Limiting the spread of COVID-19, a disease caused by a novel strain of coronavirus, has become a group effort of global magnitude. As health care professionals work long shifts on the frontlines, the general public has been encouraged — or in some cases required — to stay home. As a result, remote work has transitioned from perk to necessity.
But how do you make working at home actually work for you — and your team?
Christian Ponce is the Director of Operational Transformation at LogMeIn, a Boston-based company that provides collaboration and connectivity software. One of the company’s best-known products, GoToMeeting, allows teams to convene virtually. Ponce previously ran the company’s innovation group, as Director of Applied Innovation.
During a video call with InnoLead, Ponce shared seven tips to help teams effectively innovate from home, stay connected with each other, and balance their jobs and personal lives.
Do what you can to carve out a separate workspace. Taking a comfortable seat on the couch or answering emails with the TV on may seem appealing, but Christian Ponce recommends that people resist the temptation.
“[If] you aren’t restricted [by the size of your space]…having a dedicated space to work in, that you can separate from [your] life, makes all the difference,” Ponce says. “When you’re working at the kitchen table or on the couch, you start blending your life, and you never know when to turn [work] off or turn it on.” Ponce’s dedicated home workspace includes his professional photography gear and an array of model cars constructed from Legos.
Be flexible about meeting times, and expect some distractions. “When everybody’s remote, [and] people have their kids at home…identifying a time that’s going to actually work where people can be engaged [in meetings] is paramount,” he says. “Stuff is going to happen: Your dog runs into the frame [or] your kids. Your spouse or partner might need you. [Acknowledge] that, ‘No, it’s not a normal environment,’ and [let] people feel okay with that.”
Turn the camera on. According to Ponce, videoconferencing can help teams communicate more effectively than audio-only remote meetings. “For most people, being on camera feels really weird… But I promise you, the stuff that you get from being on camera — [like] body language — is going to make the conversation so much better,” he says. “You won’t have the, ‘Oh, I spoke over you. … Oh, who goes, now?'”
Keep your team meetings engaging. Ponce recommends that leaders provide both an agenda and activities to help keep teams focused during meetings. “[Use] any kind of tool that…lets people have something to do in the meeting, and not just sit back and listen,” he says. “Even when…we were all in offices, in a meeting where you’re just sitting back and listening, it’s very easy to just start zoning off.” Ponce points to online platforms like Google Drive, Trello, and Mural that allow teams to contribute in real-time to the same document. (See our list of a dozen tools for real-time team collaboration.)
Find ways to prototype at home. While innovators may not have access to makerspaces or labs, Ponce says that teams should continue their prototyping efforts. While the materials may be low-tech, visual representations can help teams communicate their efforts. On the video call, Ponce signals to the Legos behind him: “I can build a model with Legos that helps you understand what I’m trying to get across, and then you might be able to take it from there and code it because that’s your skillset.”
Not every video chat has to be work-related. Some of the best ideas at big companies come from organic conversations around the watercooler. Creating opportunities for your team to socialize and stay connected can encourage that type of creativity. “[We have] this 15-minute check in at the end of the day, where we all log into a video chat…and we’re shooting the breeze…” Ponce recommends creating a channel on Slack, an instant messaging platform, or a text chain where employees can casually converse. At LogMeIn, team members can also participate in meditation sessions over video chat, or a virtual happy hour called “Drinking Alone Together.”
Set healthy boundaries. Working remotely may lead to unclear hours and a fuzzy boundary between work and home life. “Just remember to get up and walk outside. I know we can’t go that far, but walk away from your desk,” Ponce says. “You are working from home, but try to set some limits that let you remember…that this is still your home, not your workplace.”