Tips to get the best from your team when working remotely

Working remotely is here to stay and it brings with it a mix of opportunities and challenges. It means saving time and money on commuting, being home to meet the kids from school and with the right leadership and culture, the flexibility to work at the time of day when you’re at your best.

There’s a definite downside though.

Boundaries between home and work are easily blurred when your desk is the kitchen table. It can be difficult to switch off when work and home are the same places. Many of us can feel that life is all work with no space to really switch off, and this plays havoc with our personal life and our wellbeing.

If you don’t have the right leadership and culture, that genuinely allows you the flexibility to choose when you work and when you take time away from your desk to recharge, working from home can take it’s toll.

Life might feel more uncertain than usual right now. Human beings crave certainty and want to feel safe. When we don’t feel safe, our anxiety and stress levels rise and fear takes over.

I see fear playing out in different ways in pandemic working life. Some of the behaviours that might feel manageable in an office become unmanageable when working from home on your own without regular in person contact.

Micro management – it can make us feel in control and reduce the anxiety associated with uncertainty when we micro manage. However if you’ve ever been micro managed you’ll know that it feels horrible. You feel like you’re not trusted. It can knock your confidence and make you feel constantly on edge. No one does their best work in a constant state of edginess.

Always working – feeling like we have to be at our desk all the time to show we’re working. Fearing that if we’re not perceived to be working really hard that we’ll be at the top of the list when it comes to redundancies.

A friend who works in people development was telling me about an email they sent to all employees to tackle the problem that many people were feeling. Employees felt that they had to work all the hours. Their email highlighted that working hours were 9-5 Monday to Friday and there was no requirement for people to be working weekends. It highlighted email etiquette of not sending emails out of hours and if you did receive an out of hours email not feeling the need to respond. They forgot themselves and sent the email on a Saturday night.

Rising stress and anxiety – many people find working from home isolating and stressful. When we’re feeling stressed out or anxious we go into fight, flight or freeze mode. We can’t think straight. It’s often described as a feeling of ‘brain fog’ which leaves us incapable of focusing on any one thing for long.

How to overcome fears and have a happier life when working remotely

Trust your people that when working remotely that they’re doing their best. If you don’t trust your people – the problem isn’t that you’re all working remotely, the problem is lack of trust.

Everyone is different – in terms of what support they need when working from home and when they do their best work. Have an individual chat with each person in your team to understand what they need from you to work from home successfully.

Give permission to not have to be at a desk from 9am – 5pm. Especially right now in the UK with less hours of daylight. Is there a reason not to work early in the morning, have a chunk of time off in the day in the daylight and finish up later in the afternoon or evening? As long as the work is done does it matter when or, on the topic of micro management, how?

Emails – if people are working flexible hours it might not be about not sending emails outside of core hours but more around communication and expectations. For example, if you choose to work in the morning, take the afternoon off and work again in the evening you’ll likely be sending emails after 5pm. It’s more about letting people know that you don’t expect a reply until they are working again.

It’s not just about work – allow time for those casual chats that build relationships. For example, allow some time at the beginning of a meeting for informal chats, or build in travel time to Zoom meetings to allow for human conversations.

Lead by example – model the behaviour you want to see in your team. Help people find heir way. Remember everyone is likely to struggle at some point when working from home. Be kind, look for signs of stress (like if someone says they have ‘brain fog’) and help if you can.

If managing the current uncertainty is something you’re grappling with, join me and Caroline Doran, founder at Deliver Grow for a webinar on Thursday 26 November. We’ll be discussing practical tips to help you manage uncertainty – and it’s also your opportunity to ask your specific questions. Here’s the link to sign up. Places are limited so do sign up today.

Is working from home affecting your creativity?

At the start of the year, if you were used to working in an office, working from home was a bit of a novelty.

As time’s gone on we’ve learned and adapted.

Flexible and remote working is here to stay and it brings with it a mix of opportunities and challenges. It means saving time and money on commuting, being home to meet the kids from school and with the right leadership and culture, it should provide you with the flexibility to work at the times of day when you’re at your best.

There’s a definite downside though. Flexible and remote working means that we miss out on the social part of working in an office, learning from others and bouncing ideas around. It can also be hard to know how colleagues are really doing if we can’t pick up on visual and non-verbal cues, if we can’t just casually say ‘hello’ as we’re passing their desk or hear about what’s going on for them over a cuppa.

