COVID19

Covid-19 Experience: Tips and suggestions for staying productive while working remotely

A word of introduction

On March 11th, FULL FABRIC decided to go into full remote mode for an undetermined period of time, as most of Europe prepared for a lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The past few days had seen an almost palpable shift in the air, as what felt like a giant wave loomed over us. It was dreamy at first, distant and perplexing – but also unavoidable. Consequently, tangible steps had to be taken.

Because FULL FABRIC was already a remote-friendly company, we had mechanisms in place that helped us make the transition from occasional to full-time remote work, and more than one month in, we are doing a-okay. However, by talking with different educational institutions across the world, we realise that’s not necessarily the case for everybody. As such, we thought it would be nice to reach out and share a bit of our own experience. To quote from author Nora McInerny: “I am writing […] because bad stuff is like good stuff: it just happens.” The world is chaotic, but if we look out for each other, we can get through this a lot easier. 

The result is a compilation of ideas, insights and resources to draw inspiration from when working from home during the quarantine, based on our own trial and error efforts. We sincerely hope they’re useful and can bring you some comfort during this challenging period!

Establishing guidelines as a basis for collaborative work and intercommunication

One of the most positive measures we’ve implemented in FULL FABRIC is the introduction of an Employee Handbook. A Employee Handbook is a document containing a company's policies, norms and operating procedures for all of its collaborators. The reason it’s so valuable is that it standardises requirements, sets clear expectations, helps onboard new recruits and prevents misunderstandings; all around, it promotes a happier, more effective and more transparent work environment. 

The Employee Handbook should be accessible to everyone, and easily so. Fittingly, at FULL FABRIC we use Coda, an all-in-one doc for teams “that combines documents, spreadsheets and powerful building blocks into a single canvas”. It also lets us manage permissions, so that different Team Leaders are able to edit department-specific sections as falls under their purview. 

This is relevant now, more than ever, because working remotely can quickly get out of hand if not carefully enforced. We have an entire page devoted to teleworking, and, more recently, have also added our Covid-19 contingency plan to its own new page.

For instant messaging, we use Slack, which is important to mention now because several of our guidelines are built around Slack’s features. Slack is awesome because you can make calls and exchange messages, share files, pin information and have conversations in dedicated public or private channels, among other things. Another all-in-one solution! 

Basic directives and best practices to handle remote work

As previously noted, FULL FABRIC has traditionally been a remote friendly company, in the sense that, once a week or more (depending on circumstance), any of us can elect to work from home. Nevertheless, we too had to make adjustments to switch to long-term remote work. To get the job done and still feel like a team, we rely on a number of small but crucial rules, the main ones being:

  • Dedicate your full attention to your job duties during working hours
  • Be available during office hours
  • Maintain communication with the team
  • Take breaks from work (no one's a machine, after all!), but remember to inform your team first
  • Update your Slack status whenever you’re unavailable (e.g., “🤒 Out sick”, “🗓 In a meeting with a client”, “🍝 On lunch break”, etc.)
  • Choose a quiet and distraction-free working space

It’s notoriously more challenging to communicate from afar, as body language, tone of voice, intonation and facial expressions are lost; likewise for preserving a sense of togetherness and cohesion. That’s why we recommend doing frequent calls with teammates (webcams on, preferably!), as it’s the closest thing to a face-to-face interaction as you can get online. Again, Slack is great for this. Sometimes, a two-minute call will do more to explain an idea than a wall of text. But if text one must, a good rule of thumb for written communication is to be very thorough and explicit. By the way, emojis are your friend, and so are gifs! 

We also emphasise the importance of sharing the same work hours instead of letting everybody choose their own schedule, because we believe in being available for each other. It shouldn’t take very long to get a reply from a coworker, even if it’s something like: “I’ve read your message but can’t properly reply yet, just give me one hour” or “Today I’m packed, but I’ll take care of that tomorrow”. This acknowledges the request, makes the sender feel seen and lets them know what to expect from the other person. 

