In the current situation, many employees and companies are faced with a new concept of work: the home office situation, also known as working remotely. By definition, this means that for one’s work, no certain workplace is needed or given. We, the Cyan Planet family, are now in a unique "expert" position – thanks to our international team and our high mobility, we have been working remotely for all of Cyan Planet's existence, and have had mainly good experiences with it. In the following, you may find a list of useful tips and tricks we use to make our remote work effective, productive, and fun.
One great advantage of working from home – or from wherever you are – is the flexibility that comes along with it. Many people experience how easy it is to squeeze different kinds of tasks into a smaller time frame than when you have to change your workplace for it. The typical sofa-lovers may find themselves writing creative texts much easier and faster when lying down on their favourite piece of furniture, while others have a whole office at home that offers the newest technologies for them to emerge in their work. If one is not used to working remotely, however, the ‘home environment’ that is surrounding oneself can be highly distracting. In addition, as none of your colleagues see you, they might not know what you have accomplished or how distracted you may have been. Here are our thoughts and experiences that can help you cope with all of that.
Structure your day
Even when working from home, you can establish working hours in which other people, for example your partner, should not disturb you. Communicate your plans for the day with your flatmates, so that all of you know what the others have on their agenda. A schedule also helps you being punctual on online meetings, and you can share your calendar with your coworkers to establish time-efficient meetings for everyone.
Benefits of video calls and how to structure them
We all have seen the same jokes on the internet recently. Probably all of us have encountered the screenshots of video conferences where one person is not wearing pants, showing off their underwear because they’re not aware their video is turned on. Oops! To have productive and efficient web meetings, it is highly advisable to let everybody turn on their video (knowingly!), as long as the internet bandwidth is strong enough. One of our project managers had to kindly force our shy development team to turn their cameras on, but the whole Cyan Planet family is now very happy to share smiles across the borders and see each other regularly.
Now, not only does this establish more human connection and sense of society and responsibility than staring at a black screen, it also helps each participant to focus on the meeting. If you know you are visible to others, you are less likely to watch your smartphone all the time, and your concentration increases. If you have a problem, it is easier to communicate it in the right way when the others see you, even if it is only on a screen. Another plus point of having the video turned on: Everybody will love it if your pet comes across, wanting some cuddles from you.
Share your emotional state
This is something that can be easily overlooked while working remotely. It is important for online and remote workers to be able to be open about their emotional state, so that your colleagues know how you are doing in your entirety, not just the working part. Team members in leading positions are advised to keep an eye open on that and find ways to encourage the team members to open up by showing the example and making everyone feel welcomed. As we do not have informal coffee breaks to discuss and release emotions and possible frustrations or other feelings, this is a very important aspect to take into consideration and apply in this working situation, and it is important that we all look out for each other.
Appoint a moderator for your meetings
You may have encountered the following situation: you are in a video conference, everybody is talking at the same time and you don’t hear everything that’s being said. The conference has been going on for way too long, and you feel yourself losing interest in the topic altogether. Here are some things you can do to make video meetings shorter, more effective and interesting for all participants!
First of all, consider choosing one person as moderator for the current meeting to lead the discussion. This is a rotating role that is appointed to one team member at the beginning of the meeting, allowing each team member the chance to moderate. As the discussion leader, it is important to let each person have their turn and speak, which encourages those who do not pitch in for themselves to speak as well. However it is also his or her role to stop them when they have been talking for quite some time. With this, it can be ensured that minimal time is lost because of people interrupting each other, which in real life is not as much of a problem as on the internet where it can cause major delays.
Secondly, define a time limit for the meeting. For example, Cyan Planet’s weekly meetings are only 30 minutes long, and everyone participates productively. And trust us, our meetings are far more productive than before thanks to the defined time frame!
Furthermore, it is helpful if everybody that is not speaking mutes their own microphone. This relinquishes background noise and the possibility to hear an echo. It also increases the emotional border to start speaking, ensuring that not every small comment, but rather focused and goal-oriented thoughts are shared in the group.
Keep your colleagues updated
Cyan Planet has always used short weekly meetings to keep everybody updated on what each colleague is working on at the moment. Social media experts and development team members would live in parallel, untouching worlds otherwise. Through our update-meetings, we ensure that everybody has a sense of the others, making us feel more as parts of the same entity and enhancing our cooperation. Not rarely, it happens that people from completely different work groups come up with great and productive ideas for the others.
Using a chat in any kind of application can be very useful for you and your colleagues. It often feels less formal than writing emails, and is basically the remote alternative to asking your colleague or boss a quick, informal question. Other people also working from home may reply faster and more intuitively than if being asked by mail. The chosen platform depends on how you are organized and what tools you already know. We also try to use the tools that the majority feels comfortable with, so the communication is always effortless. But in the end, it’s not about the tools and workflow but rather how much we care and support each other and therethrough making it a nice working environment for all of us!
These are only some of our insights and tips that we as a group of remote workers have learned so far. We hope that you may not only find them interesting, but also helpful in your daily life. For Cyan Planet, working remotely is essential, as our team is distributed across different time zones and continents. Even if these are difficult and challenging times, remember that there is always something positive to be drawn, may it even “only” be the experience :-)