Working more hours yet have less time to get our work done. On calls, Zoom, or Teams all day. Rear end feels welded to the chair.
These are some of the symptoms we experience when we (suddenly) shift to remote work. Here are four cures.
Meet LESS Often
When we are together, we communicate more in real time. Despite the usual tons of emails and messages, we meet the hallway or at the coffee maker, have spontaneous meetings at each others’ desk, call ad hoc team meetings, and run all the scheduled meetings.
When we’re suddenly working from home, we tend to cram all that real time communication into video meetings and conference calls. This is fine to get going but it soon leads to less time to do work, burnout, and that ass-merged-with-seat feeling.
The solution is not to extend our workday or have more conference calls. Instead, have fewer meetings and do more asynchronous communication. Asynchronous communication–using specialized team tools or tweaks to standard tools like email, shared documents, and text messaging–gives everyone more freedom to manage their time, get work done, and still collaborate.
To know what real-time meetings you can eliminate, start with the ones you must keep. From Doist, pros in remote work, here are the types things to keep doing in real time:
- Team or project team coordination, status, or kickoff meetings
- Sales, business development, and client support meetings
- Quarterly and annual strategy sessions
- 1-1 meetings between each person and their direct manager
- Town halls and retreats (alas, these will be virtual for a while)
- Socials such as virtual happy hours, teas & coffee breaks, and ad hoc off-topic chats just to connect
- Welcome and on-boarding meetings between new people and several existing team members
Everything else can go async.
Tip: If someone has the habit of asking for too many meetings with you, try requesting that they batch their requests, prepare everything well in advance, then meet less frequently to go quickly through all their items at once. You can also coach them to take on more decision-making talent and authority.
Tip: You can also meet less by reducing the number of people who need to attend meetings. Start by getting really clear what the desired outcomes of the meeting are. If they are responsible for or contributing to those outcomes, invite them. If they are accountable for the outcomes (they ensure it gets done) or only need know what happened, don’t invite them; send a summary afterwards. Allow it to be okay for people to decline meeting invites if they are not the right ones for the meeting. If you don’t agree, ask them to go to the meeting. If you do agree, ask them who they think should be there instead.
Communication and collaboration is vital. The truth is that we don’t need to do as much real time communication as we imagine.
Set a few Standards
To make it work, set a few standards around check-in and turnaround expectations, keeping work topics and threads together, and which tools to use.
Check-In and Turnaround Times: Set the expectation that everyone check in on their projects and threads regularly and not constantly. For some work, a daily scan of what’s new and what needs attention is enough. For other work, you may want to check in once at the start of the day, once around midday, and once before the end of the day.
Have people shut off most notifications. Set up one channel (perhaps using a texting tool like Signal) with notifications set on for emergencies.
Establish the norm that, unless otherwise requested and negotiated, we turn around work (be it new work, edits, or comments) within, say, 24 hours. To start, be explicit: have everyone state by when they would like a turnaround on each piece of work and then confirm/negotiate that timing.
Keep Projects and Threads within them Together and Targeted: Without some structure, we can easily get overwhelmed by emails, messages, and documents. With so much flying around, we get frustrated (“Why did you cc me on this?”), we lose threads (“Wait…what happened to…?”), and people get out of sync (“You decided that offline and the rest of us aren’t in the loop.”).
Instead, set a small set of standards to keep topics separate and the right people in the right conversations.
Choose Your Tools: You can add structure to emails by setting rules for who gets included on the to: and cc: lines and by tailoring the subject line. In group chat tools, replace generic team or topic channels with project specific channels and sub-threads. Use a well-tailored folder structure, team knowledge base, and collaborative document editing tools such as those from Google, Microsoft, Notion, and Dropbox.
If you aren’t already, try using one of the many good workflow collaboration tools such as Twist, Basecamp, or Asana. Beyond apps that do text, voice, and video calls well, these tools do a great job of organizing teamwork.
We don’t need a lot of structure; too much structure can become a distraction. If we add just a bit, we can keep remote communication manageable and visible to all who need to see it.
Block Your Schedule
Many leaders say they are working lots of longer hours. While we can and should do more when handling emergencies or managing big changes such as this one, we cannot afford burnout.
Set and keep to regular starting and stopping times for your work. Put in your calendar and keep blocks of time throughout your work week to plan, think, do your work, have a relaxed lunch, take breaks, socialize at work, and enjoy the rest of your life. When things happen that would interfere with these time blocks (e.g. emergencies or special requests), move these blocks instead of removing them.
Lead your team to do the same.
Some teams will enjoy having everyone block off the same times each week so that, for example, Tuesday mornings are spent doing your work while Tuesday afternoons are spent on project meetings.
We have a lot to deal with in this shift to working from home–and everything else that’s going on. And we can’t afford for you or your team to burnout, good leader. Start small with these cures and build up over several weeks and months. Here are some things you can start right away:
- Look back at your past two weeks. Make a list of meetings and calls that, if you had to do them again, you could do asynchronously.
- Ask for volunteers. Who on your team would like to help shift some meetings to asynchronous work?
- Pick one project or work stream as a pilot test. Manage this one more asynchronously for a couple of weeks to learn what works for your team.
- Based on the pilot, set a reasonable target and plan to reduce the number of meetings, set & refine standards, and roll out helpful tools.
- Regularly engage the team on this topic. Get their current perspective and communicate progress.
In your corner,