As the coronavirus continues to spread around the world, a growing number of businesses are restricting travel, canceling events and even asking their employees to work from home for extended periods of time, the latter of which has become an overnight requirement for some.  However, while more companies inevitably join their ranks, they are more likely than not to find that they are not adequately prepared for such a paradigm shift; in fact, a mere 30% of managers reported feeling “well prepared” for the rise of remote work in a 2018 survey

What to do if you find yourself in the remaining 70%?  Follow MarketForce’s lead and seize the opportunity to prepare yourself and your colleagues for the foreseeable future.  With team members dispersed in offices and remote locations throughout Europe, Asia and North America, MarketForce is no newcomer to the challenges of working within teams who don’t always share physical spaces.  Consider the below tips and tricks to help you get the most out of the days you’re not in the office.

1. Start planning now

Don’t wait until the coronavirus is knocking at your door to figure out your game plan.  Depending on where you live, the time to act in advance may already have passed.  However, if not, plan a “trial run” wherein your work team will all work from home to identify any potential pain points in advance and gauge how well everyone can continue conducting their daily work, meetings and engagements in a completely remote scenario.

Evaluate which software, information and other resources you will need to work remotely and seek to resolve any technical issues beforehand if possible.  Also, make sure you have your colleagues’ outside-of-work contact information and that they have yours.  MarketForce maintains an agency-wide shared doc with all team members’ contact information hosted in the cloud for just such a purpose.

2. Use technology to your advantage

If possible, setup your space at home with a second monitor (similar to many office setups) to increase your productivity even in a remote setting.

Consider using video conferencing (such as Skype, Zoom or Microsoft Teams) for any calls/meetings to make them feel more like an in-person interaction.  However, for video and screensharing with clients, do be conscious of the presentation and background of your surroundings, and pause onscreen notifications from email and chat tools.

Consider utilizing cloud-hosted file storage (such as OneDrive and/or SharePoint) and online versions of common applications (such as Word Online, Powerpoint Online, etc.) to make sharing and editing files with remote teams a snap.

Additionally, with all of the possible chat and collaboration platforms that are available, it’s a good idea to determine which one you and your team will use primarily to make sure everyone is easily reachable while remote.  While our team does use a variety of different platforms to stay connected, MarketForce does have one designated platform we’re using universally as a global team.

3. Minimize distractions where possible

While working from home can be incredibly liberating, it can also blur the lines even further between your work and personal lives.  This is why MarketForce team members have found it is important to carve out a designated workspace at home.  If you’re lucky enough to have a home office with a door, this would be most ideal though technically any flat surface where you can connect to wi-fi would work.  Wherever your designated workspace may be, try to make it as distraction-free as possible in order to be the most productive.

It may be helpful to pack a lunch and snacks like you would for the office to minimize time spent standing in front of the fridge trying to decide what to eat.  If you’re someone who needs a little background noise to work, try a white noise machine.  Sometimes turning on the TV/news on low volume can also work though keep it off if you find it to be distracting.

Consider making a to-do list at the start of every day ranked in descending priority order to keep yourself on-task.  It also helps to know your most productive times during the day so you can use them to tackle your highest-priority tasks.

4. Communicate clearly

There’s no popping your head into a colleague’s cube or dropping by their desk to check the status of the report you are waiting for when everyone is working from home.

This is why it’s imperative to set clear assignment deadlines and give regular progress updates to make sure everyone is staying productive and working as efficiently as possible.  This is where a project/task management platform like the one MarketForce uses can come in extraordinarily handy.

Make a concerted effort to practice active listening, take detailed notes and be sure to note action items and responsible parties for follow-up.

5. Be prepared for remote meetings

Remote meetings do take a little more prep work but they can be just as productive as those with everyone sitting around a conference table. If you’re not in the habit of doing so already, circulate an agenda ahead of the meeting so that everyone knows what will be discussed.

To avoid people talking over each other or being shy to speak up, set expectations at the start of the meeting.  It may be useful to call on people individually so that everyone has a chance to take the floor and react and/or give input.

For MarketForce, we have found video conferencing to be the best, most engaging alternative to simulate in-person meetings but if this isn’t feasible for everyone and/or you’re having technical issues, phone conferencing also works in a pinch.

6. Be transparent about your schedule

Chances are many of your coworkers won’t be home alone if schools and daycares also shutter, so having everyone keep to normal business hours might not be feasible.  Employees need to be clear about their availability and schedules and, in return, managers should try to be as flexible as possible.

Be sure to communicate with your team members when you will be working and available and be very clear with deadlines so no one is left wondering when something will get done. It may be useful to block off your calendar when you are not available and set your chat status accordingly as well.

Keep detailed notes on your progress with different projects and assignments in a place where others can access it in case you are offline when they need something or you become ill.

Finally, while it may seem counterintuitive, it is not uncommon to find yourself working 12-hour days as the lines between your home and work lives become more blurred.  To prevent burnout, MarketForce recommends having a way to signify the end of your remote work day, like putting your laptop away once you’ve signed off for the day.

7. Have a little fun

Last but not least, try to carve out a little time every week to have a little fun with your coworkers!  You may be surprised how much you miss those everyday conversations and interactions that are so common at the office.  The good news is that while connecting with your colleagues on a personal level in a virtual environment does take a little more coordination, it is certainly not impossible.  Share a funny story or meme, host a virtual happy hour, play a virtual Bingo game or start a group chat with a few colleagues where work talk is temporarily off-limits. 

MarketForce’s Culture Club has done a great job of planning some fun virtual events for the team to continue connecting even in a completely remote work environment.

While being in a forced remote work environment may still be a colossal adjustment for you and your teammates, hopefully you can use these tips to keep your sanity, be productive and stay connected with your colleagues while you weather the storm together.