This might have been your first ever week of working from home, either on your own or as part of a new ‘remote’ team. Whilst there are lots of benefits, it can be challenging to adapt to different work surroundings, new tech, a day with a totally new pattern and simply not being able to ask the person next to you a question or have a chat. As this has been prompted by the coronavirus pandemic we’re all in uncharted territory, with many people having to make a very sudden shift against a context of widespread uncertainty.

I’ve had a range of experiences of remote working and learning: I’ve managed and worked in a part office-based, part home-working team; I’m now largely home-based, working freelance with clients who have offices, and with others where the whole team is remotely-based. And this week I’ve spoken to clients who have picked up their laptops and are navigating a new working reality and adapting day-by-day.

I certainly can’t claim to always get it right, but I thought it would be helpful to share what I’ve learned:

1. Be kind, flexible and acknowledge the challenge. This is new to everyone, so you’ll need to be extra flexible to start with, whilst you all get used to the situation. If you’re usually still insistent on sticking to the 9 to 5, realise that it’s not going to work in this situation! Especially with colleagues having to look out for vulnerable relatives or friends and parents coping with working with their children at home. Set out working times and patterns in collaboration with your colleagues and share what you are doing so you can be productive and also supportive.

2. If you’re a manager, be available and have lots of conversations with your team, making sure you all know it’s OK from the start to talk about the challenges, give feedback and work through improvements. Make sure that you have plenty of protected time for one-to-ones and team meetings so that you can agree your new ways of working collaboratively. Everyone is different though, so check in with individuals on their working style and preferences and try to adapt accordingly.

3. Seeing people’s faces is important! Luckily there is a host of video conferencing options available to help you feel less isolated, plus it also helps with picking up some of the nuances of body language that are missed in a phone call or email. If you’re a manager, as well as moving your usual team meetings, one-to-ones and project meetings online, you could have a daily ‘check in’ where you all hop on video for 15 minutes to chat over a cup of tea.

4. Use different ways of communicating. As well as video, picking up the phone rather than sending an email is really key in the early days of remote working, and will really help for anyone feeling a bit lonely at their desk. Similarly, there are many team messaging systems like Slack which help cut down on email overload. One of the small charities I work with is successful in using email only for external messages, Slack for comms within the team and Asana for task-allocation. A note of caution – it’s easy to slip into messaging overload instead though, so ensure you set up your notification settings to limit interruptions and have well-structured channels. You can set the channels up by project or topic plus have a ‘watercooler’ type channel for general chat.

5. Learn together.  Encourage your colleagues to share what is going well and what they are finding challenging about their new situation, so you can help each other out.

6. Recognise the need for social interaction and encourage it. I’ve seen a couple of articles this week suggesting that team members could hop on to Skype or Zoom and co-work for a while, not for a meeting but just for the company. Could that work for you? Or you could introduce an informal buddying system where individuals pair up to check in on each other every day. In a larger organisation, you could also encourage individuals to buddy up across teams, to help discourage new silos forming.

7. Equally the work still needs to be done and we all need to keep our businesses and organisations afloat through difficult times, so focus on productivity and outcomes rather than the actual hours worked. Set clear goals and tasks and review them individually and, if you’re a manager, with the team at the end of the week.

8. It’s an obvious thing, but set up good systems – this could be the opportunity to sort out all those ‘where on earth did you save that?’ moments. When you’re in an office-based team it’s easy to just call over the desk and ask someone, if you’re working remotely it can add to the sense of isolation if you’re constantly having to ring or email to ask where things are.

9. Structure your day and recognise your good and bad points. If you’re usually in an office, you probably have a daily routine that you’re not even aware of, so create your new one at home instead. Now might be the time to get in place some of the productivity techniques you’ve always meant to try but haven’t got round to as you were answering that urgent email instead. At the most basic level, get dressed! If possible get a desk area set up, with your back properly supported. If you’re a manager and this is challenging for your team members because of their living situation, discuss it and help them find solutions. Work out what times of day you are most alert, focused and effective and get the priority tasks done at that point. Make a to-do list (or a ta-dah list to track what you’ve achieved). Switch off social media and news notifications and check them at specific times through the day. Try ‘eating the frog’ first to avoid procrastination, and the Pomodoro approach of working in short bursts followed by a break. Make sure you have lunch away from your desk; if you can, do some exercise, at least going for a 10 minute walk to get a breath of fresh air every day.

10. Be kind, be flexible and acknowledge the challenge. OK, so it’s the same as number 1 but it’s worth repeating because it’s so important. Looking after your own mental health and that of your team is critical right now. It’s the right thing to do as a human being, and it will help you and your team get through.

And finally, here’s a couple of handy links:

Pomodoro technique

Eat the frog time management technique 

The Mental Health Foundation’s guide to looking after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak