In their own words...
Read on below for the full transcript of the podcast.
[00:00] Niamh Lordan: Today I'm delighted to be joined with my colleagues, Aoife Harte, Head of HR and Olivia Bush, CEO. Here at FlowForma we've been working from home for about 6 weeks now and we've learned a lot about the tools, the structure and the extra communication which is all necessary for achieving those all important KPI's. Over the next half hour we're going to share with all our attendees some tips for working from home and whats been working best for us. We're going to cover 4 key areas, they're 'trust', 'communication', 'routine' and 'fun'. So the first topic today is trust. I know lots of listeners what to foster a culture of trust to empower their remote teams to thrive. Ladies what do you recommend here? Olivia I might ask you to kick this one off.
[02:15] Olivia Bushe: There are times when difficult decisions have to be made, but being clear on the reasons behind the decision making helps people accept those decisions. There are times when difficult decisions have to be made but been clear on the reasons behind the decision making helps people accept those decisions. So it's important how you present big messages, I recommend taking some time to think about your communication. There should be no mixed messages and you should have clear reasoning and facts to support your decision where possible. I feel clear communication also reduces stress levels and it gives people a level of comfort. I think people really appreciate it if they know you're being honest with them. The end result that everyone's looking for is that everyone works together to a common goal and there's a common understanding of where the company is going and the goal it's driving to meet. Another part of achieving this common understanding of goals is by setting clear expectations of what you expect from your separate teams, performance wise. So agree the goals with your teams and the individuals in them with a clear outline of how this is measured is important. You've got to agree them with your teams and the individuals and everyone needs to be clear on how they're being measured. For example, when we moved into lockdown we agreed as a management team that the focus should be on maintaining productivity. We understood that this wasn't business as normal. You know, people have children at home, they may be managing home schooling or looking after an elderly parent. However we wanted the team to stay focused on the things that mattered. So we implemented ways to help everyone keep focused and monitor performance rather than monitoring bums on seats, so to speak.
[02:48] Aoife Harte: Yes Olivia, I think this is a very important point. Both employees and managers want to feel like they are being productive. Some of the things that we've put in place helps the employee feel safe, that they know that management can see that they are performing even if they're not able to keep their regular hours. Olivia, I think you've implemented some great initiatives to monitor performance which would be useful to share.
[04:38] Olivia Bushe: So some of the things that we've implemented are KPI targets which we discuss weekly at a short company update every Friday and we've found that this has resulted in everyone helping each other and working together as one large team because everyone is rewarded when any of the individual teams achieve their monthly targets. We've also implemented daily team catch-ups with managers every morning to set priorities for the day, and we have weekly targets or KPI updates from the team manager and myself to monitor progress. So all of these things are to create greater transparency and collaboration across the business. Also, as a company, we set quarterly objectives that have to be smart, they have to be specific, they have to target a specific area for improvement and they have to be measurable. We have to quantify or suggest an indicator of progress and both parties need to clearly understand what that is. They need to be assignable, so we specify who will do it. They should be realistic so state what results could realistically be achieved given the available resources, and timebound, so specify when the results can be achieved by. These are agreed collaboratively by both parties the start of each quarter. We find it focuses everyone on the correct priorities from the team manager down, and everyone in our company has bought into this concept as the normal. Of course, all of the above hardworking collaboration outlined has to be recognized and rewarded and Aoife has some fun suggestions around that.
[05:31] Aoife Harte: Yes, Olivia, actually, one of the ways that we in FlowForma do this is by setting goals for each department monthly and when the department reaches a goal, the whole company is rewarded, so the rewards get better as the number of goals achieved in a given month increase. So we might start off with a €10 lunch voucher for one goal achieved, then up to leave early on a Friday of your choice if three goals are achieved. So some nice virtual rewards that we have set up are a Kindle book or physical book of your choice, a wellness gift, an Amazon Voucher, having a virtual lunch get together with a beer, a mystery gift box or virtual escape rooms. We have found that with these company rewards employees are more likely to reach out and help other departments. They do this not only because they're rewarded for every department success, but also as a result of trying to solve obstacles that other departments are facing. I personally love the monthly awards on and it's just another bonus that they have also significantly increased collaboration, which is so important for building trust.
