We are Morgan Samuels: a collaborative, productive, culturally-strong mid-sized executive search firm. Our journey to a fully-remote workforce has come together over the last decade with great success – increased productivity and efficiency. In the past few weeks many of our clients and candidates have asked for support as they implement a remote work structure/environment while striving to stay productive and engaged with their teams in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic. We hope that this guide to working from home proves to be a helpful resource and guide as you navigate these uncharted waters. Please know we are a resource and welcome your questions and comments.
Our hope is that by giving you some insight into what we’ve learned over the years, we can spare you from some of the growing pains and help to position you for success in these challenging times.
Working from Home (“WFH”) Essentials
WFH State of Mind…
Facilitating a culture of transparency and over-communication is a critical component of a successful working environment. Working remote allows employees substantial flexibility and freedom – assuming they get their work done. One trade-off for this flexibility is privacy. It’s much harder for a remote employee to expect to keep to themselves and share few personal details, while at the same time, expect the level of flexibility that working from home might provide. For us at Morgan Samuels, this isn’t seen as a trade-off, but an added benefit to our culture, allowing us to feel that much more connected to one another.
Knowing that remote work gives new meaning to a work/life balance, remote teams should lean into the blending of the two lives. If there is one single lesson we’ve learned over the years, it is that WFH leads to working more rather than less! There will always be a few people who don’t take it seriously but by experience we know that working too long each day and not taking breaks is a common problem that leads to burnout.
Your Space & Setup
One of the first things you may have realized a few days into working from home is that your typical weekend-working spot stretched out on the couch with laptop propped on your knees won’t cut it for a daily 8-5 workday. When you now spend your entire working life from one spot, you need to consider all the types of activities you accomplish for your work, and how your area can best be utilized for all these types of tasks.
- Establish clear boundaries with family members and roommates. Unlike at the office, there may be children crying, dogs barking, or doorbells ringing, but work to minimize distractions as much as possible via mutual understanding at the outset.
- Set up your workspace in a dedicated “spot” – even if you don’t have a separate office, maintaining your work area will then allow you to “leave” your work when you need breaks (while maintaining your social distancing).
- Once you have your dedicated spot, you’ll only need to adjust your background and camera angles once to secure your ideal video foreground. Be especially conscious of what is behind you. The camera will “see” everything: a TV, an open door, people, and other distractions without you realizing. We’ll discuss video in more depth below.
- Do some homework into your internet provider (ISP) and your typical download/upload speeds, and get to know your current home networking equipment (router, switches, modems, wi-fi). Some basic research will help you quick identify any bottlenecks you might experience in your internet connection. And if your troubleshooting isn’t cutting it, knowing your current setup before reaching out to your IT support will be VERY appreciated.
- It is a good idea to have a stand-alone monitor to expand your screen real estate, along with a full-size keyboard and mouse.
- If you don’t already have a great pair of noise cancelling headphones, now is the time to invest. This is especially important if you have video meetings, and if you use compatible Bluetooth devices, you can seamlessly switch from music, to phone calls, to video meetings, without changing settings or equipment.
Video is essential. This bears repeating – video is essential. Take it from us, over the last 12 months our team has scheduled almost 500,000 minutes of video meetings with almost 15,000 participants!
But it’s important to accept there is a learning curve in utilizing video conferencing tools. Use this time NOW to fumble through this process while the rest of your team/company and your clients/vendors are also getting the hang of it.
Conduct your one-on-one meetings and informal chats over video, too. Opting to connect with your co-workers via video by default will provide a magnitude of benefits, especially for teams which will remain even partially remote going forward. If your main collaboration platform allows video (Teams, Slack, GSuite, Workplace), put effort in using the video features. If you are using a VOIP (internet-connected) phone, find out if your equipment is compatible with a camera to enable video during internal phone calls. If you are using a cell phone, use Facetime, WhatsApp, Google Duo, or similar app.
- As mentioned, many times in this working from home guide, connecting over video is the way you’ll maintain and build healthy relationships with your team – this is the single most important behavior in cultivating a remote company culture.
- These conversations are now your water cooler breaks, and given our new normal (social distancing), checking in with your teammates may be more important now than ever.
- Less formal meetings allow you practice using the video tools in a low-pressure environment. Play around with the platform features like recording, virtual backgrounds, chatting, sharing your screen, and sending files. Look at camera angles and room lighting—you may not realize how dim your face might appear on video.
Productivity & Wellness
If you can practice being a proactive communicator, leverage communication and collaboration tools, work transparently and independently, you’ll manifest a whole new successful style of work that affords you the freedom from where you work best.
Working from home not only means being independently productive, but you are responsible for your own health and wellness.
- Carve out time for breaks and physical activity. You weren’t at your desk and working every moment in the office and you shouldn’t be now.
- “Put your shoes on every morning.” Dressing/grooming as you always did to go to work helps reinforce the mentality that you are no less “at work” than previously.
- About half of our employees are avid Apple Watch wearers, and many of us compete in weekly challenges via Apple Fitness against one another. Fitness wearables, like the Apple Watch, Fitbit, and Galaxy, have alerts which help keep you moving, standing up every hour, and even taking a few deep breaths. Another recent investment made by most of our team is a standing desk or desk raiser.
