Journal

Diagnose your team mindset in the time of the coronavirus

Designit Madrid Image for Eli Wood Article on Remote Work and the Coronavirus
This article (originally published on Matters) is part of our series on working remotely, adapting to change, and innovating as a business during a crisis. Learn how Cooper Professional Education can help your team collaborate more creatively and effectively with a customized coaching program, and contact us to find out more.

There are no tools in this list. Before jumping onto new subscriptions to go remote, take some time to foster psychological safety among your team members. Your people are more important than the products you use in the coming weeks.

Everyone is feeling some sort of scared, skeptical, apathetic, angry, and other emotions. We believe that you should take time to understand your team’s feelings. The following is a list of fundamental tenants you can follow as your organization grapples with going remote.

How to craft an emotionally intelligent work mindset for the future

During this current time of crisis and uncertainty, the importance of emotional intelligence, communication, and clarity is evident. I do believe that we are in the midst of the remote-working renaissance. Remote collaboration is not only a viable approach for the future of work, but also a desirable and safer alternative.

Technology alone cannot solve some of the most fundamental communication problems.

However, this new mode of working is not without its challenges. I have been facilitating workshops, both in person and remote, with organizations throughout the United States over the past couple of years. I would like to share a remote work manifesto of strategies from my experience.

These strategies are a mindset approach to collaboration that can empower businesses and individuals to build better habits during remote work that can also translate to in person collaboration, as well.

Tools are not your team

Moving forward for businesses, it is your people and their focus that are going to be your most valuable resource in the coming months. If you’ve ever built a company, you know that technology alone cannot solve some of the most fundamental communication problems. Whether you’re using Zoom or Webex, Mural, or Miro, Loom or Cloud, Dropbox or Google Drive — it doesn’t matter. However, what does matter is your team’s ability to organize, communicate, and trust each other while working remotely.

Respect work-life balance and commit to deadlines

We know that uncertainty will dominate the narrative for the coming months. Our lives will be impacted and there will be changes to our daily responsibilities. First, there needs to be an agreement among your team that family matters and health come first.

photo of person using laptop for Cooper Professional Education article

Once your team can align on these fundamentals, the next step is to prioritize work activities and to behave accordingly. Commitment to reasonable deadlines and delivering on them will change your focus from how you need to do something to simpler conversations of what needs to be accomplished and when to deliver it. Good leaders know to trust their team to deliver what they’ve agreed to do.

Over-communicate everything

During times of crises and fear, trust in institutions is paramount for an effective response. This applies to businesses as much as it does to public institutions. Over-communication as a principle while working remotely can foster an environment of trust. Are you away because your kids don’t have daycare? Update your Slack status. Do you need to go sanitize your countertops because you have family staying with you? Let the team know that you will need to be away for 45 minutes.

Read to understand how to respond

There is a saying in architecture and design: “measure twice, cut once.” The point of this motto is to consider your actions before executing so that you do not waste time, materials, and energy (and also, money). The problem with the majority of asynchronous remote communication is miscommunication.

As a general rule, the writer or originator should always clearly state the purpose of the email, phone call, request, etc. A helpful rule of thumb to improve communication is to state the what, why, and when — what you need, why you need it, and when the request needs to be done. Without these details the receiver can feel disrespected or confused, which results in lost time in the typical back and forth. On the flip side, the respondent should take some time to process the message, email, request, etc. before responding. When you need clarification, be direct, clear, and succinct (e.g. using bullet points).

You will struggle to accomplish everything in realtime

A remote meeting with too many activities can feel chaotic, unorganized, and wasteful. You ask, “how much is too much?” — well, there is an easy way to identify this issue for remote meetings. For a typical in-person meeting, the rule of thumb is to take the total time you have for the meeting and divide by the number of objectives you have to accomplish in that time. In our hypothetical scenario, let’s say there are three objectives to accomplish in a one hour meeting. A typical example for Designit would be reviewing customer interviews, synthesizing findings, and then determining action items. In this scenario, you would think that you could simply spend twenty minutes on each of these. However, it is important to keep in mind that along with a remote setting, there is additional time due to latency, technical difficulties, and a distributed structure. 

