Richard Lucas 12th March 2020
This article is about how to manage and be managed when working remotely, both at work and in private life. I’m sharing examples of what I am doing and also some resources.
I run and participate in global and local events, and am used to the challenging process of trying to be effective when working remotely. While I have experience, I don’t see myself as an expert. Leaders such as Michal Sliwinski of Nozbe has written extensively on Remote Working for example here .
You can listen to him on my podcast here
I want to share my perspective, and hope my lessons, experience and advice are useful.
1. Getting used to working remotely is your responsibility.
Whether you are an employee, manager, director, or founder you will need to get more of your stuff done on line and remotely. This is not panic, just a fact.
You must focus of staying healthy and sane, staying as productive and effective as possible, to support your core commitments to yourself, your family, friends, staff, co-workers, organisations you work for, support or lead. Like everything else there are better and worse ways of getting things done.
Managing your own “Working at Home” processes
- Get control of your diary. Time passes whether you manage it or not. Have a prioritised daily “to do or “task” list. Review at the end of the day whether you succeeded in getting done what you wanted to get done. If you don’t know, can’t answer, it wasn’t a good plan, and improve your plan for the next day. If you are failing, work on improving your planning.
- Be disciplined: use a diary, know what you are meant to be doing during the day. Set yourself deadlines and keep to them.
- Start work at the same time as you would start work if things were normal (or earlier).
- Use the time you save by not travelling productively. Ask “what can I learn or read?” or “who can I catch up with? not “What Netflix series can I re-watch?”
- Tell family members you live with about your planned home working routines and that you need their support to make them work.
- Over communicate with your co-workers and managers. As well as documenting what you have done every day, on a shared online resource like a Google Drive (dropbox, company intranet etc), send an email to your manager letting her or him know what you have done, and talk to them. Make checking in with your boss(es) a daily habit.
Managing other people remotely
The way you manage will be tested. A manager needs the trust of their team, and trust is built through regular contact and two way communication.
1 Over communicate (true for employees, even more true for managers)
A good manager will be in daily contact with her (or his) staff so she knows what their ‘directs’ (people who report to them) have done, are working on, and the challenges they face. In addition to your weekly one on ones, and daily team meetings, which can all be done online, schedule extra calls because of the remote-ness . If you are a manager (but not CEO) you should be in a situation where, when your boss calls you, you will be able to tell them what the status is on all your deliverables up to the end of the previous working day. That means keeping on top of what your directs have done and are working on, reading their reports, talking and listening to them.
If you are a CEO do the same, call your managers, get their reports, discuss with the managers who report to you, attending online meetings and systematically being in touch with selected people further away from you in the Organisation Chart so that you are less distant, rather than more absent. “Show your face” online.
2 Online information sharing Make sure that your team knows where to share information about progress on their projects, tasks and deliverables. Keep track, and make sure everyone updates it and you check. If you sometimes let it slip in the office, now is the time to “pull your socks up”, and be more professional.
3 Introduce “one on ones”
If you are not used to having weekly “one on one” meetings with the people who report to you, use this change as an opportunity to “raise your game”. I wrote this article before listening to this podcast today (17th March). The arguments for having well organised “one on ones” are set out very clearly in the latest Manager-Tools.com podcast here.
If you are used to a more informal communication style, explain to your team in your first online meeting that you need to formalise processes given the extra challenges of being remote, and to give them the support they need.
3. Relationships. Communication
Face to face is better than phone, and phone is better than email. It’s hard to have long distance relationships, but this will be “the new normal” as you either choose not to, or are unable to, see your family and friends. If you have friends/relatives who are technophobic – now is the time to teach them how to use video conferencing. I taught my 90 year old mother to Facetime two days ago. You can do it. If you have friends who you see from time to time, call them more often. I’ve noticed that I have spent more time on the phone and talking to people remotely than normal. It is an investment in civilisation and staying sane.
4 Experimentation with online events, meetings and meetups
The Coronavirus Covid-19 is becoming the largest pandemic since 1918. There are lots of challenges. As an event organiser I have plenty. I challenge those reading to think about what they can do online. For example:
I am having an online family gathering this evening. We never did this before but, with two generations, six households, and three countries potentially joining, it may bring us closer than we would have been without this terrible virus.
On line parties – I’ve tried one, and have been invited to another. May be weird, but why not.
Open your mind to experimentation – do pilot online events.
As an entrepreneur I know that the way to make progress is through trial and error. As an event organiser I know how much participants hate “error”. So do pilots. Maybe some of the online events I am doing below won’t work at all or won’t work well. The test of any event is whether you and the other who attend want to do it again. I’m experimenting with online meetings and events of all descriptions. I even started before the virus came into being. Here are some examples
With Mel Rosenberg in Israel I have been piloting online concentric TED Circles – www.tedcircles.com, with two groups linked by video and extra remote people joining. See details of an event here
Such meetings facilitate experiences and communication that were previously not possible.
With Open Coffee Krakow we are hosting our first on line event on Thursday 19th March.
If you want to join, you can! Just click on the Zoom link You don’t have to be in Krakow. We are trying to make an opportunity out of the problem. We did a pilot event last week to test the technology, streaming the resulting gathering on Facebook Live, reaching an audience of over 1000. There may be even more on Thursday. Following that successful pilot, Kamil from our team made an 8 minute “How to take part ” video showing people how to use Zoom in this way. I made a shorter 3 minute Loom video as well. This is a work in progress,. We see this as an chance to do things we couldn’t do before.
TED and TEDx events
We decided to cancel our 10th March event a few days before we had to.
TED have postponed their major event of the year in April and cancelled the satellite TEDFest in New York. For our event, and future events that are no longer possible because of the virus, we are thinking. “What is the best thing to do instead?”
Jay Herratti and Salome Heusel at TED HQ have already organised an online Town Hall with TEDx-ers from all over the world to discuss how we as TEDx-ers should react to the crisis, and what we can do to stay relevant to our local communities.
Jay and Salome were very explicit that we can experiment with online and hybrid online/offline events for the duration of the crisis. We have not yet decided what we are going to do, but for sure we will be piloting different types of events on line.
Teaching I teach entrepreneurship workshops from time to time, and my course a few days ago was cancelled due to the virus, so I decided to to put it on line.
I got positive feedback and proved to myself and others that I can do interactive workshops with a group of people I have never met.
For Cambridge University, in 2016 I founded CAMentrepreneurs, to promote business and social entrepreneurship among alumni, current students and others.
I was due to be leading a meetup in New York in April which isn’t going to happen, but during the call above we agreed to investigate doing online meetups in Cambridge, Dubai, London and New York. By the summer I should be quite good at them. What does it mean to have an online meeting in Dubai, when I am in Poland? That is something to discover.
There are plenty of other organisations discovering how to manage the process of delivering value online. This a16z podcast describes how they have just put their startup school on line. There is a lot to learn about sustaining community among participants, how they use Slack as well as Zoom, and more.
It takes time, effort, common sense and a willingness to experiment. If you do try, as a result of these examples, I’d love to hear how you get on.