Many professionals are getting their first real taste of the remote work lifestyle, and while there are certainly those who work better in an office setting, there will be many who may never go back to the office. As we continue to shelter in place, and you start to think about your long-term work environment, here are a few things to keep in mind to be most successful as a remote worker.
- Conflict in the workplace is inevitable. We all have different styles and perspectives when communicating and addressing work. Successful teams come from diverse approaches and ideas to materialize concepts – conflict must be embraced in a productive way.
- Assume best intent. We are more prone to be communicating over email or chat where the meaning of messages can be lost. Ask lots of clarifying questions and connect by phone or video as often as possible rather than by email.
- Navigating performance reviews requires both your work and you to be visible, meaning be an active communicator with your manager and team – you want them to know you are part of the team culture and you are trying to solve problems. You’ll also want to ensure your work is being shared with stakeholders responsible for your success. Be direct about your professional goals and request milestones and skills you’ll need to meet from your direct manager. This action shows intent and creates a roadmap for how to get there. As you achieve milestones or create value in the company, make sure to track those accomplishments.
Managing Your Team’s Transition
Here are some thoughts for those of you responsible for effecting your team’s transition.
Lead by Example
Assemble a task force to lead the transition. Operations, IT, & HR will be at its core, but include a diverse set of leaders who can think through needs/challenges from all angles. Communicate the task force’s game plan and timeline to the whole company, even if employees are already working from home. Ensure everyone knows what is expected of them. Provide a forum to ask questions and vent fears/anxiety together in a constructive way.
A sudden shift from working full-time out of an office to working full-time at home can feel very isolating. Employees should feel comfortable discussing their day-to-day situations, new routines, and any roadblocks. Managers and executives should lead by example in sharing their own difficulties as they transition to working fully remote. People leaders should OVER-communicate to their teams and encourage engagement across all levels. Employees shouldn’t feel embarrassed or try to hide their family in quarantine or when they are having technical difficulties.
Meetings & Communication
If your team is used to working face-to-face, whether in meetings or just day-to-day getting things done, attempting to work together remotely can be daunting. A truism of professional life today might be “we have too many meetings.” But be careful in making too many cultural changes during this crucial transition period.
At first this might sound like a great opportunity to finally trim the number of meetings for your team, and that inherently, only the most important meetings will “survive.” There are several reasons this way of thinking is wrong, and how it might backfire:
- Everyone is clumsy with video meetings when they first start. And if an entire team is getting used to video meetings at the same time, there will be more than a couple “wasted” meetings. But practice makes perfect, and after a couple of calls people really get the hang of mute buttons, sharing screens, troubleshooting mics/cameras, and training family members. Don’t wait for these things to be practiced during the first all-company meeting!
- Did your team have too many meetings? Probably. But for many these meetings are probably a part of their routine, even if they don’t realize it. Familiar faces, familiar topics, and familiar annoyances. If there’s one thing we want to capitalize on right now, it’s any routines we can hold on to. Even if those are previously un-productive meetings.
- Be proactive and lean towards over-scheduling vs. under-scheduling. Virtual meetings eliminate many of the time-suckers found with office meetings such as finding available rooms and “commuting” through an office. A video call is much lower risk, and even if a meeting becomes more casual, the facetime with co-workers means the time wasn’t wasted.
Set expectations about communication and availability. Ask your manager and team how they prefer to communicate whether by email, chat, phone, text, weekly meetings, etc. Also ask them how one should get a hold of them for time sensitive or urgent matters. This is typically met with gratitude and hopefully it will be reciprocated.
This is also a great time to work on written communication skills. Make clear asks, provide clear deadlines, and always include relevant information or reference materials as attachments to emails.
Do as I Say, Not as I Do: You will likely read a lot of articles, like this one, written by tenured remote professionals. But working from home isn’t always easy, and most of us would agree that there are plenty of days that we don’t follow our own rules.
And even for us, this is new territory. Many of us now have children and spouses’ at home, throwing wrenches in our typical remote work lifestyles. Schedules and habits and routines have been rocked for everyone. But we realize that some of our peers have never hosted VC meetings for their teams, never worried about their home routers or firewalls, never worried about how loud their keyboards clacked.
Quarantines and social distancing are new realities for all of us, and for many teams and companies, remote work may be the new norm for an extended period.
We hope this high-level summary based on our practical experience is helpful as you transition to working from home. We are happy to have follow-up conversations with you if you need a sounding-board. There will be challenges and ultimately not everyone is suited to remote working. However, it is a valuable capability for you and your team to master not just for the present but also to give you a competitive edge in the future. Our hope is that by sharing the lessons we learned the hard way over the years, you will be able to retain and strengthen your company’s culture, find new and innovative ways of working together, and increase personal productivity.
How Can We Help
We are personally committed now, more than ever, to act as your trusted advisors, and provide support in navigating new economic realities—especially when considering moving roles or making a key executive hire.
We are working with our clients and candidates to help remove barriers and anxiety teams and individuals may face during this time; whether transitioning to WFH, downsizing teams, shifting resources, re-examining markets or investments.
We enjoy sharing our experiences working remotely, and are happy to provide suggestions for specific tools or processes we employ internally as well as externally. Please don’t hesitate to reach out!