Boundaries between home and work are easily blurred when your desk is the kitchen table. It can be difficult to switch off when work and home are the same places. To un-merge work and home life I’m an advocate of the fake commute – a journey signalling the start and end of the working day. Whether it’s just round the block, or longer it doesn’t matter. It’s your signal to start and stop work, which is going to be even more important in the future as working from home is here to stay.

Is working from home affecting your creativity?

I believe that one of the downsides of flexible and remote working is that learning and creativity will take a knock. It’s often those casual conversations while we’re waiting for the kettle to boil, the small talk before a meeting starts or the chance conversations that we have in passing that build strong working relationships, encourage learning, and spark creativity.

Creativity is often sparked by curious and random conversations and in my experience it’s less easy to have those sorts of accidental conversations on Zoom. We don’t pick up on nuances in the same way, informal chats with colleagues are less common and as a result so are the connections that form new thinking and the exchange of ideas.

When working remotely or from home we need to be more deliberate about creating those moments when creativity can flourish.

3 tips to help foster creativity when working flexibly or remotely

  • Build travelling time to your Zoom meetings. Allow time in your agenda at the beginning for the casual chat.
  • Have walk and talk meetings. Get up and moving about. If its raining walk about inside, it doesn’t matter where you go, just get away from your desk and from your screen.
  • Flex your curiosity. Go and learn something outside of your working life; a new skill, read a book, visit a gallery, (yes watching something different on Netflix does count….and I urge you to step away from a screen if you can) go metal detecting, foraging or bird spotting. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as you’re interested in it and you’re learning something new.

If you’d like some help to keep creativity thriving in your team get in touch.

You could also join them up to the Lucidity Network. They’ll get learning and connected to some brilliant people who can motivate, support and inspire them. There’s more information about the Lucidity Network here. If you’d like to join your team, get in touch for a group discount.

My top 3 tips to help you be happy and successful at work

For the vast majority of people, being successful and happy at work relies on the strength of the relationships with our colleagues, managers, clients and customers. Research shows that we get results faster when we know, like and trust people. We can’t fake that. We earn it. Whether we work in the same location or are working virtually here’s my 3 tips to build strong relationships.

Ask open questions

Ask people about them (what’s your favourite topic? Yep – you got it ‘you’). Listen carefully to their response. Ask them more open questions about their answers. Listen again. Find things in common. Sounds obvious I know, but when we’re busy or stressed out, simple things like asking and listening can easily get forgotten.

For example, a great taste in shoes, knowledge of a local area, a football club. It doesn’t have to be work related; you’re looking for any topic where there’s a common interest.

We get results faster when we know, like and trust other people. And building genuine rapport about common interests builds trust.

Have a give first attitude

Whether it’s online or face to face, go to your meeting or networking event with the mindset of helping others; how can you add value to conversations? Can you help to unpick other people’s problems and be a go-to person when others need help?

Be the person that gives first, invests in relationships, asks and receives and builds on others ideas and conversations. Make ‘How can I help?’ one of your most used questions.

Take an improv class

I’ve saved my most valuable (and scary) tip for the last in this list.

I took improv classes a few years ago, because I wanted to challenge myself to step outside of my comfort zone. I wanted to be better at thinking in the moment when I was presenting. I didn’t want to be afraid of being asked something that I couldn’t answer. It was scary and also one of the best things I’ve ever done. I use so much of the rules of improv in my working life.

We’re all guilty of over thinking and over complicating things. Many awkward or fractious work situations involve some over thinking or over complication at some point. This overthinking is often the result of fear. Improv forces you to be in the moment. Instead of thinking about yourself, you have to spend all your energy on listening, building on what others have said and making sure the other people on stage with you look good. And in turn, they do the same for you.

You can’t prepare or overthink because it all happens in the moment. If it all goes wrong, it doesn’t matter. No one is judging. You get to laugh at yourself.

The only failure in improv is not stepping up and giving it a go. You could argue that is also true of life and work.

What are you not giving a go because of fear?

A couple of years ago I set up the Lucidity Network – it’s a place to get training, support and connections. It’s a safe space to build your confidence and overcome the fears that are holding you back. It’s a network designed  to help you be happy and successful at work.

