Our transition to “working from home” - what’s worked and what we’re learning - Cogent

Our transition to “working from home” – what’s worked and what we’re learning

Ben Rowe

Ben Rowe

Designer. Dad. Defender of the Universe.

Well, dear reader, it’s been a hell of a week. And it’s only Thursday. 

Like many digital businesses across the globe, Cogent made the decision last week to go 100% remote during these crazy COVID-19 times.

If you’re anything like me, your LinkedIn and Twitter feeds have been flooded with ‘how to enable remote working with your team’ posts, which are often a thinly veiled sales tactic. This isn’t one of those.  

Instead, I want to reflect on how we’ve been dealing with that change, and share what’s been working well so far (and what hasn’t) in the hope it might help some of you going through the same experience. 

I should preface this by saying we’re no strangers to remote working, and most people at Cogent tend to work from home at least some of the time. However, we’ve never been “fully remote”. This is a new challenge for us. It hasn’t been easy, and it’s definitely a learning process.

So here’s some thoughts on how the week has been going for us so far – how we’ve been staying in touch, looking after one another, and continuing to get shit done.

Transparent Communication

Something I’ve really appreciated this week is transparent communication from our leadership team. Our leadership team have been sending out regular emails with updates on the latest health advice, as well as team and client updates. They’ve put in place multiple new (digital) standups to give updates as well. 

If I’m honest, we’re probably running more meetings than needed, but it feels more important to over-communicate right now than under-communicate. These are nerve-wracking times, so it’s reassuring to know what’s going on at a company level. And that we’re all in this together.

Staying Connected

When you share a physical working space with a group of people, connecting is easy. When you’re couped up at home, it takes a bit more effort.

Digitally, we’re using Slack more than ever to stay in touch. The #covid19 channel is where we’re posting the latest news about the virus. Parents are sharing the challenges of juggling work from home and child-minding over on the #parenting channel. Our #mental-health channel is always a safe space to talk about our anxieties. And our new #remote-working channel is a great place to share best practices on working from home.

It’s also been great to see where everyone else is working. We’ve been sharing photos of our workspaces, our assistants (aka pets), and we’re getting to know each other deeper by getting more of a glimpse into their personal lives. It’s been a simple way for us to feel connected when we’re apart.

Image: Some of the more tidy home office setups

Remote Tools

We’ve been relying on a small handful of digital tools which have helped everything work smoothly (so far), while experimenting with new ways of approaching things ‘remote-first’.

We use Google Meet as our primary video conferencing tool, but often fall back to Slack for quick one-on-one video chats.

Usually, most of our standups and meetings are at some sort of physical Kanban board on one of the office walls. We’ve now digitised these using a mix of Mural, Trello and Notion to replicate our physical walls, allowing us to keep things moving as if we were still in the office. Hat tip to Jen who has set this up for us.

We’re also using Notion for our company wiki, which has been another useful tool that we can use for real-time collaboration.


Image – Some of the team running a workshop remotely using Notion and Google Hangouts

Best practices

 

Our resident remote working guru, Dan (who lives in Queensland) ran an excellent Brown Bag session yesterday, to remind us of some best practices in place for consulting remotely. Here are some of my key take-aways:

  • A team schedule is crucial – make sure you have a shared calendar that shows team member availability, and any meetings or rituals that your team has.

     

  • Allow time for focus – be mindful about when you’re booking meetings with your team. Make sure that people have blocks of time for deep, focussed work.

     

  • Give everyone the chance to speak – communicating via video is great, but we do miss out on a lot of the body language and eye contact that we’d get in a face to face meeting. We miss some of the cues when people want to talk. As a facilitator, it’s important to structure your meetings in a way that allows everyone to contribute to the conversation.
  • Be visible – about what you’re working on with the team. Let your team know when you’re available and when you’re not. Be clear about what you’re working on at any given time, and the value that you’re providing. Being visible about your work helps develop trust in your team.
  • Presentation is everything –  think about camera angles, and what can be seen in the background. And make sure you’re not slouching. Just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you should look unprofessional. I guess that means I should start brushing my hair before video meetings 😉
  • Who are you WFH with? – don’t forget about your families and your flatmates. Take the time to think about how new working arrangements can impact the people you share your home with. Be kind to them, and to yourself.

Checking in


People are dealing with this pandemic in different ways, so it’s been really healthy to see our “check-in” culture working so well.

The Cogent crew are an empathetic lot; we take the time to make sure everyone is feeling ok. We ask for help when we need it, and we’re supportive when others need help too.

It makes a big difference to how we treat each other.

Keep in mind, too, that not everyone in your team is used to working from home. Remote work doesn’t come naturally for all of us, so make sure to do extra check-ins with team members who might need the support.

It’s a work in progress

If you’re like us and this is your first week of going 100% remote, I hope you’re surviving the change. It’s likely that we’re all going to be working from home for a while, and it’s going to take some trial and error before we all get into the full swing of it.

As we all adapt and learn, we’ve love to know what’s been working well for you and your team? What’s been the biggest challenge? We’d love to hear it, so we can all learn from each other.

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