It took nearly 30 years but I finally got to work remotely from an island.
It wasn’t quite how I imagined it.
The island wasn’t Aruba or in the heart of cottage country.
Our kitchen island became my makeshift office when the pandemic hit and we were all sent home to work.
The novelty of making breakfast and lunch while watching dad zoom through meetings quickly wore thin with our kids.
So I ditched the island life after a few weeks for a slightly longer commute to the spare bedroom in our basement.
Having a dedicated workspace that you can close the door on at the end of the day is one of the survival strategies in Rohit Bhargava’s The Non-Obvious Guide to Virtual Meetings & Remote Work.
Bhargava says working remotely comes with a host of challenges, including constant distractions and temptations like the fridge, Netflix bingeing, bored and restless kids, family pets and Amazon deliveries. Remote work can also leave us feeling isolated and lonely, struggling with blurred work-life boundaries, dealing with technology breakdowns and wrestling with the fear of being out of sight and out of mind with the people who cut our paycheques “When you aren’t there in person, you’ll need to work doubly hard to make sure you aren’t neglected, dismissed or forgotten.”
If your days are spent zooming in and out of meetings, Bhargava recommends being on time, learning how to master the mute button and keeping windows and lights behind your camera rather than behind your back. Dressing appropriately is also a winning idea. “Working remotely is no excuse to look like you just rolled out of bed.”
If you’re making a virtual presentation, keep it short. No one has the attention span for a 45-minute PowerPoint. Share and repeat only your most powerful points. Look into the camera rather than at the Brady Brunch squares of people on your screen. And double your energy. “When you feel like you’re overdoing it with your energy level, you probably have it just right.”
Know that no one likes a colleague who takes pride in staying technologically illiterate months into the pandemic. “If the rest of us can figure it out, you can too. Or at least you can try harder and stress about it like a normal human.”
Also drop the lame excuses for why you were running late or missed a meeting altogether. Life happens and we’re all muddling our way through the new normal. “Just be honest,” says Bhargava. “It humanizes you and may end up making you more likeable as a result.”
There’s added pressure on leaders to keep their remote teams engaged and productive.
It’s easier to build and sustain workplace culture when everyone’s under the same roof for eight or more hours a day. Yet leaders can still build culture and foster trust with a team that’s working from home.
Start with empathy, says Bhargava. If a colleague’s running late, underperforming and blowing deadlines, ask if they’re okay. Know that employees with young kids at home and elderly at-risk parents have a lot on their plates. “Focus on people first.”
Stand up for each other. “It’s too easy to assign blame or speak negatively about someone when you don’t have to do it face to face.”
And make time in your meetings for small talk, non-work conversations and celebrations. “Show interest in people first and then get down to business. Virtual meetings may be the only opportunities for engagement a remote team member has with colleagues.”
Bhargava’s free e-book is a field guide for working remotely in our disrupted world. “The rapid changes in the world are dictating that we each become more adaptable and willing to reinvent how we work. It’s not an easy challenge to face.
“You can manage this disruption,” says Bhargava. “We all can. As long as we continue to be generous with each other.”
Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.