, they shouldn’t have to suffer more than listening to my voice. Why be cruel? – Ghela
Yep. Camera off 😊 – Julie
Not yet! But after this long working at home my standard of dress has gone so far downhill that I have to keep a ‘dignity jumper’ nearby for video calls, which hides my usual gym kit and pajama get-up. – Sharon
Pam Bateson of Thrive Partners offers a handy guide to WFH:
Everyone who works remotely has to figure out when to work, where to work, and how to create boundaries between work life and personal life. What about office equipment, career development and training opportunities, and building relationships with colleagues? Working remotely means grappling with these issues and others. Here are some tips on how to do it well.
- Maintain regular hours- know when to work and when to call it a day so you maintain a work life balance.
- Create a morning routine that ends with you starting work- whether it’s coffee or jogging.
- Set ground rules with the people in your space – kids and partners need to know what they can do when they come home!
- Schedule some breaks – to walk away from your screen and phone.
- Leave home – so your body gets to move and you get fresh air and natural light.
- Ask for what you need to run your home office well – ensure you have the right kit and good WiFi.
- Ensure you don’t stop learning and growing – keep taking care of your career and your personal and professional development, use some of the time you save from commuting to learn.
- Stay connected so you feel a sense of team – use platforms like sneek.io to create a sense of being with the team in the business whilst at home.
- Use the time you save from commuting – ask yourself what do you really want for yourself this year and use the time you save to put in place goals, plans and actions to make it come true.
Someday the pubs and clubs and restaurants may reopen – but we may never go back to the office! 🙂