Do exercise emotional intelligence: have empathy, be patient and have a willingness to pose and answer questions that clarify meaning and respect different communication styles. Some people are more expressive than others, that’s just a given; but you might also find out that some people are less expressive in writing than in talking. 

On the topic of teleconferencing and staying aligned with one's colleagues and superiors, at FULL FABRIC we've been doing team-wide daily calls at 5 p.m. in which each teammate has about five minutes to report their accomplishments of the day and their intentions for the next workday.  This ensures that everyone is kept in the loop and no one is excluded from ongoing happenings and decisions. If you're fond of this idea but find the format impracticable, consider changing it to twice a week or so.

When work and recreational zones collide, it can be taxing on the mind and wreck your work-life balance.

Regarding one’s workplace at home, many people are now facing less than ideal conditions, with children being out of school and quarantined alongside their families. However, for the sake of productivity and well-being, our advice is to separate work and home life as much as possible, which includes designating an office area that’s not ordinarily used for leisure (i.e., someplace quiet and comfy, even if just a corner, with a desk, a chair, a stable Wi-Fi connection and good lighting, instead of the bed or the couch), and avoid conducting personal business on company time (such as household chores). This helps with shifting in and out of a work mindset: sit at your dedicated work spot during working hours, and, by the same token, make your breaks to relax and have fun elsewhere. When work and recreational zones collide, it can be taxing on the mind and wreck your work-life balance. That notwithstanding, we know it's not always easy, so just do your best with the hand you've been dealt. 

By the by, if you enjoy listening to music while you work to get a nice rhythm going and drown out background noise, check out this playlist we put together on Spotify with some of our favourite Lo-Fi beats. 

Anyway, In terms of long-term remote work, our main priorities have been to uphold our social rituals and work culture, foster psychological safety in these stressful times, keep communication open and abundant, and provide an environment that feels supportive and caring, so here’s how we've been carrying out this mission. 

Tearing down the walls to nurture camaraderie

If you function as a team, you feel like a team. But is that all it takes? One aspect that is sadly overlooked when it comes to telework is that close-knit teams are made of those in-between moments of camaraderie, goofing around, casually conversing and being vulnerable off-duty. That’s why, at FULL FABRIC, we made it a point to find alternate ways to keep socialising and having fun together now that we are physically apart. 

One such way was the institution of daily non-compulsory morning calls, usually around 10 a.m., to catch-up with one another. Talks of work are absolutely forbidden. This is a chance to vent, review TV shows (and by “TV shows”, I really mean Tiger King), snark about pop culture, disclose recent food indulgences (pancakes are very popular in our team ), and discuss whatever other random things come to mind. On average, these calls will run from for 15 to 20 minutes. Every now and then, we turn our webcams on to remember what our faces look like, but, honestly, not that often, because staying in your pyjamas all day is glorious and now is the time. 

Predictably, we use Slack to make these calls and have even created a special channel for them: #coffee_talks. In it, we share Instagram-worthy pictures of our culinary exploits (I told you about the pancakes! ), memes, gifts, links to news pieces and other slices of life.

We also use #coffee_talks to play online group games, which brings us to our second reoccurring activity: Friday gaming sessions during lunch, our own and only “Friday Game Break”. So far, we’ve been mostly playing Drawful 2, “which challenges players to draw ridiculous prompts on their smartphones and tablets” (see some of our, ahem, "artwork", below), but last Friday we also played a modified version of Taboo, a word guessing game (except that, in our version, teams were abolished and only guess-words were taboo). We’re now thinking of branching out to charades and online chess, but suggestions are welcome. 

We’re also keen on challenging our teams to be creative. A few of weeks ago, we played “My Desk is Better than Yours”, consisting of everyone anonymously submitting a picture of their respective desk set-ups and then attempting to guess who the other desk owners were. The photos were uploaded to Imgur and then posted on Slack (more specifically, to a channel aptly named #my-desk-is-better-than-yours ) through the following command:

Not to brag (I lie), but some of our desks look pretty neat:

In addition to all of that, we also have a Slack channel for the purpose of sharing music (#hits-beats), another for sharing favourite movies, books, comedy specials and whatnot (#culture), another for #random content, and so on. Thematic channels are fantastic to hold varied conversations – and if you’re not feeling a particular subject, you can always leave or mute the channel! 

