The COVID-19 outbreak has caused many businesses around the world to drastically shift their normal way of operating, which has had an immediate impact in our day-to-day work lives. While many companies are working to maintain business as usual, there is one glaring difference that should not be ignored or glossed over: Many of us are now working exclusively from home, all of the time.
In some industries, remote work has been a standard practice for a number of years. It offers more flexibility for employees, and some feel it helps them to be more productive with fewer distractions. However, few businesses have experience operating entirely remote, much less shifting their entire organizational strategy over the course of a few days. To help businesses navigate this new challenge, we want to share some best practices from a professional who has many years of experience running both remote teams and those all-important remote meetings. Here Tim Weerasiri, formerly of KPMG and now the CFO of TeleSign, a digital identity company, shares his best practices and valuable tips for running efficient remote meetings and shifting to this new way of work.
What immediate challenges are presented by this shift to fully remote work?
For organizations that are not used to being 100 percent remote, the current environment represents a significant shift. The pressure is on for both businesses and employees to remain productive while working from home, which is made more challenging by the ripple effects of the current situation, including homeschooling children and more people in the house than usual. Multiple conference calls happening in the same room and a battle royale over the TV remote are not a recipe for success.
From a management perspective, what are the best ways or even best structures to put in place to prevent remote meetings from spiraling out of control with an increasing number of external factors getting in the way?
During this time, the onus falls on those who lead meetings to step up and drive your team to success. While many have already been living a work from home lifestyle, their working lives will change as they and their coworkers ease into remote life, and therefore remote meetings. To this end, I try to incorporate the following into my meetings:
1. Begin each meeting with a lighthearted anecdote. Teams with strong rapport will bind together in the face of challenges. Reminding your teammates why they like being part of the team enforces a relationship that is usually supported by facetime and kitchen conversations. This also buys time for any stragglers who are dealing with connection issues.
2. Meeting discipline is more important than ever. Preset your agenda and manage the meeting to it, focus conversation around deliverables and deadlines, and make sure anyone who gets talked over during an exchange is brought back into the conversation — for example, “It sounded like Dave had a point he was trying to make earlier.”
3. Follow up by email. People’s connections get spotty, and consistently repeating, “Sorry, I lost you there,” gets tiresome. Miscommunication can abound. Follow up on any action items or deadlines you’ve agreed on in email summaries.
What are some other factors we must consider, especially under these forced work from home conditions?
Respecting boundaries and maintaining regular work hours is particularly important, meaning the normal meeting factors that you take into consideration — such as sensitivity to time zones and sending pre-meeting materials for large group meetings — should not change. Like any other relationship, when your work relationships are suddenly translated across greater distance, focusing on clarity of communication and maintaining rapport are my keys to success.
Any parting wisdom for the first-time executive who is really struggling to keep their team afloat right now?
Breathe. Relax. Everyone is going through this together in some form or fashion. Having a team to lead actually makes one quite fortunate given the circumstances. One thing I would offer is to focus on deliverables by keeping the current accountability systems you already have in place. People are scared right now as we charge toward an uncertain future. Your work can be a respite from that. I urge my team to focus on what they can control and nothing else.
We may be at an inflection point right now where remote work could be the new normal. We are essentially guinea pigs in a forced beta test of whether large-scale remote work can be a tenable situation that sees productivity remain constant, or even rise. So work hard, try your best and everything else should fall into place.
A personal tip I like to follow on a daily basis is setting time aside for physical movement, such as a walk. Not every conference call needs to be on Zoom video. Take a stroll around the block (at a safe distance), catch some sunshine and clear your mind.