A regular podcast discussing all aspects of virtual teams, project management and complex project management, from what a virtual team is through to how to manage personnel, understand cross cultural issues and avoid burnout and dysfunction within a virtual team environment
Conversation with Sharon Koifman, remote work expert
In this episode I speak with Sharon Koifman the founder and CEO of Distant Job, a specialist recruitment firm working to identify and help clients recruit remote workers and find great jobs for people wanting to work remotely.
Sharon has spent much of his career in the remote work environment. Running his business from his home in Montreal with a workforce spread across many different countries, Sharon has had the opportunity to think deeply about the benefits and challenges of remote work and how to manage organisations comprising remote workers to give every employee the best working environment and opportunity to contribute.
We discussed many different areas of remote work including the need to treat remote work as a real job, managing engagement and supporting remote workers in ways that engages them and provides a stimulating and healthy working experience, all while ensuring the business is effective and successful.
Sharon can be contacted via Distant Job
Working from home during corona virus part 11 – Boundaries
In this episode I consider the need to establish some boundaries in your work from home workplace and how and how frequently we communicate with colleagues. This would include finding a place at home to establish your workplace, how you dress for working from home, putting some sensible boundaries around your time spent working from home and managing the volume of video and phone meetings we are all seeing a surge in.
Working from home during Corona virus part 10 – love it or hate it
With so many in the workforce new to working from home and working remotely to colleagues it is highly likely that there will be a strong percentage who will either be loving or hating the experience. This extreme reaction is not unlike the experience of personnel when they are sent deployed as expats to other cities or countries, something I discussed specifically a while ago in a previous article.
In the expat environment these extremes are referred to as xenophelia (a love for the new) and xenophobia (a distrust or dislike of the new), so could we introduce some new terms into our vocabulary for this love and hate of working from home and working virtually? If so, I would propose virtuophelia (a love of working virtually) and virtuophobia (a dislike/hatred for working virtually)? After all, any new terms like these can’t be any more pervasive than some of the new expressions that are finding their way into our vocabulary, terms like social distancing and flattening the curve.
So , below are a few thoughts as to why someone would love or hate working from home.
Things to love about working from home
Working from home (or at least working outside of a corporate office) has many benefits and reasons to love it:
* Freedom to work more flexible hours – working from home allows the individual to have a lot more flexibility around their working hours and the location they undertake their work. This can be easily seen in those who work from coffee shops, public libraries, airports and hotels.* Working from home enables people to care for family members as part of a flexible working structure – whether caring for dependent children, partners, parents or extended family members, the closer proximity and ability to juggle work hours means it is much easier for those working from home to look after their relatives.* Reduced commute time frees up more personal time – regardless of the length of commute, we all give up a portion of our time to travel to and from our traditional office. Working from home means the commute is quite literally fro the kitchen table to the laptop. Those extra minutes can be used for rest, exercise or any other activity.* Working from home is more inclusive – in theory at least, working from home should make access to work more inclusive for those who otherwise may have been restricted by their ability to access a traditional office for standard working hours. This would include, for example, those caring for young children, elderly relatives or dependent family members, or those with an impediment that may have limited their movement.* Freedom to travel while still earning a living – in the pre COVID-19 world it was relatively common for people to adopt a digital nomad lifestyle, working their way around the world as digitally enabled consultants. During the COVID-19 pandemic this ease of travel is clearly not an easy option, but there are still more options available to people who have adopted this style of working.
Things to hate about working from home
Equally, there are a number of things to hate about working from home:
* It can be very isolating – Working remotely to your team and your colleagues can lead to an ever increasing sense of isolation. You may get to spend more time with your family but from a work sense, you are not able to have spontaneous and organic discussions with colleagues which can lead to a sense of loss of connection.* There are more distractions – Most of us have set up our home environment to include all of the social distractions we use to enjoy our time away from the office. This can include TV,
Working from home during Corona virus part 9 – Balance
Working from home is a balancing act. Each and every one of us are balancing our home and work lives, our family and personal commitments, the education and well being of our family and our commitments to out companies, our obligations to deliver reports on time and our physical health, our relationships with our colleagues and our mental well being. It is not easy and it is not a skill that can be learned from a book, article, training course or classroom. There is no one size fits all. Every one of us must determine for ourselves how we need to balance our time, and we need to do it constantly over time as our situation evolves.
Finding balance over time
At different times in a period of working from home, to maintain balance in life will mean shifting priorities and focus between the various roles and responsibilities we each hold. This will mean changing how you prioritize your work, family, personal and social commitments so that you are able to remain healthy, sustain your family and meet your employers expectations.
Balance when starting to work from home
Working from home in conventional times
When people first start to work from home, if it is in more normal times when they may be working from home alone while colleagues and family continue with their normal lives, with family members leaving the home for work and school and colleagues still gathering in their workplace, the normal pace for working from home is that the home worker would typically work similar hours to their office based colleagues. This matched pace makes it easy for the home worker to maintain a contiguous relationship with work colleagues. Instances of this kind of working from home may be establishing a new office, recovering from a medical procedure, having home renovations undertaken or similar. It is typically for a finite and often relatively short period, and, as it is stand alone, is easiest managed through simply a location displacement.
Another example of this situation may be for the home worker to be caring for a family member such as a child, partner or parent. In this instance, there would be an expectation that the home worker will adjust their working pattern to allow flexibility to provide the care they need while still delivering against agreed work commitments. This situation can be require more adjustment than a more simple working from home undertaking as described in the previous paragraph, but again, generally the rest of the community are still going about their normal lives.