If you’d like more success and happiness at work, then  join a network of friendly, non judgmental, successful people who are not afraid to reach out for help or admit that they don’t know what to do, or feel in control 100% of the time. Check out the Lucidity Network today.

Leading a virtual team: My five key lessons to build collaboration and trust

A guest blog by Andy Punter.

I was managing innovation projects at Cancer Research UK with a virtual team long before lockdown forced us out of our offices and onto our kitchen tables. I’ve learnt loads about remote leadership, collaboration, trust and how to get to best from people, some of which I thought might be worth sharing. Here are my five key lessons.

1. Remote working is its own thing

When we work remotely we are not simply ‘working from home’. Remote or ‘virtual team’ working as a long-term discipline brings its own benefits and challenges and they are quite distinct from being office based.

If you’re managing remote based teams it is important to recognise that and give your team the permission to flex their working style to suit them. I personally, work better early in the day so it is not uncommon for me to start around 7.30am to focus on ‘deep focus’ tasks. Then I schedule calls and meetings for the afternoons when perhaps my concentration levels start to dip. I often work in a nearby café or hotdesking site when I feel the need to be around different people. (If you’re reading this in lockdown, I appreciate this might not be possible, but even changing where you sit can make a different to your mindset.) As a remote manager, it is important to let your teams know that you recognise that their day is different to an office-based worker and so their work pattern can be as well.

 2. Get to know each other

If you’re working in really close proximity everyday with someone you will inevitably learn their tics and habits; and without really noticing you will come to understand how they think and work. If, however, you only see that person every few weeks that process can take much longer.

When you work with remote teams it’s just as important to understand the people you work with (perhaps even more so) but you must work a bit harder on it. Whenever we kick off a new project, we do an exercise called a *‘team canvas’ where everyone feeds into defining the team’s core purpose, what they need to achieve it (both in practical and cultural terms) and what tools we are going to use to get there. This helps speed things up but then as a manager a big part of your role is to ensure those things are implemented and maintained.

3. Collaboration is king

One thing that often holds organisations back from embracing remote working is the impact on collaboration when everyone is spread out. I am pleased to report that if you are organised, structured and use the right tools then there is nothing you cannot do. We use Slack/Teams, Trello and Mural to plan our work and collaborate remotely, but more importantly we make judicious use of video chats to stay in touch. One very important thing to note though – even if just one of you is remote, then ALL of you must be too. There is nothing worse than being the lone voice on a conference call when everyone else is in the room.

4. Social time

As a rule, we all tend to do better work when we enjoy working with our colleagues; so how do you keep everyone engaged when you can’t spontaneously take everyone to lunch whenever you fancy? We have a few different strategies.

  • We have a weekly video chat at the start of each week where there is no agenda and the only topic off limits is work. This helps to keep everyone in touch and fosters a social atmosphere.
  • Team Spotify playlist – hands up, this has one been a mixed bag and jury is out on how much listening time each week it gets. But, it has been really fun to learn about everyone’s music preferences; you learn a surprising amount about someone when you discover that their number one jam is the Greatest Showman Soundtrack.
  • No conference calls! If there’s more than one person on a call, then make it a video call! I really can’t stress how valuable this has been to us. You get the benefit of reading body language and it is just a much, much nicer way to work. When everyone has access to video chat I can’t really think of a good reason for conference calls.
  • Get a good instant message client – we use Slack/Teams and having a forum to share quick links, Gifs and ideas without the formality of email has been a godsend.
  • Make really good use of your face time. We typically get together once a month in person, and as we emerge from lockdown it will be possible to meet face to face again. We really make a conscious effort to make sure there is space on the agenda for the conversation to wander a bit if needed. It may feel as though the discussion can get unfocused at times however, fostering team togetherness takes priority over everything else.

5. Discipline and Trust

To the untrained eye it might look like it’s all video coffees (and the occasional video pint) and Spotify playlists, but it is important to point out that all of those things exist to make the work better. As a manager you can’t simply lay out the ways of working to your team. Ideally, it should all come from them. The only way it works is if everyone buys into it. If someone from the team starts regularly skipping social calls etc, then you need to question if it’s worthwhile and achieving the goal. Although you are using creative tools and practices, there has be quite strict etiquette and agreed rules of use to make them work. The role of the manager is to support these and help make sure they are working for everyone.

