Suddenly Working from Home doesn’t have to hurt your Team’s Productivity

COVID-19 has started to drastically affect how we work. Companies are being forced to suddenly have their entire work-force work from home. If you are a leader or a team member of a team that builds products or provides services, this article is for you.

In this article, we’ll explore

Reduced team productivity is very likely

The satire change model illustrates below that any foreign element has the potential to reduce group performance. In this case, the foreign element is the new status quo of working from home. This means its quite likely, performance of organizations, and teams, will dip. This is until transforming ideas are integrated into your way of working that make work-life easier, and boost performance. These transforming ideas will be given in this article.

Well Assimilated Change

The bottom line is, leaders can expect performance of their organization and their teams to take a hit when the new foreign element of working from home becomes the new status quo. If the majority of your team already worked from home, at the same time, you don’t have to worry. If the majority of your team now has to figure out how to do it all at the same time for the first time – that’s a significant change to the status quo that can cause performance to dip. This is where leaders, or coaches can help.

 

Working from home for 2 months (or more)

As of March 18th 2020, experts cannot predict exactly how long we will be social distancing, and working from home for in Canada. Right now, they expect the virus to be a problem for at least 12 months. However, if we look at what China and South Korea have experienced, their social distance policies started loosing up after about 2.5 months. This means, if we just started in Canada, it could be likely that we have another 2.5 months to go or more working from home. That’s a long time to let organization and team performance suffer. In the next section we’ll look at how leaders (or coaches) can help to ensure that performance does not suffer for that long.

Source: https://globalnews.ca/news/6695737/coronavirus-canadians-social-distancing/

 

Early signals of lost productivity

These are the immediate signals leaders should look for that indicate a team is struggling working from home and may no longer be performing as they used to. If not taken care of proactively, you might notice later on, that your performance or delivery metrics have taken a hit.

Team members increasingly:

  • voicing difficulty communicating effectively in online meetings or with other members
  • reducing or cancelling meetings they once found valuable
  • voicing difficulty making team decisions
  • voicing dislike with team decisions
  • voicing conflict between members
  • voicing difficulty running effective retrospectives
  • voicing dropping engagement and morale

All of these pain points exist for co-located teams, but are likely to get emphasized on teams that suddenly have to work from home. As leaders (or coaches), we can support teams to move faster to identify and integrate transforming ideas, that will reduce these and get them back to performing. 

 

What leaders can do

The most important thing for leaders to do is to probe for the above signals.

  • Have regular one-on-ones with team members
  • Ask team members about the main pain points


Additionally leaders can

  • Ensure all team members have the basic tools they need
    • A second monitor for video conferencing
    • High quality noise-cancelling head sets to reduce background noise or difficulty hearing
    • Access to tools like WebEx, Zoom, Google Meets for screen sharing and video conference calls. Zoom has an ability to do breakout sessions which is very helpful for collaboration.
    • High-Speed Internet at Home
    • VPN reliability is even more important now
    • Work tracking Tools (Jira, Aha, Trello, etc)
    • Distributed Team Facilitation tools for group decisions and learning (GroupMap, Miro, PlanItPoker)
    • Online whiteboard and sticky notes (Miro)
    • Back-channel communication tools (e.g. slack)
  • Ensure team members have training for how to use tools effectively, and don’t assume they know how
  • Ask team members what their team agreements look like and what work-from-home pain points they intend to solve with each one

 

What team members can do

As a team, a critical step in making work-life easier is to schedule a meeting to discuss working from home pain points, and put specific agreements in place that help mitigate those pain points. Here are some examples of things that have worked for others teams

  • Define your working hours. When should we all be available to each other?
  • Agree where to raise questions and the minimum response time between members
  • Have a background communication channel dedicated to your team (e.g. a slack channel)
    • Use it for questions that can be answered quickly (where is the file I am looking for?)
  • Have a dedicated communication channel for #random or #fun team building conversation. It’s very important to maintain our relationships with each other as we work. It makes for a better team and more positive environment.
  • Use video. I cannot stress this enough. Video communication is much more effective than phone. If we cannot see other people’s faces or body language it is very difficult to detect when something is wrong. Even on video it can be very difficult. Start by inviting people to use video, do not force them. Lead by example.
  • Identify specific cue’s for video or conference calls that help aid communication
    • e.g. type ELMO into chat for enough let’s move on. When enough people type ELMO, it’s time to move on.
    • e.g. type a question into a dedicated chat monitored during meetings while people are talking – so it doesn’t get lost.
    • e.g. finger over lips for ‘please mute your mic’s’.  Avoid having to say it over and over.
    • e.g. hand in the air for ‘I have a question that can’t wait’
  • Keep a dedicated lunch time, and even have video lunches with your team members. Again it’s important to socialize with each other. An all work, and no socialization environment is not healthy, fun, or productive.
  • It’s very easy to work harder when you’re home. Make sure you take breaks. Ask your team mates if they have taken a break today

 

Last thoughts

The last thought I want to leave with you is that it’s easy to make the mistake that working from home is the same as working from the office. It’s a significant change and productivity is likely to be reduced. It’s important to look for the signs, and take early action, to mitigate productivity degradation of our teams. Especially in these volatile times where we depend so much on their success. It is possible, with the right transforming ideas and tools, to have a highly productive and distributed team. I’ve seen it before! Let us know what ideas you have tried, in the comments below.  

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