As we publish this article, the coronavirus pandemic reaches new proportions daily. Many companies were forced to close down or to move the operations in work from home (WFH) mode. At a worldwide level, we are all adopting social distancing in order to be safe, stay healthy and stop the spreading of this disease. OceanoBe is a software company and we, of course, moved our day to day operations in the comfort of our home. But working from home is not some sort of promised land where the grass is always green, its a challenge and it can affect your team in many ways. Since the lockdown, we have come to experience first hand the effects of WFH. As you can imagine there are pros and cons to this particular environment. We tried to find ways to keep the team interacting while providing flexibility and also keeping the spirits up. For us, the team perspective is always important, so we decided to start asking them about WFH, what are their thoughts and how can we make the most out of the situation at hand.
What we did
We believe that open communication is a key ingredient when working with a team remotely.
From the beginning, we thought about the Virtual Coffee Break, a team gathering that will allow us to stay in contact and keep interacting and creating. In this article, you will find information about the process that we put in place.
There are of course lots of pros and cons to WFH and we decided to find out more from our team on this matter. With the help of our partner Feedback Street, we implemented a survey for our team. This survey was simple and included questions regarding the pros and cons of working from home but also allowed our team to provide suggestions on how to improve our communication and help boost our creativity.
I. Virtual Coffee Chat - keep the conversation going while working from home
Here at OceanoBe one of our core values that we live by is innovation. That, as you can see, in a WFH environment can be quite challenging. Not being able to brainstorm with colleagues is our number two on the cons list. So what can we do to help our team?! Although the solutions are many, one of the first things that we decided to implement was the Virtual Coffee Chat.
Working from home can be quite isolating and communication can be quite challenging. People have different schedules, different distractions, and all sorts of things that might interfere in the communication process. Providing the right environment where we can talk and exchanges ideas crucial. Virtual Coffee Chat allowed us to do just that.
One might think that well there isn’t much to it, we can all start a chat online and yes, the idea is in itself quite simple, what it does change though is the implementation process.
Here are 3 main ideas that helped us improve the communication process, that you might want to apply.
1. Plan ahead
A coffee break at the office can happen spontaneously, but when working from home, this is not the case. The point here, make sure you plan your virtual coffee breaks. Let your colleagues know when and how often you are going to “meet” so that they have a clear picture of the schedule. So prepare your meetings: choose the environment (we work with Google Hangouts), set a schedule for the week, send email invites to your team.
2. Do it more often
If you think that one coffee break is enough for the day, you are gravely mistaken. We opted for two separate times, one of course in the morning and another after lunch. Keep in mind that there are general meetings and should be treated as such.
3. Having an agenda
Although coffee breaks can be filled with random discussions at the office, when working from home it is better that you have subjects to discuss. Selecting topics that can be debated for each break is very useful. This allows the group to focus on one particular area of interest in that morning and also helps avoid the repetitive talk about, obviously, the pandemic situation.
II. The results of OceanoBe’s Survey - the pros and cons of working from home
When asked about the pros of working from home the top 3 advantages voted were:
In the top options, our team chooses also to have the Virtual Coffee Break as a pro, along with less noise and staying in one’s comfy home.
There are also some perks that mean more to fewer people like having the fridge nearby :), eating home-cooked meals, improve self-discipline or having the time to invest in personal projects. These are all great examples of how one person can always see the bright side of things.
We recommend doing such a list of pros and sharing it with the team. This will give you the opportunity to find out more about what drives them and also take give a smile and reason to be grateful.
Every work environment has it’s cons because there is no such thing as perfect. We discovered that for our team the top 3 not so fun things about working from home are:
Some other issues were the fact that work is going at a slower pace, it’s hard for a software engineer to work on a computer without a monitor or that you have kids at home that are screaming all the time :).
It is important to find also the not so pleasant things with this activity. Asking this question allows you to see what things you can improve or how you can help your team adjust to these times. In some cases, you find out that some investments are worthwhile, like our coffee machine :).
The challenge here is to get your brain working and invest in finding ways to engage and meltdown the barriers of distance.
The work keeps on going
So there you have it, the main ideas that we collected from our work from home experience so far. As you can imagine this is an evolving learning process with ups and downs. The main ideas are to keep on going, work on refining the process and keep trying to find ways to better communicate. Most importantly, talk to your team. If there is anything that you take away from this article, it should be this - talk with your team. A happy and engaged team is more prone to innovation, that is a fact.
We hope that you too stay safe during this trying period and that we will all emerge stronger, wiser from this experience and dare I say even more united.