The COVID-19 crisis has many of us adjusting to working from home. At AQ, with several offices and remote employees, we’ve been honing our distributed working skills for a while now. We’ve learned a lot along the way. Here are some of our most valuable tips for maximizing collaboration in the work from home era.
Technology is our friend. The best way to maintain productivity and keep the communication flowing on your team is to ensure that everyone has the tools they need to be efficient, no matter where they’re working from. Not only does everyone need a laptop, but make sure every team member also has a camera. This doesn’t require anything fancy. The webcam in most laptops will get the job done. For those without a built-in camera, a basic $50 or less camera will work fine. Don’t worry about auto focus or 4k video. A basic 720p camera will work just fine.
Everyone has a camera, now comes the hard part: getting everyone to turn it on. Going on camera is uncomfortable for some of us that aren’t accustomed to teleconferences. Like any new habit, it will eventually feel natural, and your remote collaboration will be so much better that you will never go back to voice-only. Making this adjustment will be the single most valuable thing you can do to become an effective distributed team. Try it for one week. You won’t go back.
GET OUT OF THE SHADOWS AND INTO THE LIGHT
Now that everyone has a camera and is using it, let’s make sure we can see each other. The most important aspect of lighting is that it is behind the camera and pointing toward you—at no more than a 45-degree angle. Light from behind you might add to your mystique as a shadowy figure, but it won’t help you communicate with teammates. If you have a window behind you, close the blinds for calls. If you can’t position yourself with a natural light source in front of you, consider a desk lamp. The glow of a large screen monitor does not create the most flattering light.
CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?
Now that we can see each other, we need to make sure we can hear each other. While webcam quality makes a minimal difference in video call effectiveness, microphone quality is quite essential. The microphones on most laptops are not going to create a great experience for your teammates listening to you. There are two possible upgrades to consider.
If you are in a noisy environment, you will want to get a quality headset—preferably with a noise-canceling microphone. This will allow you to hear your teammates and for them to hear you under any conditions.
If you have the luxury of a quiet home working space, consider a quality USB speakerphone like the Jabra Speak 410 or, if you have the budget for it, the higher quality 710 model. These devices provide the sound quality of headphones without the burden of wearing them.
MAKE THE CALL
Now that you have an optimal telepresence experience be sure to take advantage of it. Encourage your team to be quick to interrupt a text-based chat and get on a face-to-face call. Just as you would walk over to a colleague’s desk, if you were both in the office, a video call is just as easy to initiate. If you use Microsoft Teams, the video call button is right there to initiate a call with the person you are chatting with. If you use Slack and Zoom, there is a Slackbot that allows you to link your Zoom account and initiate a call almost as seamlessly as in Teams.
DAILY SYNC UPS
We have so many chance encounters at the office that we probably have a face-to-face conversation with everyone on our team every day, and spontaneous group conversations are routine. In a fully remote environment, we may need to kickstart such serendipity. Consider scheduling a daily call where each team member shares what they accomplished yesterday, what they plan to accomplish today, and anything that might be preventing them from being productive. This is a great opportunity to keep up with each other and allow teammates to jump in and help one another. You might also consider having each person share one piece of personal news to make your daily connection more meaningful.
CHAT WITHIN EARSHOT
How many times has this happened? You are talking to a colleague in the team area, and a teammate hears your conversation. Your colleague jumps in with a critical piece of information that was vexing the two of you. That kind of unplanned problem-solving is one of the significant advantages of modern, open offices.
You are probably having those conversations primarily through chat on Slack or Teams now. If your discussions are mainly in private chats with just the person you think is the right one to discuss a given topic with, it’s like you are having that conversation in a soundproof booth. No one else knows it’s happening.
Whenever possible, have those conversations in open channels. Tag the people you believe would be interested but allow the rest of the team to listen in and participate if they have something to contribute. Slack analytics will tell you what percentage of message traffic is in channels versus private chats. Aim to make the vast majority of your message in public channels.
THE FINAL WORD
For the best remote collaboration in the work from home era:
- get everyone a camera and use them with the proper lighting
- invest in a decent headset or USB speakerphone for team members that need them
- develop the habit of quickly transitioning from message chat to a video call
- schedule a daily team sync-up, and have your chats on public channels whenever possible
Teams can be even more effective working from home if you establish a culture that fully embraces the technology needed to be successful. Does your organization have a secret to remote working success in the work from home era? Share it with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Related links: Quick Tips: Simplify Remote Working in AQ