Practicing self-care

With everything that’s going on, mental health has been a growing concern of ours, and thus we’ve been sharing any resources we find with the rest of the gang.

Unsurprisingly, meditation is quite the hot topic. 🧘‍♂️ Recently, someone in the team discovered Headspace, a meditation app that’s currently offering free support to deal with the Covid-19 crisis, including an Employer Toolkit equipped with stress, anxiety, mindfulness, sleep, focus and parenting resources.

Similarly, Calm, another relaxation app, is temporarily offering a selection of resources for free, which include “meditations, sleep stories, movement exercises, journals, and music”, to support people through the pandemic.

We also highlight Aura, designed to help users “manage their emotions and get restful sleep”, and which, on account of the ongoing “threat to our world, physically, mentally, and economically”, is now giving access to its Premium version to whoever redeems the code “FINDPEACE2020” here.

Podcasts can be healing as well, not to mention entertaining. A personal favourite is Terrible, Thanks for Asking, where host Nora McInerny invites real people to share their honest answers to the question “How are you?” and disclose the complicated and uncomfortable parts of their lives, with plenty of kindness and dark humour to cope. You can listen to it on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.

These are the some of the things that we’ve been using, but if you have anything you’d like to suggest, we’re happy to turn the tables and have you advise us! 💞

To be successful, telework is very much dependent on one's ability to self-manage, and productivity apps can help people achieve more in less time, stay ahead of deadlines and optimise performance. 🎯 Without further ado, here are the macOS productivity apps that we vouch for:

  • Asana (paid) – Manage your team's work, projects and tasks online.
  • Todoist (free with in-app purchases) – Ranked as "the best to-do list right now" by The Verge.
  • Be Focused (free and paid versions) – A Pomodoro-style timer to intersperse periods of intense focus with pauses from work.
  • Stack (free) – Gather all of your most-visited websites and most-used apps on a single screen to easily multitask.
  • SelfControl (free) – Block access to websites (e.g., social media) for a custom length of time to avoid distractions.
  • RescueTime (paid) – Track where you spend your time and block access to websites.
  • Bear (free with in-app purchases) – Take notes, link them to each other and add tags to efficiently manage the recorded data.
  • Getpasta (free with in-app purchases) – Save everything you copy to your clipboard to reuse it later. The free version supports up to 20 clippings, while the Pro upgrade saves up to 1000.
  • Jumpcut (free) – Another clipboard manager, but entirely free; saves up to 50 text items.
  • Calendly (free and paid versions) – Schedule meetings without back-and-forth emails.
  • f.lux (free) – Warms up your computer display at night to match your indoor lighting and prevent eye straining and fatigue.
  • Magnet (paid) – Align multiple windows on your screen to enhance multitasking.
  • Pearl (free) – Inspect your reflection in your menu bar, as if looking to a mirror, to see how you look before making a videocall.
  • AccessMenuBarApps (free) – Reveal all menu bar icons that may be hidden due to the menu bar being crowded.

Honourable mention to this adorable iOS app:

  • Flora (free) – Limit the time you spend on your iPhone by growing a tree which dies if you use the phone within an allotted time frame. 🌳

Talk to us

Hi again! Before wrapping up this article, I'd like to thank you for reading.❣️ Hopefully, you'll walk out with some good ideas, tools and references, but this doesn’t have to end here. We constantly say this, but we mean it: should there be anything we can assist with, don't hesitate to contact us at hello@fullfabric.com. In the meantime, please take care! 

 

Claúdia Duarte

Cláudia Duarte is the Client Communications Specialist at FULL FABRIC, with a background in publishing and communication

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