Tips for Remote Working from Virtual Office Pros
by Lisa Changdveja and Julia Silbergeld, MoveOn
For more than 20 years, MoveOn has been a remote organization. As many organizations are shifting to temporary remote working, we wanted to share some what we’ve learned over time to make our virtual work flow easier. We are writing this not for workplaces looking to shift to permanent remote work — we would have slightly different recommendations for that — but for those making an unplanned and temporary shift to remote work to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. These are stressful times, and we thought this list could help ease one transition many office workers are making in this moment.
Materials to support healthy working: We provide employees with everything they need for an ergonomic setup. While that may not be realistic for a temporary shift, you should consider giving employees a budget to get what they need — even just enough to get a laptop stand, external keyboard, and external mouse would be a game-changer for many people’s home setup. Having employees work from their bed for days on end could be a recipe for physical issues that are avoidable.
Technology to facilitate communication: We highly recommend using video conferencing; at a minimum, if you must use phones for group meetings, we recommend also having an online chat. We use Zoom for video meetings for everything from one-on-one meetings to all staff meetings. Zoom enables voice, video, and text chat and also allows for breakout rooms, polls, recording, and other features. We also use Slack for internal communication and find that this works well.
Norms around video meetings: To encourage smooth meetings, we recommend having a clear facilitator and agenda, as well as tapping someone to take notes. We use a system during meetings called “stacking.” People can type “stack” in the text chat in Zoom — or, if we are calling into the meeting, we say “Stack (Name)” to get in line to speak, and the facilitator then calls on the next person on the list to speak. This both prevents people from speaking over each other and levels the playing field for who gets to speak. There are gender, race, and class dynamics that often play out in all meetings, and especially online meetings, that make it easier for some staff to get a word in if there isn’t a clear system.
Helping prevent isolation: Make sure that managers are checking in with staff, continuing to do team meetings, and not avoiding the emotions of the situation. We also use an app called Donut that connects random staff every two weeks for a 1–1 conversation that might happen organically in a physical office environment. Create opportunities for staff to connect with each other outside of the actual work; we have Slack channels for everything from parents to pets to book reading to identity-based caucuses. These create space for staff to have conversations that focus on things other than just work, which help employees feel less disconnected.
Management in a remote environment: The truth is that management is fairly similar in a remote environment to a physical one. You can’t look over an employee’s shoulder, so don’t try. Manage people to reach their goals and objectives — which is how you should manage anyway! — and ask a lot of open questions to find out what they’re struggling with, what support they need, and how things are going. The main difference is that in a remote environment, you may not seem as accessible to your staff if you aren’t reaching out to them, so make sure to check in via Slack regularly, if you have it, or via email, text, or phone, if you don’t. And make sure your staff know how best to reach you.
Even with remote working, employers can create supportive and compassionate environments in what is a stressful time for many employees. Some of what we have done as an organization to enable our employees to continue working — in addition to our normal paid sick leave and paid family medical leave coverage — is extend our paid family medical leave to cover parents who need to be out of work due to coronavirus-related school closures, and provide partial reimbursement for childcare coverage, if employees want to and are able to get it during school closures.
(Lisa Changadveja is the Chief of Staff and Julia Silbergeld is the Chief of People & Organizational Development at MoveOn, a grassroots advocacy and political organization that has been a remote working environment since its inception over 20 years ago)