At the Joxel Group, our team is comprised of skilled consultants that collaborate with clients locally and nationwide. Our consultants assist our clients with Electronic Health Record implementations, EHR optimizations, process improvement, custom development and/or specialized IT support.
With the rapid increase of COVID-19 cases in the United States, our company quickly cancelled all travel, closed our office locations and transitioned all employees to telecommuting. Although we made these decisions quickly, they were easy decisions.
Plain and simple, the safety of our clients, employees and communities we serve comes first.
As consultants, we already had the infrastructure for telecommuting in place and since we often leverage technology to conduct meetings, provide training, etc. there has been little to no impact to our clients.
So, at this point you’re likely asking, “How has telecommuting really impacted you?”
Although our consultants are often in and out of the office, our company and client success are directly related to our team’s cohesive collaboration. You’re probably thinking, “what does that mean?” At Joxel, we’re not just co-workers, we are family. We know when Nicki’s son has a basketball game or when Corey’s dog had a big accident that morning and we know that Yancy calls boots, “bootshoes”. Some people may believe this type of conversation does not belong in the workplace.
I can tell you firsthand that our personal relationships have fueled our team’s open communication, trust and collaboration. Although we have the flexibility to work remotely, we want to be in the office. Being in different locations; we can’t throw out a random question and get an answer. We can’t talk an idea out loud and have the team help you come to a solution. We can’t communally estimate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.
This is the first time in our company’s history that all employees are working from different locations and, as the leader of our company, this is the first time I have had to remotely lead my team. My first instinct was to turn to Google for help; I searched for articles on leading a remote team and tips for telecommuting. The articles I found gave me obvious tips such as: set up an office, be available, etc.
Since our team is comprised of experienced consultants that thrive in collaboration, I reached out to two of my consultants and asked for their recommendations. They quickly agreed, we scheduled a remote meeting leveraging Microsoft Teams and we came up with the following tips for managing a team remotely and working remotely. I hope you enjoy!
Managing a Remote Team
- Schedule a stand-up meeting every morning. Our team meets every morning for 30 minutes; if I’m going to be honest, the first 5 minutes is usually team banter. For example, this morning Yancy activated the video on his computer so everyone could see his smiling face while he danced. Once the actual meeting begins, we do a round robin and each team member discusses what they accomplished yesterday and what they are hoping to complete that day. This provides accountability and allows the team to talk through new task assignments, roadblocks, etc.
- Allow flexibility and most importantly, set realistic measurable expectations. Due to COVID-19 many employees (myself included) have kids at home and they always need something. So, expecting everyone to be available at a moment’s notice 8am – 4:30pm or defining strict work hours is unfair. I have set the following expectations with my team:
- Respond to all emails related to a client within 24 hours
- Complete assigned tasks on time
- If I contact them and they are not available, respond in a reasonable amount of time.
- Trust your employees. Simply stated, if you don’t trust your employees, remote working will never work.
- Have fun & be creative! One day one of working from home, I missed the office banter (conversation with my dog was just not the same) so I created a message group that allowed us to quickly message one another (and collaborate of course!). As soon as the group was created, everyone was chatting and using GIF’s – it was a great distraction. In addition, on a biweekly basis we meet as a team and discuss all active projects. To comply with social distancing, this meeting will be held via phone call and to add a little fun to it, everyone will be calling in via video and the last part of our meeting will be a virtual happy hour (BYOB of course!).
Working from Home
- Dedicate a work space and set expectations for other around you. With everyone unexpectedly moving to telecommuting, it’s highly unlikely you have a dedicated home office – so just find a space to set up your desk similarly to your office space. Try to find a location in your house that is not in your direct line of view when you’re relaxing and watching TV; you don’t want your work staring at you. If you have others at home with you, set expectations. Nicki & Corey both explained that they notify their kids when they have meetings so they know they cannot be interrupted unless the house is on fire. Or the kids are.
- Set a schedule but be flexible. Set a general time you are going to start and end work. This will help for an easy transition back to the office. But, if you have a headache or you just want to take an additional 30 minutes lying in bed, do it.
