Remote working brings a lot of flexibility. You can do the school run, or home school if the need arises. You can go to the shops off peak, take care of others and a host of other things that are well talked about. But I’m not sure any of this makes us truly flexible.
Over the coming months, as we face extended periods of social distancing and self-isolation, we need to figure out how to really do flexible working.
It’s about being able to work the hours that suit your life while getting the job done and supporting colleagues and customers in the best possible way. Quite a few things need to happen to get the balance right; there must be understanding about how flexible you can be while achieving goals and work commitments. This could mean being flexible in your expectations of others as well as your own working hours.
Here are some of the measures we’ve taken at DevOpsGroup to ensure homeworking is both flexible and effective. Some of them might help you support staff or colleagues so your business can achieve more during the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Understand team and customer needs
First things first, determine what you and your team need to achieve and what you need to provide for customers. This will dictate how flexible you can be, so you can set yourself boundaries. However, there may be scope to adapt the way your team and customers work too. Many people are remote working at present, so this is an opportunity to evolve the way we interact and develop new behaviours.
Establish the core hours that your service or business offering must be available and figure out how to achieve this as a team. Take care not to put too much responsibility on the people who have fewer family commitments, it’s not fair and could lead to burnout.
2. Hold regular planning sessions
Long term planning is difficult during times of uncertainty, but short term planning is vital.
Aim to run a planning session with your team every two weeks, where you agree what you’ll focus on and work towards. This is an opportunity for everyone to establish and communicate what they might need from others.
Tip: if you know you’re going to need specific information to complete a task, ask for it. If you suspect you’ll need support or guidance later, flag it now and book something in – don’t assume people will be available when you need them.
At DevOpsGroup, we find online tracking software is a great way to ensure flexible working is effective and productive. If you’re not around at the same time as others, you can update tickets for individual tasks so they tell a story which people can add to or refer to when needed. Yes, it’s another administrative task. But it ensures activity can progress when different people are available at different times.
If you get do stuck on a given task because someone isn’t around, park it at a sensible place and move on.
3. Set and manage expectations
It’s important to be transparent about your availability, to give some structure to the working week and ensure colleagues know when they can reach you. Be clear about this with customers too. In a B2B scenario, aim to plan catch ups as needed within a two-week window when people expect to be available.
In terms of delivering on tasks, let people know what you’re working on and who might need to provide input or approval.
We have an opportunity here to reduce some of the pressure people face in the always-on digital world. If you need to email or use an instant messaging platform such as Slack to communicate outside traditional working hours, make it clear that you don’t expect an immediate reply. This is especially important for senior managers and business leaders – your behaviours have a huge impact on the people around you.
4. Share, share, share
No one can predict how many of us may be unwell at once, or when we’ll need to support the people we care for at home. So, share as much information as you can, when you can.
Pairing up with a colleague can be a good way to increase the chances of one of you being available at any given time. Be proactive and make a point of telling your team, other teams, customers or suppliers when you are online and available.
Everyone needs to share the responsibility for getting important tasks completed on time too. So, if you need something from someone else and it’s time sensitive, let them know. You need to be explicit about this or they may not understand the urgency.
If someone’s unable to meet a deadline, you need to find out as early as possible, then have a team conversation to explore the options. There may be scope to deprioritise other tasks, bring someone else onboard to help or even move the overall goal. All these things are best dealt with in advance, not when the deadline is looming.
5. Communicate clearly and frequently
The more you communicate what you are doing, the easier it is for your team and vice versa. Here are some pointers to bear in mind during the pandemic:
- Don’t assume people will know if you have to go out, feel unwell, or need to look after a family member – explicitly tell your team at the earliest opportunity.
- Tell people outside your immediate team too.
- If you use Slack, set your status; it’s an easy, visual way to keep people updated.
- If you think others may need to know about something, share it with them sooner rather than later. If you do go off sick, they will thank you for it.
- Consider which format you communicate in. If you don’t need a quick reply or you are working outside business hours, perhaps send an email or comment on a ticket, rather than using Slack.
6. Don’t try to do everything at once
If you have set expectations, agreed what is happening and made your team aware, don’t be afraid to take time out when you need to.
Switch off email, switch off Slack. Work when you’re working, sign out when you’re not.
If you try to juggle everything at the same time, you’ll feel stressed and won’t put your energy where it’s needed.
Take an honest look at what’s urgent, what’s a priority and what can wait. Much of the time, there are things that can wait, and you won’t hold other people up if everyone is working flexibly and effectively.
Seize the opportunity
The COVID-19 outbreak is going to test all of us in ways we never imagined. But we also have an opportunity to make genuinely flexible working – not just remote working – efficient and effective. If we’re conscientious, communicative and proactive, perhaps this could become be the new reality for many workers.