As uncertain times fall on the world in the wake of COVID-19, many workers are making the switch from cubicles and offices to the comfort (or confines) of working from home. Governments will probably always have a need for some in-person work and therefore in-person employees, but adopting remote options and alternatives has many advantages, including:
In fact, just this past week we took our remote-work-first advice to heart. Roughly two-thirds of our team had already been distributed. Once the counties around our headquarters office announced the shelter-in-place restrictions for the indefinite future, we decided to end the lease on our San Francisco and Durham offices in order to make our team 100% remote.
We've had more than half of our company working remotely for years. Because of this we have a lot of tips and tricks to share on remote work. What steps can governments take to harness the power of working from home, and what tips and tools should employees new to the practice know by heart?
“What’s important for long-term success is putting into place the right foundational practices and culture. In the end, we all know that tools don’t matter as much as people.”
Afua Bruce, Code for America
Lots of work is going to get done at different times, in different places, and coworkers are often going to be on different pages. The solution to this? According to Laura Lanford of Nava Public Benefit Corporation, the answer lies in over-communication:
Take the time, especially in the event of a mass transition of employees from in-person to remote work, to make sure everyone is instructed on the use of the basic remote work tools your organization prefers as well as the features of those tools. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
One of the main scenarios people visualize when picturing their ideal remote work environment is a cup of coffee or tea on their nightstand, the cat or dog in their lap, tucked away in bed with only a laptop handy. However, lots of research has suggested that working from your bed can have a negative impact on your work, productivity and your sleep. While an at-home office is obviously the best option, an outdoor balcony/patio or dining room table can work nicely too.
According to New York Times writer Brian X. Chen, another small but helpful effort you can make when working from home is minimizing your tech and other distractions at your setup. Think minimally! Distractions you wouldn’t normally have to face in an office setting are inevitable while at home, so Chen also says to not beat yourself up too badly when you do lose focus, and to instead try to view distractions as small breaks.
Remember that just because your work is now the distance from you to your computer instead of you to your workplace, you aren’t obligated to work more, be available more instantaneously, or feel more enslaved to your job. Remote workers are often in different time zones or occupy different schedules too, so again the assumption should generally be that associates and employees are working asynchronously and they’ll get to you when they’re available, not as soon as you ask since hours might be more fluid and remote workers tend to not stray as far from their phones and computers.
To be honest, we’ve tried them all. Some video conferencing software works better with certain computer types, but the one that we use most widely is Google Hangouts. The iPhone Google Hangouts app Meet is also very easy to use and works well on the go. If we want to do a quick check-in with a colleague we use Slack video or a Hangout. If we want to connect with a customer we tend to use Join.me or UberConference. Other popular options include Skype, GoToMeeting, and Zoom.
It’s the internet equivalent of calling someone on the phone. It helps to retain the human connection that disappears as in-person work moves to employees’ homes. Most video conferencing software offer audio calling as well.
Screen sharing is a must when working or communicating more complicated ideas remotely as it takes the place of being able to physically show a coworker or administrator something you’re working on, have a question about, etc. Most conferencing apps have built-in screensharing which is helpful.
While tools like Skype and Zoom can be used for the general group text chat function, the indisputable king of this club is Slack, and there’s a good chance it will also be the app of choice for your organization. Slack features the option to employ multiple channels with designated topics or purposes, specific member inclusion, and private messaging between members of a shared Slack workspace as well as screen sharing, call and video chat. Additionally other business tools can be easily integrated to provide information and enable collaboration.
Microsoft also offers a suite of remote tools called Microsoft Teams, which closely parallels Slack’s functionality and includes things like video conferencing and collaboration tools. If your government uses Microsoft services this may be the best option to integrate with your existing tech stack.
In our modern world of constantly changing work practices, NextRequest has been ahead of the curve on employing remote work for the management of public records requests and everything else FOIA. Find out more about the most state-of-the-art solution for your state or local government at https://www.nextrequest.com/.
Successful Remote and Distributed Work in Uncertain Times, Code For America (Video 1hr 12min)
18F’s Best Practices for Making Distributed Teams Work, 18F Office - General Services Administration (Article)
Coronavirus: 9 CIOs Explain How Their Enabling Telework, Govtech (Article)
Here's why you shouldn't work from your bed during the coronavirus pandemic, Yahoo.com, (Article)
The Tech Headaches of Working from Home and How to Remedy Them, New York Times (Article)