Tips for working remotely in challenging times

Michelle Greene & Mawulom Nenonene
President Emeritus, Long-Term Stock Exchange & Head of Talent
Mar 20 2020

The coronavirus pandemic is presenting many companies with a crash course in working remotely. From the start, we’ve been a distributed team here at LTSE, and most of us have worked this way for years. The current crisis, which has made sheltering in place and social distancing ubiquitous, has also prompted us to experiment with some new approaches.

So, how do you develop, document, and socialize standards for remote work? Here are some principles and corresponding action items that help us stay productive and connected:

People first. Even in the best of times, working from home can be a challenge for some of us. And these are not the best of times. Some of us are sheltering with and caring for family members whose needs also require flexibility. Or supporting partners or family for whom the response to the pandemic means the loss of work entirely. Many may be negotiating with partners and families about how to share space. Wherever someone sits, we want to reach out and connect.

  • We continually make it clear that people come first right now. The safety and well-being of our team — and those of our suppliers, service providers, and other stakeholders — come before business priorities.

  • We start every call with a check-in on how everyone is doing, personally.

  • We reach out to ask colleagues, customers and suppliers to ask how they’re doing. And when someone wants to talk, we offer to listen.

  • We understand that caregiving may demand different schedules and offer that flexibility to all employees.

  • We have introduced telehealth benefits, including remote access to mental health services, to help our employees.

  • We secured accounts with calm, an app for sleep, meditation and relaxation for interested employees.

Develop norms. Since the start of LTSE, we’ve asked everyone who joins the company to agree to a set of shared norms for working remotely.

  • We use Slack as our main channel for communication.

  • We move conversations that might otherwise take place across the table into Slack so that everyone has the opportunity to contribute.

  • We ask everyone to use emojis to communicate such things as agreement, thanks, and that they’ve read a message.

  • Meeting hosts make sure that employees who participate remotely can weigh in.

  • Everyone who works remotely agrees to turn on their camera, to be seated/standing, and to focus (as opposed to multi-tasking).

  • In the absence of regular office interactions, it is more important than ever to over-communicate. We use Slack to share important information that happens in one-on-one or small group conversations so the whole team is kept informed.

Clear away impediments. Like many workplaces, we’ve long gathered tips for customizing collaboration tools such as Google Suite, Slack, Zoom, and Asana. We also encourage employees to enhance their physical space to maximize at-home productivity.

  • Things like how to customize your Zoom background or expand the number of attendees you can see in Zoom.

  • (Here's a useful guide to the tools themselves.)

  • With the onset of the crisis, we’ve gone a step further and offered assistance to help members of the team with their remote setup, with everyone having access to a stipend to address their own needs.

Create an online community to replace the water cooler. We’ve long hosted online lunch-and-learns and get-togethers.

  • More recently, with everyone stuck at home, we’ve added classes on movement, meditation, Qigong, and other topics that foster feelings of community and well-being. We have “safe-space” time for conversation, and we have continued remote meetings of our Employee Resource Groups. Maintaining those connections matters more than ever.

Kids invited. Nowadays, everyone’s home, which means we can expect to see children, partners, family members, housemates , and pets wander into the Zoom while living their best lives.

  • With the school closures that have accompanied the crisis, we extended an open invitation to parents — many of whom find themselves thrust into the need to balance work at home and while keeping their kids busy — to bring their children to the remote office. One day last week, Mawulom, who had promised his two school-age children some play time, invited his kids to a company-sponsored exercise class held via Zoom.

  • We have also gotten a corporate membership to Outschool to provide online learning for the children of our employees. Our founder, Eric Ries, launched a program to help parents unexpectedly faced with school closures — schoolclosures.org — that is available to all of our employees, as well as all other parents.

We’d love to hear how working remotely is working for you, especially the things that you find to help. Feel free to reach out via email. If the trend toward remote work continues, a growing number of us may be working remotely long after the curve has flattened for good.

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