As a digital company we are used to virtual collaboration from previous projects. Nevertheless, some paradigms that are not virtual at all have stuck in our minds and have in fact, been now proven to be misconceptions:
- "If someone is not present in the office, they are not available"
- "We plan the meetings so that everyone can be physically present" or
- "If someone is working from home and not from the office, they must indicate this in their Slack status"
Learning #1: All beginnings are hard
Everyone has a Slack account, but not everyone is trained to use it to its fullest potential. Therefore, the prerequisites alone must be created to ensure that communication remains in the team. Good audio quality, functioning video calls as well as screen-sharing or even just having the app on your smartphone, are the cornerstones of our cooperation in the home office era.
Even with these basics, many companies were still faced with great challenges, so the measures should be discussed and checked even before an emergency. We practiced this with a pilot round when everyone was still in the office so that any issues could be easily ironed out.
Tip: The hardware must be suitable: tests of the audio devices, e.g. the often-insufficient laptop microphone; the software, because video and screen sharing tools often require necessary computer rights, which the user of the laptop may not have previously selected or even rejected.
Learning #2: The location isn't important
Immediately after working together from our individual locations, a central realization emerged: the place from which work is done is completely unimportant. Since then we no longer set our Slack status to "in home office". If someone is online in Slack, they are working. Where they are online is unimportant.
Learning #3: Don’t call unannounced
The ability to make calls in Slack makes the tool also function like a telephone. However, calling somebody whenever there is a question is not a modern way of working together since it completely pulls the call recipient out of focus.
Tip: That's why we have developed a "call netiquette" for communication that should be synchronous, but is not time-critical. Before we call somebody, we write them a small message with "Call about XYZ?". Then the person you are writing to knows what it's about and can...
- call them immediately
- reply in writing when it suits them better
- ignore the message for now because they don't have time right now.
Learning #4: Know your limits
Slack calls are only possible for a maximum of 15 participants. You have to find that out first! For larger rounds a different tool has to be selected.
Learning #5: Together, yet alone
Sometimes working from home feels like being all alone. The chatter at the coffee machine has been replaced with a solitary trek to your own kitchen. In order to keep the team spirit high, employees should plan or spontaneously communicate with each other from time to time, whether about work or private life.
Tip: This can be remedied by making a conscious appointment for a "coffee call". It's not quite the same thing, but it's something. It's also important to switch on the video when making Slack calls: it's much more pleasant to see the person opposite you, instead of just staring at their photo on the screen when you're talking to them.
Learning #6: Simply switch off
Many habits have changed as a result of mobile working. Many employees work differently (e.g. distribute their part-time hours differently) and therefore feel more online. That is why it is very important to also consciously switch off.
Tip: Setting yourself to "Please do not disturb" is a good way to work on a topic without interruption. And just as important – if not even more important: Take offline hours, air out your head, take a break!