If you joined us for our first ever CatalystCreativ Coffee Chat, we want to say thank you! We had a great time sharing a little of what we’ve learned—through much trial and error—over the past seven years of remote work. And we hope you learned a thing or two you can take back to your team.
Given the response of this first iteration of what we now hope to make a weekly series—keep that noon EDT (9 am PDT) slot open each Wednesday!—we’ll be recording future sessions. (And we've recorded a summary of our first call for you to check out here.) Our plan is to host weekly calls for the next several weeks to address various topics related to staying successful in a remote environment. We are exploring bringing in some experts in other areas to join our conversations. Topics will include employee engagement, finance, HR, and potentially helping your children learn in a remote environment. Stay tuned to our LinkedIn and/or email for updates (you can add our 3/25 session to your calendar here). You can email email@example.com if you have any questions related to these sessions.
But for now, here’s a quick rundown of some of the questions we received during this week’s session, as well as our answers to them!
(As an aside, if you’d like a recap of the remote working tools we recommended on our call, or a rundown of some of the policies that help us stay connected, even when thousands of miles apart, here you go!)
1. I’m working more than I ever have since I started working from home. How do I establish boundaries?
What we find helps, is to establish clear expectations around working hours. We have established “working” hours from 10am (in our time zone) to 6pm. During that time frame, we’re expected to be available for calls and emails and Slack messages. But any time outside of that is our own. Sometimes we may choose to use that time to get ahead on a project or catch up on our email, but for the most part we designed our days that way so that as a company we are setting clear expectations and boundaries on our time. It can be tough to stick to this, but if the whole team works to abide by a daily structure in their hours, it makes it easier. Also, if you have to run an errand or help your kid with homework or even take a walk for your own sanity, that’s okay! Just let your team know via your calendar that you’ll be out of touch for a bit, and will resume working on a task when you return.
2. What sort remote working structural information can you share that you’ve gathered over the course of your seven years as a fully remote team?
The biggest thing we've taken away from our time working from home is the need for consistency. When not at an office, your team's personal lives feel much closer to the forefront every day, so you need to keep things steady and anticipatable from a work perspective to help people remain focused. For instance, our weekly Monday morning check-ins are a huge part of our week—people even know if they are looking to take a three-day weekend they're better off missing a Friday than a Monday. If we ever implement changes to our collective schedule or routine we let everyone know weeks or even months in advance so they can adjust their calendars and expectations accordingly.
(And for a more general overview of the benefits of remote work, laid out visually and numerically, FlexJobs puts out an awesome annual survey!)
3. How do you motivate your remote team? How do you keep them inspired and connected to what their work does for the world? How can leaders engage their staff without the benefits of in-person interactions?
Right now, a lot of those who are new to remote work are stuck at what we call “Level 3” engagement. Level 3 is defined as frustrated engagement and it is characterized by someone being distracted. We are all very distracted all the time! For those of us who have never worked from home before, distractions are even more plentiful. And even for those of us who have, the nature of what is happening in the world is inherently distracting us from our daily lives. The goal right now is to try and help your workforce limit distractions and build meaningful connections with them. That means, meeting them where they are mentally, acknowledging their hardships, getting them the tools they need to be successful, setting clear guidelines and expectations, listening to them about their difficulties, and offering to share your own personal experience when appropriate. In order to build an inspired workforce we need to authentically and meaningfully connect. You can find many ways to do this, either as a weekly team check-in or even by setting aside time to speak to each of your employees directly and personally once a week.
Once your employees understand that you care about them, and you’ve limited their distractions, then they can get back to Levels 4 and 5, then eventually Levels 6 and the Seventh Level of engagement. That means they are doing what is asked of them, they can see the value of what is in it for them, they feel inspired, and are advocates for your company. To get there, consider revisiting what the core values of your company are, as a group. What do you do? Why do you exist? Who are you serving? Remind yourself and your employees why you are here and connect back to the values that brought each of them to work for you in the first place.
4. What is the best way to keep people collaborating creatively on projects, but remotely? How do you keep ideas bouncing around?
We’ve found what works best for our team—composed of highly creative and collaborative folks living all over the US—is a mixture of communication options. Most semi-urgent messages go out over Slack. For less time-sensitive tasks that might be more long-term, we tend to favor email (easier to consult again later). And we hold regular Zoom meetings (video calls) to ensure face-to-face communication as well. It takes some practice, but ensuring lines of communication are always open is huge. As is knowing when a means of communication isn’t working—if you have to keep asking for clarification about someone’s Slack note, it can help to pick up the phone and call them! Another tactic is to plan intentional brainstorm time (during which everyone commits to set down their phones, not answer emails, and turn off notifications) and host a collaborative session over a video call.
5. How do you keep tabs on people who aren’t working up to their normal standards—and who might be extremely stressed and anxious about the current situation?
We start off every work week with a team-wide Zoom call where we don’t talk about work, we just talk about our weekends, how we are all feeling, any life updates, and open the floor up for people to talk about really anything. This is especially important now. Give your team members the space to open up about how they are personally feeling and what they are experiencing. You never know who is dealing with what until you encourage people to share, and truly listen. By building a safe space for this type of conversation and check-in, it builds trust among team members and also gives you a pulse on how your team is doing.
6. What are some other ways to ensure people are staying cordial, and continuing to view one another as friends and peers and not just names associated with email addresses?
It may seem simple, and even silly, but we love our non-work-focused Slack channels! We have a channel where people can share recipes they recently made and loved; a channel for sharing interesting, discussion-provoking articles that aren’t necessarily about business; and we also—of course—encourage as many dog and baby photos as possible over the course of the business day.
In addition, at CatalystCreativ we have been hosting book clubs every other month for several years. Each member of the team gets to choose their own non-fiction book that they’d like to read (we cover the cost of the purchase) and then they share their insights from the book in our book club meeting. It gives our team members an opportunity for professional development, but also an opportunity to talk about a book and a topic that interests them. Sharing that helps to build deeper connections and understanding of one another. And we have built a great reading list because of it!
We hope these insights are of help to you and your business.
Be smart, prioritize safety, and stay connected.
We’ll all get through this.
And if you have any questions that weren’t directly addressed here or during our session, feel free to reach out to our team at firstname.lastname@example.org—we’d be happy to help out!
"But...we'll be there for you! Every Wednesday at noon. We'll be there for you! Like we've been there before... we'll be there for you! Cuz you're there for us too..."
-The Team at CatalystCreativ