2 weeks in: what we’ve learned about remote work

In the two weeks since our team here in the Puget Sound moved to remote work, the fight against COVID-19 has intensified. Many people in countries across the world are simply staying home. And with schools, churches, businesses, and offices closed, we are discovering what it’s really like to be home with our families at all times, while also trying to stay productive and connected to our work teams. There is so much to learn. Our current situation has compelled my team to take a new look at everything from scheduling meetings to the ways we manage our teams, and I have heard from many customers doing the same. I wanted to share with you some of the important things we have discovered so far as a completely remote team. I hope you’ll find these lessons helpful as you navigate your own experiences.

A quick note before we dive in: We have been using this space to share tips, customer stories, and information throughout the COVID-19 outbreak. This post is a follow-up to one we shared last week detailing tips for moving to remote work with Microsoft Teams. We’ve also offered guidance on moving live events online—with details on using Microsoft tools as well as insights from our events leader at Microsoft. And we’ve shared advice for IT departments and CISOs from leaders in those areas as well. We’ll continue to post more remote-work content here in the days to come, so please check back often. Okay, on to our lessons from the last two weeks.

1. Share work from home guidance

Most organizations have training manuals for how employees should navigate their office environment. When we moved to remote work, we quickly realized that employees need guidance for this type of work as well. So many of us are experiencing remote work for the first time, and with very little time to prepare for the change. Our team has questions: How do you set up a space where you can focus? How do you stay connected when you can’t meet face-to-face? Why does it feel like it’s never the right moment to take a break? Add in the challenge of kids or other dependent family members at home—a reality for many of us during this outbreak—and it’s inevitable that some employees will struggle.

To address this need, last week we distributed a comprehensive work-from-home guide to employees. We thought you might find it useful, so we created a customer version for you to share with your employees as you see fit. It’s full of concrete tips on everything from setting up your physical and virtual workstations to best practices for communicating availability to teammates.

2. Manage back-to-back meetings

In the office, back-to-back meetings have natural pauses between them. There’s the walk down the hallway, those first few moments at the table when you wait for everyone to arrive, and the casual conversation that happens as teammates greet one another and quickly catch up. Often, we barely notice these little breathers as we move through our work week. Then we switch to remote work and realize just how much we needed them to punctuate the rat-a-tat pace of a multi-meeting day.

How can you make sure you and your team meet as often as you need to, but are able to take a break in between? We are encouraging employees to schedule meetings to conclude five minutes before the end of the hour or half hour. This shortens your time together slightly but goes a long way towards avoiding potential burnout from uninterrupted back-to-backs.

3. Create space for people to disconnect

When we’re working in the world, we find daily ways to disconnect, often without having to try. Making dinner for your family, meeting friends at an after-work exercise class, or a daily zone-out on the bus ride home help us separate from the events of the day so we can get ready for the next one. Even in the best of circumstances, disconnecting when you work remotely can be a challenge. To help our employees, we’ve started offering virtual meditation sessions they can join when they need a moment to unwind from work.

If you opt to do the same, here are a few practical tips to share with employees new to online meditation classes. First, find a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted. Next, set your microphone to mute so others can enjoy the silence. And finally, use your camera to watch the session leader for guidance on breathing techniques. Once you feel like you’ve got those down, you can switch off your camera to fully focus on calming your mind.

4. Continue driving team culture

From all-hands meetings to celebrating small milestones, healthy team cultures depend on frequent get-togethers. With so many of us moving suddenly to remote work, it’s tempting to switch into “essentials only” mode, postponing important events and fun team moments alike until we can get back to normal.

We’ve found that whenever possible, it’s best to keep building team culture even when you need to build it apart. Scheduled a birthday party for a teammate? Jump into a Teams meeting and fire up the HBD GIFs. Big onsite sales conference coming up? Start figuring out how to hold it virtually instead. And if it’s time for your quarterly team-building off-site, just go for it. Your team will be more than ready to share ideas and connect. The get-togethers that help drive team culture may seem challenging to pull off remotely at first, but it’s worth the extra effort to keep everyone connected and moving forward.

5. Practice key management skills

Employees rely on their managers to check in, coach them through changes, and show curiosity to help them problem-solve and create. As your team navigates a whole new way of working—while also navigating a global health crisis—they need your support as a manager more than ever. But how can you manage successfully when you’re working apart?

We share what we’ve learned about managing remotely in the work-from-home guide. This includes reinforcing inclusion, checking in often, and coaching your teammates to help discover their own best practices for remote work. Every employee faces unique challenges right now, and every employee will approach this situation differently. As managers, it’s so important to try to understand and react to their individual needs as much as possible.

These lessons reflect some of our early takeaways after two weeks of remote learning. From scheduling meetings to allow for breathers to effectively managing remote teams, we’re discovering so much about this new way to work. I am certain that these lessons will have lasting value beyond the COVID-19 outbreak, as organizations everywhere continue to prioritize remote work. But we want to hear about what you and your team are thinking about and learning, too. Please join the conversation in our Enabling Remote Work Community.