- Define a plan. At the end of the day, I plan my tasks for the next day, so I have a clear plan for tomorrow. If you are not Type A personality or if you have a leader that throws new tasks at you throughout the day, daily planning may be difficult. So, plan your tasks on a weekly basis so it allows for more flexibility.
- Be Transparent. Although working from home is almost a requirement, it is still a benefit. If you don’t have enough assignments, let your leader know or offer to take PTO.
- Stay consistent with your work style. If you listen to music at work, listen to it at home. If you pack a lunch, pack a lunch at home.
- Stay Active. When you are in the office, you are naturally more active. Walking to a team members desk, conference room or to and from the car. I can tell you firsthand it is so easy to not move when you are working from home. The first day, I had a total of 972 steps for the day! To stay active, we recommend setting a timer to remind you to get up and walk around, if you have headphones, walk around during meetings or take a walk during your break.
- Take Breaks. Just because you are at home, you still need to take breaks to rest your brain. I often get hyper-focused when I am working so I often forget to take breaks (outside of using the bathroom). To remedy this, I’ve built breaks into my calendar. Just be sure to take breaks for your mental health!
- Imaginary Worker. Working from home with a spouse can prove to be a strain on even the most resilient couples. Fighting due to neglected chores and work-related quirks, disagreements on meals or background noise; the list goes on. Rather than argue with one another, blame one another, why not create an imaginary coworker to gossip about and apply blame to, rather than one another? Choose an oddball name, something sure to elicit a smile when spoken, and toss all irritation at this make-believe fellow employee. It’s a wonderful way to both express expectations and problems without directly confronting one another as well to make light of the anxiety and stress we all inevitably feel.
Surviving working from home with children…
In our nation’s current situation, we are not only working at home with our children, but we are serving as a pseudo teacher. Besides a big glass of wine at the end of the day or locking your children in the closet, we have a few additional tips:
- Prepare your kids for the next day. Neither Corey, Nicki nor I are talking about color coded schedules; our recommendations are way simpler than that! From a schoolwork perspective, discuss what they need to complete. Put a plan in place; if they have questions and you’re busy, what should they do? Set up meals and snacks. Corey sets up a location in the kitchen for all the snacks, food and beverages so that their kids can serve themselves. My son is older, so I have told him what to have for lunch and even left instructions on how to cook a pizza on his own. Set clear expectations on TV and video games. My son texts me a picture of his assignments; once this is completed, he can play video games and/or watch TV. Make sure electronics are charged the night before, this will prevent you running around the house looking for a charger during a meeting or child tapping you on the shoulder because they are bored.
- Keep them active! We are so focused on keeping them busy and getting their schoolwork done, it easy to forget they no longer have gym. So be sure to assign them a task that requires them to be active! My son is required to take his dog for a 30-minute walk every day, Corey’s daughter gets to pick up dog doo, Nicki’s children are extremely competitive with one another and enjoy a quick sprint outside or a few laps around the block. Of course, there’s usually a pretty nice prize for the winner.
- Include your kids in your work. If your work allows for it, take the opportunity to show your kids what you do every day. How many kids have no idea what their parents do every day? My son thinks I am out of the house 8 hours a day to play on the computer, talk a lot and boss people around. Since working at home, Nicki has taken the opportunity to have her kids sit with her to see what she does every day. This is an excellent opportunity to impress upon kids that your responsibilities as an adult extend beyond just parenting; hopefully this creates an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding to further ease working and schooling from home.
The consensus among our team seems to be that while working from home as an optional luxury is perfectly wonderful, working from home as a requirement? Not nearly so amazing. Be that as it may, it’s our life for now, and one that matches many others around the world at large. We are existing simultaneously as employees and team members, parents and babysitters. Teachers and caretakers. Spouses and partners or the even more difficult solo route. Loneliness and inefficient behaviors are a constant bedfellow and to best combat it we must all become MacGyvers of the WFH ethos. These are our tips and tricks, but this list is by no means exhaustive; our hope is that this and future blogs brings enlightenment and laughter and knowledge and perhaps, like-minded thinking helps further bind us all together and lend us strength.