The answer for remote meetings is that each meeting/collaboration should only have one clear objective so that everyone can stay on topic and on time. This can mean what used to be one meeting, now becomes three different and shorter interactions. As the meeting organizer, I would suggest identifying if or what tasks can be done outside of the meeting. Focus on giving clear timelines to speed up the outcomes.

Know who to include and exclude in meetings

We know that meetings are often over-attended and under-engaged. This problem is only compounded when the format switches to a remote meeting. Instead of including 10 people in a meeting knowing that only four will people talk, save the six non-essential attendees from the torture of (from their point of view) a pointless meeting. For remote meetings, I recommend inviting only essential persons and a designated a note taker for the meeting. The notes and a summary of the meeting can then be dispersed to the rest of the group for purposes of just staying in the loop.

Multitasking is not only ineffective, it’s rude

The number one problem with remote collaboration is the inattentiveness of those participating. We all know that everyone is overworked and trying to balance many tasks, however tapping on your keyboard to answer an email during a meeting prevents your engagement and is distracting to others in the meeting. Companies we’ve worked with often fail to properly address this issue during in-person meetings, too. The default is for everyone in meetings to bring their computers and respond to emails while three people have the requisite conversation.

The solution: stay engaged during the meeting. This may sound extreme in the era of tech and multitasking, but it’s not more than a few clicks and will enhance your productivity: Put your computer and devices on Do Not Disturb mode and close any apps that are unrelated to the logistics of the meeting. Then, I recommend taking notes manually using pen and paper. This will prevent you from switching to another tab or answering an email that is not relevant to the task at hand. Then, use the time after the meeting to document your action items and takeaways as a follow up to share with the team.

Don’t mix and match — go fully remote

Things can get difficult when there is mix of in-person and remote attendees. Those who are together in-person often act as the preferred group over the remote meeting attendees. The solution: To maintain a level playing field, if people are going to gather in person, they too should dial into the call with their computers so that they can also work remotely.

Taking time to design the way you work moving forward is the only way to manage and mitigate churn within your company.

Practicing this as a fundamental to all meetings will ensure the right people are included. It will also dramatically improve the productivity of your collaboration.

Exercise your mind and body

When working remote, it’s very easy to slip into sedentary habits even though you’ve actually saved time by not commuting to work. The solution: Sound body, sound mind. I recommend using the time you’ve saved and reinvesting it into personal care.

Take a leisurely stroll or find a park to do some body weight exercises for 45 minutes a day. Like Darwin, you could take your daily walk to reflect, imagine, and wonder. Taking mindful breaks from work can help you be more productive when come back to where you left off.

Good remote habits are simply good working habits

Your ability to overcome the current situation will define how your organization and small teams are perceived by internal employees. Continue to open lines of communication. Bridge gaps to the quietest of teammates. Practice mindfulness and empathy for others in your surroundings. Understand differing priorities and build momentum to a future that has learned from this current tragedy.

By practicing these principles you, your team, and your organization stand to benefit from establishing better ways of working than you had imagined. Prior to COVID-19, we often defaulted to behaviors that have been proven to waste billions of dollars per year. Taking time to design the way you work moving forward is the only way to manage and mitigate churn within your company that could result in even greater loss moving forward. In the meantime; live life, stay cautious, and wash your damn hands.


Read the previous installment in this series, “Six best practices for remote meetings” and the next one, “Three vital skills your team can borrow from improv amid COVID-19.” Learn how Cooper Professional Education can help your team collaborate more creatively and effectively with a customized coaching program, and contact us to find out more.
Eli Wood
Eli Wood

Eli Wood is a Senior Designer at Designit Dallas.

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