Whether you had already been telecommuting a few days a week or suddenly found yourself working from home during COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders, WFH is our new reality. And we’re learning a lot of things about ourselves, our families and our co-workers.
Like realizing we’ve worn the same pair of sweatpants for days, but not remembering how many days, because all the days are blurring together. Or that babies/kids/dogs don’t separate ‘home office’ from ‘home’—and Murphy’s Law dictates that they will need something rather urgently (like a snack) while you’re on that important video call with your manager.
But we’re also learning some tips and tricks along the way to make WFH more workable. So expertIP talked to members of the Allstream team about what they’ve learned so far and what they’ll bring back to the office when we get to the other side of this global pandemic.
Setting up your WFH office
“Based on the nature of my role, working from home and telecommuting has become a discipline and skill set that I have had to improve on over the years. It wasn’t always so easy— especially since I am a father of five children ranging in ages between 10 and 17,” says Pete Aquino, strategic account executive with Allstream in Seattle.
His No. 1 tip? “Always, always, always inform your children that you have a conference call coming up, especially if video conferencing will be used.” (Remember this classic BBC clip?) Aquino recommends investing in a ‘do not disturb’ door hanger—ordering it online, of course—or putting a plant or object in front of your home office door as a reminder.
Lessons learned to take back to the office? “Clients also need to be reminded that a meeting is coming up. If you’ve scheduled the meeting some time in advance, follow up with participants the day before, or the morning of, as a reminder. When confirming the meeting you also have the chance to share new info or documents that pertain to the agenda.”
From a logistical point of view, Aquino also recommends investing in an L-shaped (corner) desk, which gives you ample workspace and can adapt to limited floor space. If you don’t have a separate room for a home office, invest in a room divider to designate your office space or use a background during video conferences. “Technology such as Webex has background blurring and custom background settings which can be used,” he says.
Tuning in … and tuning out
For Curtis Meyers, Allstream’s national channel sales manager in Montreal, video chat has become the ‘new’ phone call.
“The restrictions of direct contact are pushing the adoption rates of these platforms to record highs,” says Meyers. While he’s replaced in-person meetings with video conferencing during COVID-19, he sees this becoming the new normal, even when we eventually return to the office. “But this doesn’t replace the need for all in-person meetings—just allows you to be smarter with your time.”
Meyers has also discovered it’s still important to “turn off the office” during WFH. “When home is the office and the office is the home, it is easy to forget to turn off and give yourself the needed time,” he says.
“I found it hard at first but had to adjust by scheduling some time for my lunch and a walk. In the evening, even if there is more work to be done in the ‘after hours’ like there so often is, I ensure I take time to myself to keep myself from burning out and to keep my sanity.”
Keeping the lines of communication open
The No. 1 thing Becky Koenders has learned during the global pandemic is that there are productivity gains in being flexible. “Communication is always key in staying connected and available for my employees, since the call centre team is no longer all sitting together,” says Allstream’s manager of client services in Portland.
“An example is having an open group chat through Skype all day with all my direct reports so they can ask any questions they have,” she says. “Sometimes they get a little silly out there, but it’s keeping the whole group connected and they can help each other as well.”
Keeping spirits up can boost morale—and productivity. One of Koenders’ employees had a birthday a few weeks ago, so “my team got together and did a birthday parade—we decorated our cars, drove by her home honking and wishing her the best on her special day.”
Chris Fox, sales manager for Canadian strategic accounts with Allstream in Toronto, has learned what it’s truly like for a business to be nimble. When the pandemic first took hold in Ontario, many of his clients were suddenly faced with having all of their employees working from home for the first time.
“Allstream quickly launched a free 90-day Webex trial and that benefitted one my clients immensely,” says Fox. “They had a general meeting scheduled the next day with over 200 participants and Allstream was able to set up Webex in a matter of hours. The meeting was a success and Webex has allowed them to be able to collaborate while working from home.”
Walking the talk
During this time, Len Matusiak, director of UC Cloud with Allstream in Vancouver, B.C., has learned that the adage “the cream rises to the top” is true. “During the past several weeks, maybe months, we have all been faced with our ‘norms’ being altered. What we have taken for granted in the past has suddenly been curtailed or limited. It is something that is uncomfortable, frustrating, but shared by everyone,” he says.
“I have learned that people have a hard time expressing their fears and concerns; not knowing what to believe or who to believe. I have learned that you need to reach out to people, just a simple email or phone call that lets them know that people are thinking about them and actually do care about their well being. Letting them know that they can reach out, that they are not in this by themselves.”
He has also learned that “walking to the refrigerator door and opening it 20 times a day is not an Olympic event.”
Perhaps most importantly, he’s learned that the leadership of the company he works for does, indeed, ‘walk the talk’ and places people’s safety and well-being first. “I’ve learned that it’s easy to be great in good times, but this team is great in tough times.”