[06:51] Niamh Lordan: Thanks Aoife and Olivia, yeah I think the rewards are brilliant, I know myself I loved getting the Amazon voucher and I got some feedback from my team that everyone really appreciated it. I think Olivia has already spent her Amazon voucher as well and bought something nice.
[07:11] Olivia Bushe: Yeah I loved the Amazon Voucher, it was one of the first things I spent Niamh.
[07:16] Niamh Lordan: What did you buy with the voucher Olivia?
[07:19] Olivia Bushe: I bought a jigsaw with my Amazon voucher given that we've a lot more time at home now, I wanted something to occupy myself with.
[07:28] Niamh Lordan: That's a great idea. Ok thanks ladies, those tips we're brilliant. So what we might do now is pop on to our next topic today which is 'communication'. Communication has never been so important and thankfully in 2020 there's lots of tools out there to help us, so ladies I think our listeners are interested in some tip on communication, Olivia I might start with you.
[07:58] Olivia Bushe: Sure thanks, I guess the first tip I would give is that, I'd say it's important to use all the technology available to you to improve communication where you can. So where human contact is limited, which it is very much at the moment, we need to try to move those conversations that happen around the water cooler and our meetings in the boardroom to virtual conversations where possible. For example, we've encouraged the use of video calls as a normal. We have had feedback from people that they find this method of communication much better than audio alone. It just means that people can see facial expressions along with the audio tone, which could be helpful for communicating. It also makes people feel you're physically nearer, and it also encourages people to get dressed for work, which is always a good thing. We understand that some people might be a little uncomfortable with video at the beginning it's new to a lot of people, and they may feel it's a little intrusive. But most of the tools that you use now for videoconferencing allow you to blur or choose alternative backgrounds that can help it feel a little bit less intrusive so I encourage you to do that. There's various collaboration platforms out there such as Microsoft Teams, Skype or Slack and they're all particularly beneficial at this time. If you can utilize these platforms to help you communicate quickly to employees, via Teams or another form of communication, perhaps they would have Teams on their work phones, that's really useful because you can get the communication quickly and then, in turn, you can implement the changes required so that's all highly beneficial. For example, you could quickly communicate any government change such as the move to working from home via the Teams app, but then you find that you need to be digitized to then quickly enable employees to work from home, or to implement any work changes such as moving to the three or four day week, so you need to be able to communicate quickly and then you actually need to be able to move to implementing it. And digitizing as much as possible enables you to do that, enables you to be agile as a company and respond quickly to change in market environments. It's important to remove the barriers to productivity by implementing the tools needed such as electronic signatures or the removal of paper processes to digital to remove the need for physical travel and the journey of paper from person to person. However, alongside these digital platforms, it's important to roll out a company wide strategic communications strategy and I know Aoife has some recommendations on the best way to do that.
