We have developed the following tips to help you reflect on your practice and use technology for effective remote working.
Collaborate together easily and efficiently by setting up a shared space in Google Drive where teammates can access each other's materials. Foster an environment where you share by default. This is especially important if colleagues need to work part-time or suddenly go on sick leave.
Discuss with your colleagues and agree on how you are going to work, communicate, share and organise information and tasks, considering each other's needs and preferences.
We’ve made suggestions of some useful communication tools: you should agree which tools you are going to use and when you are going to use them, both with any teams you are a member of and with any individuals you contact regularly. To enable the effective flow of communication, make sure everyone knows the purpose of different communications channels, etiquette and service standards.
Consider the urgency of your message, whether you need a record of it, and your colleague’s preferences, before choosing how to contact them. For example, you might use Zoom for meetings, email for formal communications and Slack for conversations. If you do repeat the same message across multiple platforms, acknowledge why you are doing this and think about the person who is receiving the message.
Remember, you can quickly respond to messages in Slack by using emoji reactions. You could also share a Google Doc with ‘comment’ or ‘edit’ access prior to a meeting to ensure concise agenda items are communicated for the consideration of attendees prior to a meeting.
What does your meeting need? When working remotely, it is not always best to hold a video conference over Meet or Zoom, to replace a meeting ‘in real life’. Avoid the need to record minutes by providing written updates in Slack or trying Slack workflows. You could use Jamboard to collate ideas and encourage creative thinking. Google Docs is another excellent place to collaboratively build on each other’s work. If you do need to hold a video conference, think about the length. Because they start on time and have fewer distractions, could you schedule 30 minute meetings rather than an hour?
Different tools and approaches can promote contributions from different people based on their preferences and some are more accessible than others. Remember, Meet provides auto-captioning, and you can share Meet or Zoom recordings afterwards. If possible, having your video on, mic muted (unless you are speaking!) and displaying your name is recommended in meetings using Zoom or Meet.
Wherever possible, share information in advance and ensure that this is as succinct as possible. With a clear purpose and lack of superfluous details, you will save everyone’s time and help colleagues to prepare appropriately, in a timely manner.
It’s important to consider the longevity of communications; Slack is good for real time conversations, but if you need a permanent record of the information it may be better to use a Wiki or Google Docs. It’s not a problem if you need to change the format as the situation progresses. Just think about who needs to access the information and how long it needs to be accessible so that you can change the format if necessary.
Who needs to be informed or involved? Responses to emails or messages don’t always necessitate using ‘reply all’ or CCing specific colleagues. When working remotely, there isn’t the same limit to meeting sizes, but just because you can invite more people it doesn’t mean you should, especially as online meetings can get unwieldy with more participants.
Determine how regularly you need to update or contact colleagues, considering individuals’ needs as much as possible. Ideally, meetings and updates are not so rare that they are too dense or deadlines could be missed, but they are not so regular that colleagues might be overloaded with content and items could consequently be overlooked.
It’s easy to fall into a pattern of back to back meetings and long periods at your desk. It is important to recognise this and build in practices to enable you and your colleagues to take a break and have a healthy working pattern. Build in breaks within meetings, add in non-compulsory social get togethers and don’t arrange back to back meetings (if you can help it). Where possible, preserve lunch time by avoiding meetings between 12 noon and 2pm.
We all need time to focus; recognise when you do your best work. You can use your Calendar to book out time to work on actions: mark an event ‘busy’ or specify what you’re working on. You can also use Calendar events and Slack statuses to dedicate specific times away from your email and Slack e.g. childcare, breaks, and focused work.
Think about having meeting-free days as a team but consider how compressing time for meetings might impact others’ workloads and what works best for individuals’ needs. Sometimes a meeting is unavoidable, so flexibility will still be necessary.
It’s not as easy to know when a colleague is taking a break, in a meeting, teaching or engaging in concentrated work (eg report writing, research), when you are not working in the same location. There are features and functions offered in communications channels to let others know if you are contactable. You could use Google Calendar and statuses in Slack to show your availability and working hours, and indicate when you are busy, in a meeting, taking a break or teaching. Let colleagues you regularly work with know where to look to find your availability.
Don’t forget to use your out of office email replies where appropriate. Unless it’s vital to your role, you may also want to turn off alerts when outside your working hours, especially if you ever access your work emails on your phone.
Everyone’s situations, preferences and priorities are different, even more so when working remotely. Consider an individual’s circumstances and the time of day before expecting an immediate response, whether it’s their work-load, working hours, lunchtime, childcare or accessibility. Think about replacing meetings with Slack updates to enable colleagues to engage with discussions and catch up on communications at different times. Don’t forget to use email subject lines to indicate importance.
Check a colleague’s status on Calendar and Slack to see their availability, but remember that if a colleague doesn’t respond instantly, they might be away from their desk, even if they haven’t said where they are. Never repeatedly, rapidly message someone unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Working arrangements may be different at the moment, but that doesn’t have to stop us making the most of things. You might not be able to have traditional chats over the water cooler, but that doesn’t mean you can’t arrange online coffee breaks or games with colleagues or mention your current project(s) over Slack. Who knows what serendipitous conversations might happen by connecting with colleagues?