Featured image depicting COVID-19: More principles for successful remote work

COVID-19: More principles for successful remote work

Virtual working is the new normal and comes with a whole host of new challenges as we isolate and find ways to manage our lives.

By JMJ  |  April 14, 2020

We are cast into unprecedented times. Virtual working is the new normal and with it comes a whole host of new challenges as we isolate and find ways to manage our lives. In my previous blog titled, “Five Principles to Working Remotely and Effective Meeting Preparation,” I provided suggestions on navigating the virtual meeting world. Effective key points to remember are there are no rules, so micro-experiment, actively guard against poor decision making, increase opportunities for human connection, and lastly, be kind and compassionate. I’d like to continue with a follow-up to my first blog post, to share ways for you to pre-plan and engage in successful remote work.

Here are some pre-meeting recommendations to consider:

  • Are the meeting purpose and its intended outcomes clear? As such, is the meeting needed? In the midst of so much uncertainty, ambiguity, and distraction, stating these elements before the meeting can help inform participants’ attention and competing commitments.
  • As meeting host, ensure you’re providing a break between your meeting and the likely next meeting (e.g. ending 10 minutes before the hour is a helpful practice) so that people can transition well or take care of any urgent requests.
  • Create pre-online meeting “chit chat” opportunities to help regenerate and maintain informal relationships that are usually done when we are meeting in person while we wait for people to enter the room.
  • As the meeting host or participant, create a little extra empathy and grace.In any given moment, participants attention and actual physical presence can shift based on the need to support multiple roles in and out of the work environment.
  • Keep check-ins! Reinforce, re-establish, and provide time for the use of meeting check-ins to have an opportunity to hear how people are doing before getting right into business-as-usual, intense or difficult conversations…so context can be set. Everyone is going through difficult times either because they know someone who is struggling, or they are struggling themselves to process everything that is going on right now.
  • What’s happening in the background? Be aware of the home-working situation for your people…kids, dogs, others working from home spouses or family members, which make focusing difficult…acknowledge these challenges and provide room for people to pause or drop off and rejoin to address their situation.
  • Virtual Meeting “covenants”: Establish upfront covenants for your calls such as commitment to stay engaged, limit multi-tasking, as if you are in an actual room together. Don’t do virtually in a meeting what you wouldn’t do in person, etc. Give people a chance to create their own.

During your meetings, you can engage participants if you take stock of the following recommendations, and don’t be afraid to mix it up:

  • Create inclusive virtual conversations: We need to foster inclusion in a virtual world now more than ever. Provide a level of unprecedented deep listening and awareness for people you cannot see. Reach out to those who aren’t speaking or engaging to ensure they have time to have their voice heard. Engage the silent participants and modulate “perpetual talkers”. How can you make it feel as though everyone is an important contributor within your meeting, and could be called upon at any time to actively participate?
  • Use the chat feature or text feed to encourage those who can’t speak up to contribute in a meaningful way.
  • Create many participant engagement touch points: ask people to type a response into the chat box; use the polling function; assign to breakout rooms; show short video clips/examples; ask for sharing on a topic (use the Raise Hand function) and then unmute that person, etc. Variation is key, and so is the need to mix it up.
  • Video connects people: Video may not be available due to bandwidth issues so do not plan a meeting that counts on this activity. Where video is possible, set up calls to encourage people to use video when speaking so the participants can share a better experience of being connected.
  • Create Pause breaks: Being on virtual calls all day or for long periods of time is not what the body is used to. Additionally, many people do not have the stand-up desk they might have had in the office. Therefore, create pause breaks for people to lead stretches or physical activity to break up the monotony and to re-engage the blood flow to the muscles and brain.
  • Instant polling: Use an instant polling technique to create interaction, keep people engaged and this will even help measure a level of participation.

Below are some physical considerations for meetings to stay engaged:

  • Take walking meetings: For brainstorming sessions or debriefs, consider scheduling time to walk with your team or a sparring partner to generate new ideas. Exercise is a great way to stimulate thinking and productivity. It’s also fun and renews energy.
  • Schedule short 10 minute 1:1 colleague meetings: Check in with thought partners who energize and inspire you, someone you might not yet know well, or to talk through a challengeConnect with people rather than digital distractions to re-energize.
  • Schedule 45-50-minute-long meetings to allow time to digest conversations prior to the next meeting and take a break.
  • Be more of yourself with less. People have an in-person style and need to find their virtual style as well. What plays well in person can have the opposite affect virtually. Once you know your virtual style, abbreviate it. Virtual meetings have a way of amplifying characteristics… be aware and learn to have a shorter ramp to content. This usually results in richer, more thoughtful comments.
  • Plan the time and watch the clock: End well together before people start “dropping off” to join their next call.

Here are some valuable tools and practices that JMJ is using in our virtual client and internal meetings, which I highly recommend:

  • Microsoft Teams collaboration sites and video meeting functions
  • Zoom workshop break-out features for more “workshoppy” creative and collaborative meetings
  • Whiteboarding flipchart future
    • Zoom tool
    • Microsoft whiteboard app
  • Three-minute video check-ins on work progress rather than more write-ups on the laptop. Easier to create and to listen to while walking or doing other physical activities such as hiking, cooking, etc.
  • Cross-pollinating mental with physical activities to generate more thinking-outside-the-box

I hope you find these principles and suggestions useful, as virtual work is here for the unforeseen future. So, lean into these recommendations, be kind to yourself and others and stay healthy at home.

About JMJ

For over three decades, JMJ has been delivering impactful cultural change to help executives, leaders and front-line workers transform safety, sustainability, and business performance. We combine the deep experience of our people with our proprietary Transformation Cloud platform to deliver breakthrough results, making the impossible possible. www.jmj.com

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