[10:50] Aoife Harte: Yeah, Olivia, a communication strategy is very important, especially to ensure the teams keep working together. It can be a little bit harder to get the opportunity to talk across teams while working from home. So here in FlowForma we try to facilitate cross departmental communication as much as possible. We have implemented a five minute update each morning that everybody in the company completes in Microsoft Teams. They're write in the chat to tell everyone where they are, what they're working on, any comments they'd like to share and a joke of the day. It's just a nice way to get to know people across different teams. One of our colleagues just put up a beautiful photo off their bird last week, which loves to rest on top of her monitor at home these days. So it's a great space to see people's personalities come out. I've also had feedback from employees that the five minute updates is a great way for them to get their priorities organized for the day as well. We have also implemented a 15 minutes weekly check in with the whole company to review the monthly goals. As Olivia said earlier, it's normally on a Friday, everyone in the company joins the call and every department, gives an update on the status off their goals and any complications that they may be experiencing at the moment. We also give any company updates through this meeting, new starts introduce themselves or any new company initiatives are announced here as well. Since implementing this, I find that there's a better understanding for staff of how the company operates as a whole which is extremely important to us as a small company. The other thing that we have implemented is a virtual coffee chat for 15 minutes at the end of lunch for people to catch up if they have the time. We've had some great conversations on this coffee chat where people share advice, their own experiences, and obviously have a chat about the weather as well. This gives us, at FlowForma, a space where we can have a water cooler chat that we cannot have in the office anymore. Last week one of our staff was looking to set up broadband in his house, so there was a nice chat about the providers others were using and which broadband provider had the best performance. So it's important to have a space like this for staff to chat to each other about things other than work. Communication is key during this pandemic and our main focus in FlowForma is on keeping communication lines as open as possible, these are just a few things that we put in place to enable this.
[13:42] Niamh Lordan: They're super tips ladies and I think my personal favorite is the quick catch up in the morning, so that helps me prioritize my tasks for the day and it's great for collaboration. I've even been lucky enough that someone in a different team sees what I'm working on and they offer to help me out and you know it's good for a giggle with the jokes that people put up. Sometimes they're good, sometimes they're bad but we still get a laugh, so thanks for those tips.
[13:39] Niamh Lordan: What we will do now is jump to our next topic: routine. I'm sure our listeners are not missing the daily commute, but the routine of regular hours and breaks is highly recommended. So ladies, you might share some of your top tips for perfecting that daily routine. Olivia, let's start with you.
[14:01] Olivia Bushe: Yeah, my first tip would be to keep your normal routine as much as possible. If you usually get up at 7AM, do that as normal. Have your breakfast and your cup of tea - not in front of your laptop - and get ready for the day, so get dressed and be ready for that video call. I find personally, it helps me to dress for important meetings in the same way it would if I were to be going into the office. So on the days that I have a board meeting or something important, I would get a bit more dressed up, a bit more corporate, and that helps me to focus and get into the correct head-space. Next thing I would recommend is to set yourself daily goals: I spoke with a colleague recently who didn't feel they were being productive while working from home, as the days blend together and I'm sure that happens for lots of us - sometimes you don't know what day or what hour it is. At the end of the day, they just didn't feel like they had achieved anything, and when we were chatting through it, it became apparent that this person used to make lists in their normal routine. When they went into the office and they stopped doing that when they started working from home as they got out of the routine. But it meant at the end of the day, they no longer felt the sense of achievement that they used to have when they ticked off their list. So a simple fix was implementing their daily to-do lists again, prioritizing them at the start of the day and ticking them off when things were completed. It just highlights that structure is especially important at a time like this, when lots of other changes are happening to our daily routine, so it's good to keep structure there as much as possible. The other thing I would suggest is that you leave the TV off, because it's very easy to get distracted, and that you perhaps have background music or listen to the radio if you live on your own and are not used to the silence. I do that, I have the radio on and it's just background noise and music that can give you a bit of company. The other thing I would suggest is that you manage your kids, so for those of us who have kids at home or partners and spouses at home, set the expectations among everyone. Set the expectations of home-schooling, give them tasks to do, put a movie on, give people an advanced warning for important calls and they know to keep the noise down and to leave you alone for that period. I warned everyone today that I would be on a webinar today for an hour so they know to keep quiet. So its important to just manage the expectations for those you share a home with, everyone has important work to do and you need to work together to make sure it gets done, and again communication is key on that. The last thing I would suggest is having a workspace with a door if possible, so you can close it and know this is your work area. Or if you can't do that, to create a temporary workspace. Aoife is going to expand on that a little more.