Balance when working from home during the Corona virus pandemic
We are however living in highly unconventional times. Rather than having small numbers of the workforce working from home we now have large portions of many businesses in this situation. It seems that in many organisations, if a task can be performed from home (or from off site), then that is happening, huge portions of many parts of the workforce are now working from home, balancing their lives with those of their partners, children, relatives and colleagues.
The simple times of working from home, which for many meant having a peaceful day in the home office completing a piece of work without interruption are now gone. The working day for many of us is now completely blended with the personal day, family and work rolled into one, a hugely complex, interconnected challenge. Parents are learning how to home school children while holding down a job. Couples are fighting for space and the quiet needed to participate in video calls. Adults are worried about the well being of parents as well as finding the goods and provisions they need to continue their lives. All not knowing when the next change will come,
Working from home during Corona virus part 8 – Sharing
As we all adapt to our new situation of working from home rather than working in offices it can be hard to work out how much to share. Finding a balance between under sharing and over sharing is a challenge in more conventional work times, now that we are all separating from our co-workers, knowing the boundaries becomes even harder.
As we all start to hold video meetings, regardless of the technology, there is an inevitable degree of additional sharing of our personal lives and environments happening. People are joining video calls from their kitchens, lounge rooms, home offices and bedrooms with all kinds of personal content suddenly on show to colleagues. To a degree this is unavoidable and may even help build a sense of community between colleagues, but it is still a good idea to give some thought to the background before showing everything to the world.
This degree of caution is particularly appropriate given the number of times I am seeing pictures of group calls on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, often taken without the consent of all participants and definitely without thought to what is behind the faces on the call. I for one would not be happy to see pictures of the inside of my home being shared on social media without my express permission.
To try to mitigate this, some platforms allow the use of virtual backgrounds which conceal most of the background behind a picture of a beach, city, landmark or sunset, others have functions that blur the background when on a call. Clearly its a personal choice as to your approach, but I would definitely recommend at least considering just what and who else may be in frame on any video call.
Alongside the incidental sharing through video calls, the big challenge for many can be to know how much sharing is enough and how much is too much.
From my research into virtual teams, the establishment of relationships and through them trust were very strong themes behind building and maintaining a strong team culture. In a more conventional virtual team environment this would include sharing small parts of your personal story to help build a sense of rapport with colleagues. However, with so many moving to a work from home situation this concept can be quite new, with relative strangers who may have worked in close proximity for a long time now working from distance there is real value in adopting a similar approach, sharing some parts of your life with your fellow work from home co-workers will help everyone better collaborate.
Knowing where to draw the line can be a difficult question though. Each team and each individual will have their own views on this, and one point of difficulty can occur where one person shares more than a colleague may want to know, this could be more personal information than may be conventional, it could be information on family, friends or co-workers.
Finding the right time to either push back and request a toning down of the sharing or just accepting it as a coping mechanism by the sharer is not an easy decision, but is something that should be carefully considered. Some people who are trying to find their personal balance may appreciate the feedback and adjust their behaviour to reflect it, but for others, sharing and over sharing may be a way to deal with the stress in their lives at the moment, and being asked to keep some of this to themselves may add to their burden and cause them personal difficulties.
Establishing a sharing environment
One possible mechanism to help team members deal with the personal and professional challenges of sudden work from ...
Working from home during the virus outbreak part 7 – adapting
As personnel move increasingly from co-located office working to working from home there will be a gradual adaption to the new way of work. This adaptation will be different for everyone and every business, some will quickly settle into the new way of working while others will struggle with any number of different facets. Much of the pace and direction of this adaptation will be dependent on a combination of the organisation and individual circumstances and demands.
Organisations are working to understand how best to maintain their businesses and workflows now that their personnel are scattered across towns and cities. They are making multiple business critical decisions on a daily basis, in some cases simply to keep their business alive, working in a more fluid and complex environment than many will have ever seen or even conceived.
Moving staff to work from home
One of the many early decisions businesses made will have been to move staff offsite to work from home. This will have involved migrating technology and ensuring staff can access corporate networks but may not have considered changes to workflows or embracing flexible working processes for staff. Once staff are reporting in that they are happily set up with computers and phones at home, and have completed an ergonomic and environment checklist for their home workspace, many businesses will move on to other pressing matters, leaving their staff at home but stressed and confused as they navigate their new workflows.
However, the technology is only the enabler in a virtual team environment. Without adequate technology everything else is very difficult, but technology needs to be supplemented by changes to practices and processes, particularly when organisations are inn this for the relatively long haul. Having a staff member work from home for a day or a week alongside a traditional co-located office staff, as has been the case, previously, typically means that the work from home staff align their hours and workflows with the home office, nice and easy, little to no change required. In this current situation, where many if not most staff of many businesses are working from home, and doing so for an extended period of weeks and possibly months, there is a real need for companies to review their expectations and processes.
Organizational factors for adapting to work from home
As I discussed in the last article in this series, there are a number of factors to consider here.
* Many companies have a formally structured “9 to 5” working day, 5 day a week simply to provide structure to their operations. In many instances employees only perform their duties within this framework because that is the cultural norm and aside from tradition, there are often few reasons that structure needs to apply when personnel are working from home.* Many managers and business leaders are comfortable with these traditional structures as this is what they have always known. Performance measurement and client billing is also often structured around this attendance model, building a self fulfilling and for some virtuous circle.* Employees have built their life styles around this 9 to 5 model. This applies as much on the non working hours as well as the working hours, it applies to family time and how parents will divide caring for children.* Organizational reward structures, overtime and different pay rates for hours worked associated with numbers of hours and hours worked at traditionally non social times are also designed around these conventional business hours.
But, none of that applies now.