If your inbox is like mine, this kind of message has become all too familiar. This is a challenging time, but we’ll persevere and grow from it.
Foglight Solutions is here to help our clients and partners. Largely, our operations haven’t changed. As a small company, we don’t have an office so our entire team works from home. We expect little disruption in our availability or capacity. That said, we are following local advisories from our officials for physical distancing and all travel has been suspended. So while this means we can’t meet with our clients face-to-face, we are still working and are fully able to do our jobs remotely. We remain committed to serving our clients and partners.
Work From Home Tooling
In terms of increasing our remote collaboration with clients, I thought I’d share our tooling and approach to work-from-home. First, we recommend a few basic tools:
An isolated, quiet, and productive workspace is a must. This has been a challenge for me the last couple weeks as my children are usually at pre-school, but now are not. So my spouse and I take “shifts” trading watching the kids or working. If you’re new to working from home, I recommend finding some space in your home you can work from that’s comfortable, and dedicated to this purpose.
A Good Headset
This is also a must. I’ve been working remotely for the majority of my 20 year career and can say that a good headset can make all the difference between an enjoyable and productive meeting with your colleagues, or a waste of time. Pro-tip; a boom mic is what makes the difference. I heartily recommend the Plantronics Voyager Focus.
A few years ago using Slack gave you an edge, but now it’s business as usual for everyone. The real-time chat capabilities are great and can be a big productivity boost beyond email. But Slack is also a double-edged sword. It can be very interruptive to focused time (more on that below), and it’s so easy for a quick 10 second chat to become 15 minutes of typing where a phone call would have been better. Our rule of thumb is, if you’ve been having 2 minutes of continuous typing on a single topic, move it to zoom/phone.
Zoom has become indispensable for us. At our size, we’ve been able to use just one shared Pro Plan mixed with the more limited Basic/Free plan. Call and Video quality are great, it’s friendly to our computers, and we simply wouldn’t be here without it.
So, these basic tools have enabled us to work together very effectively for the last three years and deliver high quality outcomes. But as the saying goes, it’s not the tool, it’s how you use it. So, coupled with these tools we also have some tips on how to work from home effectively.
Personal Discipline & Boundaries
When I first started working from home, I was a single bachelor in my 20s. It was so easy to roll out of bed, stroll over to the computer and start working. Before I knew it, it was lunch time and I hadn’t even had my morning coffee. Likewise, it was really easy to work late into the evening. A few days of that and I slowly realized I needed some discipline and boundaries to retain some sanity. Long story short, I realized I just needed to follow the same habits and routines as when I was working in a physical office. Bonus; I actually became more effective/productive (
longhours != quality). Having a separate space in your home that is dedicated for working helps tremendously with establishing the mental boundaries necessary to separate work and home.
We’re big proponents of the Agile methodology and use daily scrums as an effective way to coordinate who’s-doing-what for the day. We limit these to 15 minutes and take any longer conversations offline so that we don’t waste others’ time.
We also use weekly team (all-hands) meetings as a way to communicate the latest goings-on of the company, talk through projects, share learnings, and review our sales pipeline. At my prior employer, we described this as the most expensive and most valuable call of the week, as it serves as a great way to reinforce culture, and keep everyone up-to-date. Team meetings are also a great way to inject some fun; we try to use the last few minutes to share fun pictures of our personal lives.
I also like to use “focused time” where I spend 1 or 2 hours working on my most important heads-down tasks. During this time, I’ll set all of my devices to “Do Not Disturb”, and close my office door (even when the house is empty) so that I’m not disturbed and feel isolated. For me, focused time is scheduled every day, 10-11 and 4-5, but I’ve also seen others employ a different tactic making their focused time “float” throughout the day and timebox it with a timer. Not everyone’s like me, so YMMV, but I’ve found it to be an effective way to balance getting work done while also managing and supporting the activities of others.
Again, using DND is a must; as I mentioned earlier, Slack is a great communication tool, but it can be very disruptive and is the remote-work equivalent of someone entering your office or cubicle while you’re in the middle of a complex task; whatever work was in-progress is now being delayed by a factor of 2x the interruption time. DND for slack is called “pause notifications” i.e. for 30 minutes or an 1 hour to focus
Now that my kids are home more, I don’t have quite as much time, so I’ve necessarily had to cut my focused time. Evenings seem to be making up for it.
Pre-COVID my kids were in pre-school ~4 days a week. This tool is not an option for now, so my wife and I have to balance keeping a 3 and 5 year old entertained with our normal day jobs. This is, uh, challenging. So here are some of the things we’re doing that have been somewhat effective:
- Plan: We start the day writing down a plan of the things the kids want to do. This includes scheduling snacks, lunch, etc. My wife and I will also plan our “shifts” at this point too. This planning gives our kids a voice and let’s them flex their planning muscles, but it gives me and my wife the ability to understand when in the day we can work knowing the kids are covered.
- Activities: 3 and 5 are high-maintenance ages. Not so high-maintenance that we need to worry about them crawling and sticking their fingers in the electric socket, but they often can’t make it more than 10-20 minutes without needing to interact with an adult. Complicating this is our belief that screentime is not something they need a lot of. That said, our boys have really enjoyed playing with Hot Wheels™ track. We also make a point of getting them outside to play or go on a walk or bike ride. Card games (Uno & Sleeping Queens), books, painting, and doing experiments and activities from the linked books. Also GoNoodle is a great resource for engaging kids with movement and mindfulness videos. It’s free, check it out! This NPR video is also good for parents to watch. We’ve also recently subscribed to KiwiCo and our oldest had a lot of fun with it!
- Screentime: Ok, so we don’t like screen time, but that doesn’t mean we don’t give it. We do, but it’s usually limited to 30ish minutes. Pre-COVID it was only allowed on days when they didn’t go to pre-school. But now since no days are pre-school days, we’ve limited it to every other day.
So those are the tools and methods we use for working from home. With this sudden new surge of everyone working from home, I’m hopeful that some will innovate and introduce new ideas and tools for making remote workers even more productive. At the least, I’m betting that remote work may gain more adoption long-term.