[17:21] Aoife Harte: There's a few things that I like to do to keep routine. We've been forced unfortunately into working remotely, which can easily take over your personal space and time. So I think it's important to spend some time creating routines to help you adopt and aid a healthy work-life balance. It's important to keep regular breaks while working from home. This happens naturally in the office when you go to get a coffee or have a chat in the canteen, or walk over to someone's desk and have a chat. So I try to do focused work for 20 minute slots, like the Pareto Method and then I take a 10 minute break to myself to get a coffee or have a call with one of my teammates. My physio actually said to me before lockdown that sitting in the same position for more than 20 minutes can actually cause issues for your muscles, so it's good to switch up your position every 20 minutes or so. As Olivia mentioned, it's important to set aside a space that you can dedicate to be your office space. Ideally, it would be a separate room from your living space, but if you're unable to do this, you should allocate a section of the table that you use to work. I have seen some people have moved desk chairs to their kitchen table to define their workspace. For me personally, I need to focus on trying to keep work separate from home, so when I finish at the end of the day, I find it's very important to shut down my computer the act of doing this and closing my files helps me acknowledge the fact that I am finished for the day, and the next few hours is my own personal time. So they're just some of the ways that I try to keep my routine.
[19:09] Niamh Lordan: Thanks Aoife, I personally love the setting of daily goals, so I'm that checklist person and I'm ticking things off at the end of the day and that's a really nice way to finish your work for the day. Then you can treat yourself to a bar of chocolate or a gin and tonic, or whatever it is you like to treat yourself with for a treat after work. So next up we want to talk about recreating office fun, I know some people are missing the Friday beers or Foosball antics, ladies I might get you to share some tips for recreating fun at home and Olivia is going to start on the topic of keeping morale up. Over to you Olivia.
[19:51] Olivia Bushe: Just before we get into the really fun things, I just want to take a step back and think about why we do this. As a leader in an organization, part of your job is to manage the people, so think about the things you're going to do to keep your team motivated while working remotely, so it is a little bit different from what we're used to. But it's your job as a leader to maintain morale, momentum and meaning to help people stay focused. Only by maintaining momentum can the business continue to be productive and in order to maintain momentum, you must maintain morale. After we went into lockdown as a company and we started working from home, one of the first things we did was send everyone a work from home treat, so we had a discussion among the team and we decided to send everyone their favorite brew, whether that was tea, coffee or hot chocolate. We were able to order and send these online and in each one we included a small gift card that said this is just a small token to give some comfort while you were working from home and that it was especially important to look after your well-being at this time. It's just an acknowledgement that we knew these were very different times for everyone and we got great feedback from the company and everyone was very appreciative and it definitely helped lift the mood and was a great topic for our coffee chats in the middle of the day. We've also tried to think of various virtual awards for hitting the monthly KPIs and targets, so we still have the KPIs and targets running during this time, but obviously the rewards need to be a little bit different since we cannot all go out for dinner together. We had the Amazon vouchers, which I personally loved and I think everyone can find something on Amazon which they like. We sent out Easter eCards, we've got mystery gift boxes and all of this can be sent to their home. I know Aoife has lots of ideas on this topic.
[22:03] Aoife Harte: Yes Olivia, I have a few ideas that we have implemented to try and keep up the social aspect of work as well as to try and encourage people to get together and have a laugh. We had a virtual drinks night where we had a beer or a wine or cocktail and the chats. We actually did the emoji quiz that was floating around to get everyone involved. With some of the virtual events, I find there can be awkward silences so by doing the quiz, this really got everyone engaged to try and come up with answers which was a great way of getting the conversation to flow. We're also setting up a virtual quiz, where we are splitting up the company into teams of 5 and they have to come up with their own quiz questions and it is self marking. So to be honest, there is very little to organize on this and it gets teams collaborating and chatting outside of work things, which is something you want to facilitate at this time. It's a very stressful time at the moment, so I think it's important to encourage people to have a laugh and the quiz and drinks are just a way some of the ways we've been trying to promote a bit of office fun at this time.
[23:14]Niamh Lordan: Thanks Aoife, that's great advice. Thanks everyone for attending, stay safe.