LONDON, England — There is a moment after a small child falls, between the bump and the tantrum where the longer the silence the bigger the riot.
London feels like this today.
I went shopping after work yesterday. You could buy almost anything except toilet paper, pasta, tomato sauce and hand soap. You want to make a fresh salad and a curry; no problem; you want pasta with red sauce; forget about it. Toilet paper looks like it’s a tradable commodity.
But at home, life goes on as near-to-normal as possible.
Like many businesses in the U.S. and elsewhere, suppliers have asked, “If you move to a work-from-home state, would this impact your business?” Oddly, no. We never had a work-from-the-office policy, so we didn’t have an in-the-office productivity benchmark, either.
When we do work from an office, one of our shareholders allows us to “hot desk” in their office, if need be. We work in data modeling, which evaluates how a business manages its data, and we get a heck of a lot more done at home than when we do have to work from an office.
Clients do not want to commute for an hour for a 40-minute meeting that could take 20 minutes on Zoom.
My team of ten are all remote workers. They work and live in London, Huddersfield in the north of England, some in Ireland, one in San Francisco, one in Monaco and one in Kent. We use Skype GOOG, -3.85%, Kanbanery, Zoom ZM, +5.48% and email. We do not have an office.
This used to be regarded as a disadvantage when we were pitching for business.
People would ask, “What? Your company has no office?”
“No,” I’d answer. “Why do we need an office?”
From now on, working from home won’t be seen as such a bad — or, indeed, novel — thing. Millions of people around the world are doing it to help stop the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new virus SARS-CoV-2. The world is pulling together. You can do that at work, too.
Here’s what I’ve learned in my years running a business from home:
1. You control the office — not the home
Be kind. People will be interrupted by kids, dogs, deliveries, and all kinds of stuff, so give them a break. If they need to deal with a domestic crisis, let them. They will make it up to you. You do not know what they are dealing with. (That’s true for life, too.)
With online meetings, there so is much less time wasted. You do not need to make coffee for visiting guests. You do not have to greet them. Sign them in, and book a meeting room. Clients do not want to commute for an hour for a 40-minute meeting that could take 20 minutes on Zoom.
Mark Cunningham: ‘The next couple of months are going to be weird. Think of how useful you can become to your customers, colleagues and neighbors.’
2. The telephone doesn’t lie
If you are avoiding a difficult conversation on a conference call by discussing last night’s game, it will just make the situation more awkward. Do not waste time. Tell the truth like you are explaining it to your child, and say what you are going to do to fix it and how long it will take. Be direct and be honest.
Talk to every member of your team individually and practice the skill not often afforded in physical meetings: practice listening. When you get used to listening you will hear clues as to where your meetings and business plan may go off track. Remote working means focussed time. Use it.
3. Send an agenda and stick to it
Send out an agenda before a meeting and stick to it. Once everyone is on the call, restate the nature of the meeting and agree, if possible, to have a hard exit to finish the call. If it’s a tough call, state that up front. It’s like ripping off a plaster. You will have given them a gift: time to get on with their day.
Follow up immediately after the call with a thank-you note by email or Slack WORK, +5.81%, and mean it. Be thankful and follow through with the action plan. Be true to your word: working from home is working on faith. I need to believe you will do as promised, and vice versa.
4. Check in to catch up, don’t talk business
Millions of people all over the world are stressed out by the turmoil rocking global financial markets and the uncertainty related to the decisions by governments to close their borders and shutter businesses to help stop the spread of coronavirus. So exhale at the end of a long week.
Perhaps have another call on a Friday, this time to check in and decompress, and talk about the stress points of working from home during this global public-health crisis. Do they need time to check on family? If you are feeling overworked, you can be sure your colleagues/employees are too.
5. Check out, and say, ‘Thank you’
When you check out in the evening, tell your team you’re checking out, too. Slack or call them to say you are leaving for the day. It’s a signal to let them know that they are done for the day too. And if they need to update you, and show you what they have completed, say, “Thank you.” It matters.
The next couple of months are going to be weird. Think of how useful you can become to your customers, colleagues and neighbors. What can you do to help? How can you be of service? If you set that as your No. 1 goal, working from home won’t seem like such an isolating experience.
In London, the scarcity of toilet paper has led to wartime jokes about using newspaper as a substitute. Alas, most people read the news on their iPhones! Instead, let’s craft a virtual work environment where kindness and compassion become the world’s most valued commodities.