And finally, my number one learning since working with a nationally spread, remote virtual team is that there is nothing you cannot do that office-based workers can and given the choice, I am not sure I can see myself working in an office environment again any time soon.

Andy Punter is a relationship fundraiser working at Cancer Research UK. Living in Sunny Devon, his twin passions are effective remote working and helping a virtual team innovate more effectively by putting the supporter at the heart of each and every decision.

Do you have Zoom fatigue?

Zoom fatigue

A guest blog by Jo Gibney.

I’d have thought, being more of an introvert than an extrovert, that I’d be thriving during lockdown. And yet, after almost four weeks (hello asthma!) of being home, three with my husband (who is also working from home), and two with the cat – I am not thriving. I have Zoom fatigue. 

Something shifted, I think just before the UK officially went into lockdown. When we started talking about social distancing and self isolation. We collectively – and rightly – decided we needed to keep in touch. And suddenly everyone and their parents had a Zoom* account (*other video conferencing services available).

And so we chat, during working hours, and with our families at evenings and weekends. We’re all worried about one another, so we’re checking in more often. We’re having virtual coffees, virtual lunches (hello Gary Gower!), virtual dinners and pub quizzes, as well as meetings and catch ups, with our teams, managers and peers.

And there’s so much great content being produced. Free webinars, yoga, meditations – you name it, it’s probably on Zoom. 

I’ve had some great moments. From a budgie landing on someone’s head, meeting new cats and dogs, colleagues’ kids floating past, and the time I had a meeting with someone on their cross trainer. We are well and truly bringing our whole selves to work. We can’t not! 

I don’t think I’ve had as much interaction with people, ever! The biggest challenge I find with video calls is, they’re more intense, and harder to briefly zone out of. And personally, we’re using video calls to facilitate networking for our members, and record peer learning webcasts, and tech support really shouldn’t have a nap part way through a recording! 

So here I am. I’ve got Zoom fatigue. I end some days feeling like I’ve been at a day long conference, yet  I’ve never left the flat. And I know I’m not the only one. I believe that even the most extraverted extroverts are going to feel it at some point. 

So seeing as this situation is likely to continue for a while, how can we deal with Zoom fatigue? I have three suggestions that could help. 

1. Ban video chats for a day. I don’t mean on a weekend, I mean take a work day off from video calls. I did it last week, and it gave me the boost I needed. It’s no different to having a meeting-free day. But his is probably harder to protect. As we adjust and deal with the crises caused by lockdown, there will initially be an expectation that we’re available for calls whenever. After all, it’s not like you can go anywhere. So be bold and block out a day where you can do deep work, and say no to video calls. 

2. Be clear with your boundaries. Because we’re all stuck indoors, and with some of our colleagues juggling caring responsibilities and working unusual hours, there’s a risk you could get drawn into working longer hours. Plan your working from home day and set a time where you say no more work (or at least no more video calls). The buzz of energy from a later call definitely impacts how well I can relax in the evenings. Maybe have a ‘no Zoom after 6pm’ rule. Or perhaps you need this rule in your personal life, so why not have a night in, free from video chats? 

3. Pace yourself. On a Lucidity Network Zoom (!) the other day, I was reminded that this is a marathon not a sprint. We’re in this for the long haul, and if we overdo things now, we’re going to burn our quickly. So, like face-to-face meetings, question why you’ve been invited, ask for an agenda, and understand what expectations there are of you as part of the call. Don’t say yes to every video call just because you can, or because you want to catch up with colleagues. Instead, be mindful about which calls you say yes to. And if you want to catch up with your colleagues, instead set up a short virtual coffee, or go old school with a phone call, where you can just chat, rather than extend an existing meeting 

I don’t want to give the impression that I hate Zoom. Not at all! It is being used in some great ways, and it helps us have a visual connection to others. Lucidity Network weekly lunches with Lucy and her dog Gary are a great example of social and unpressured calls that you can go to if you feel like chatting and decline if you need some quiet time. 

But like everything, it needs to be in moderation. Currently the sheer volume of connection is overwhelming, particularly as many of us are still adjusting to life indoors.

I know I that by following these suggestions, I will settle into a more sensible routine, and my Zoom fatigue with reduce. Your thoughts are welcome. 

Jo Gibney is Head of Business Development at the Association of Volunteer Managers, a membership organisation for anyone who works with volunteers across all sectors. She is also a bit of an introvert.