Everybody's Coming to My House: How We Manage to Work From Home
It’s still difficult to get used to working from home. Here’s how we stave off cabin fever.
You can find many articles suggesting ways of dealing with isolation. They’ll give you such profound advice as take a walk once in a while. We won’t be giving any advice. We’ll show you how we’ve structured our workflow for the situation at hand, but more importantly: we’ll show you how we manage to stay in touch, and stay human.
The Technical Bit: The Tools We Use
At first, just like everyone else, we had used Zoom. It quickly proved itself unwieldy and uncomfortable and we have moved on to Whereby. The main benefit of Whereby was that we could set down URLs with fixed rooms, and every morning use the same link, and the project managers could have calls with their clients in their own rooms. And no download is required to use it.
At the moment, we’re trying out Google Meet for our calls, for several reasons. It’s easy to record important calls in it and being a Google product, it automatically syncs up with everything else: your calls link up with your Google Calendar, and the recording goes to your Google Drive.
We use Slack for general communication with separate channels set up for each project, and we also use Notion for notes, timetables, and our company wiki. We’ve settled on these through trial and error, and we keep trying new tools for our communication.
We thought we were perfectly set up to switch to working from home. Even back in the office, we already had distant calls with the clients, Slack channels for each project, Trello and everything. We had already heavily relied on online means of communication, and so we had fully expected a smooth transition.
The first week from home was a disaster. A real pandemonium (sorry). All the channels we thought were so helpful had resulted in everyone getting burned with insurmountable amounts of work, as no one had the full picture of everything going on at the agency. So everyone would get piled under tasks and tasks and tasks, as no one had any idea who’s doing what and everyone needed everything done. And well, there was loneliness and panic about the virus and all that. The solution seems obvious in hindsight: we’ve started to have regular calls every morning.
The Process: Transparency Every Step of The Way
But we’ll get to the morning calls a little later. First, we’ll talk about how our workflow is set up, and the changes we had to make to make it work over distance. Before the start of the project, we send a big email with all the agreements and specifics on paper. Then we do a briefing, then a debriefing, we specify everything as much as possible, and the copies of those emails are then put on the project’s Notion and the project’s Slack channel. Right from the presale, everyone involved in the project knows exactly what’s going on and what needs to be done at any given moment: the project manager, the designers, the client, everyone is on the same page. And it doesn’t stop there. Every day on the project, the project manager and the client have a call over the current progress and the details and whether anything needs to be changed. After the call, the agreements are written down in another email, which is then sent to the client, copied to our Notion, and the Slack channel. All our Figmas, where we do our work, are structured by days: you could clearly see the progress made day by day. And our Slack channels have threads for each day. Everything is structured and nothing is out of place. After that call with the client, the project manager has a call with the team, so the Slack channel isn’t cluttered with tactical discussion. After the call, all the agreements made in-house are written down into that Slack thread. There’s no confusion about who needs to be doing what and when.
Back in the office, we didn’t do this as much. We wrote down all the agreements we’ve reached with the client, but there was no need to specify every single step in-house. After all, back in the office if there’s something wrong, the team could quickly gather around and hash everything out. Without this option, we now have to keep meticulous notes. And it works wonders for efficiency. But it lacks humanity. This is where the morning calls come in.
We have a company-wide call every single morning at 10:30 AM, where everyone gets to see each other, checkup, talk about what’s happening outside of work, discuss some new movie, and how you need vitamins when it’s the sunless half of the year. The first goal of these calls is to keep everyone up to date: quick updates on each project currently going on. The second, the loftier and more abstract goal, is to stay human.
Of course, it’s no substitute for real human contact and being able to grab a coffee with a coworker at lunch. But it’s something. Not only do you stay in touch, but you get a little glimpse into everyone’s lives: this person is working this morning from a nice cafe. This one is at a coworking. This person has their camera off today, must be a rough morning. This guy decided to spend a few weeks in a warmer city and we all hate him.
With daily morning calls, you still get the feel of belonging to a team and people aren’t turning in your eyes into stacks of worktexts. They stay people.
Twelve Not So Angry Men: General Meetups
But the twenty minutes in the morning to keep everyone up to speed is hardly enough. What we also do is have regular general calls that are work-related, but not tied to any one project. The most prominent of these is the design meetup. Every week all the designers who aren’t drowning in work and got an hour to spare get on a call to discuss, well, design. Talking about different styles everyone wants to try out, little details, tools to use, and discussing inspirations from most unusual sources, not just «here’s a cool looking website».
Friday I’m In Love
On Fridays, we meet up at around 6 PM and tally up the week. Like a mid-2000s reality show, everyone gets a turn to speak up and tell everyone what they’ve been up to during the week, at work, and in life. Alcohol is allowed, and plenty start their speech with something like «This Message is Brought To You By [Beer]. It’s good». In about forty minutes, after everyone had taken their turn, the official part of the call is over. Then everyone who feels like it can stay and shoot the breeze, and remember that they’re part of the team and that everyone here is on the same wavelength.
This setup is very specific to our workflow. If your company has a hundred employees, a morning call won’t make anyone feel heard. You need to try different tools and different approaches, and throughout it all: don’t forget, we’re all people.
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