Many people in organizations worldwide are experiencing remote working at scale for the first time, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. To many, it feels like an alien culture. The processes, critical workflows, and in-person relationships that define their day-to-day workplace experience are completely transformed. It can be a stressful time for employees. And if the human aspects of this change aren’t considered, drops in employee engagement and productivity can be expected.
It doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, remote working can be a lot better. As a working mom and Cisco Executive, I lead a global development team spread across different countries and in multiple time zones. And I do it almost exclusively from my home office. But I haven’t always. When I first came to Cisco to join the Webex team, I too was used to working in a close-knit, campus-based office environment with an extended commute twice a day. Now, I am fully converted – I get to lead the best team in the world AND I get to spend plenty of time with my husband and my two kids!
“How is that even possible?”, I hear you say. Well, here a few hints and tips and best practices I have picked up along the way, as you get started on your journey to remote working:
1) Be Bold
Don’t get phased by the thought of the change. The first step is to believe it can be done and take your first steps. When you start, you’ll surprise yourself at how much you can achieve in a short amount of time. Cisco can help you and your team with practical resources and processes to help you take the initial steps and help you communicate what happens at each stage with your team members.
2) Use Flexible, Modern Tools
I use Webex Teams to enable me to make and receive voice and video calls, join meetings, send messages to individuals and teams I work with, share files and more. I can use it on my PC/Mac, but I also use it on my smartphone when I am out and about.
Having all these things in one modern app makes it easy to switch between different modes of communication with remote teammates, without having to negotiate which tool to use in several advanced email exchanges. You will quickly discover that email, while good for announcements, is not an efficient way of collaborating in an on-going dialogue with your team. Note: My IT manager is also happy because I’m using a secure, trusted app, and not using unapproved consumer messaging apps to get around the shortfalls.
Here’s a picture of my home office. How do you think about your home office environment? You should treat it the same as going into the office. Is it comfortable to work in? What are you going to wear? No matter the style you choose, or the dress code of your organization, dress for work and feel confident – especially if you’re going to be using video calling. Use the preview feature of your video app or device to familiarize yourself with what others will see and hear. And get a good quality, comfortable headset – could be vital if you have kids, pets or household appliances in the background
4) Get Organized
This isn’t necessarily specific to remote working but nonetheless, there are some things to consider as you work with remote colleagues more often. With Webex Teams, I can interact with individuals 1:1, but I can also set up spaces to collaborate with a group of people on an on-going basis. Further, I can organize related conversations into teams (either actual organizational units or project teams). This is a useful concept, as remote working lends itself to more flexible, agile team assignments, meaning you can be assigned to any number of virtual teams.
In addition – Webex Teams is integrated with third-party Enterprise Content Management solutions – so I can embed and collaborate on files stored in Microsoft OneDrive, Sharepoint or box.
I see all my scheduled meetings in Webex teams. Plus I can schedule or start meetings with members of a space. Or, I can invite people to join me in my personal meeting space at any time.
5) Be Inclusive
The beauty of Webex Teams is that I can also extend my conversations to remote stakeholders outside of Cisco. I can easily add customers, partners, and suppliers, who may also be working at home. If they also have Teams, then I simply connect using their email address. If not, Webex will send them an email so they can download a free version of the app and get going in minutes.
The good news is that I don’t have to wait to set up guest accounts for them! And from the IT team’s perspective, everything is secure – encrypted end-end. At Cisco we have integrated Teams with e-discovery and data loss prevention systems, to monitor and recover any sensitive data that may be shared (inadvertently or otherwise).
6) Trust and Accountability
As you embrace remote working, you’ll need to rethink a few things – do team meetings change, how often and what time should I conduct project “stand-up” meetings and when do I need to check-in with my reports. This is a picture of a recent team meeting of mine. You can see most of the participants are in their home offices.
The key is to establish trust and accountability. Your employees need to know what is expected of them as a professional. In general though you’ll find they want to be accountable for delivering results, especially because you’re no longer physically sat right next to them and can see what they are doing all day.
7) Stay Creative
One of the good things about being together in an office is when you need to huddle together and brainstorm ideas about how to solve a problem or address an opportunity. With Webex Teams, I still run brainstorming sessions over video. And with electronic whiteboarding, anyone with a touch screen can participate from a tablet, a Webex Desk Pro, or a Webex Board (for participants in an office). In fact, you could argue that modern apps like Webex Teams enhance the creative process. We capture our ideas electronically in spaces, meaning that participants who couldn’t attend can easily catch-up and we can pick up where we left off next time.
As you transition to remote working, it’s important to take time to celebrate. Whether that be holding a remote fancy-dress team meeting at Halloween, hosting a remote Quiz night, a virtual happy-hour, or simple lunchtime “virtual watercooler” team spaces there are lots of things we do as a team to recognize each other’s successes and special occasions.
9) Don’t Forget the Little Things That Matter
As a leader of a remote team, I take time to recognize good work to keep people motivated and engaged. This can range from calling out an individual’s achievements in a team meeting or a 1:1, to adding a comment, a GIF, or an emoji reaction to something a team member has posted in a Webex Teams space.
10) Make Time for You
This brings me back to two of the little things that matter most to me. Working at home with video means that most of my team have met my kids on a call at some point. And I’ve met their kids/partners/dogs/cats too! That’s nice, it helps us to understand and know each other as individuals.
When you’re at home in your office all day it’s important to take some time-out. Make sure you take time for short breaks – get up, go for a walk, go to the gym – whatever you need.
For me the greatest thing is that home is just a few steps away, I simply walk through my office door and I’m home. Remote working allows me to be a successful business executive AND a loving parent and family member. It’s not an either/or choice.
I believe it’s the future of work and if you fully embrace it I’m sure you will too.