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Tech Manager—Remote Workers

As I write this, we are right in the middle of a global pandemic that has cause many to stay at home. Many are now working remotely for the first time in their career. Having done this before, and managed remote workers, I have been able to settle in quicker. So, I figured I would share lessons I have learned that might seem like common knowledge now that the entire planet may be working from home.

WORKING IS DIFFERENT - FOR NOW

Many face-to-face guidelines still apply. Even though you may be miles apart and not in the same office space, the same general rules apply. Stay connected to people. Phone calls, texting, group chats, and many other tools can be pressed into service now. When you are online, let everyone know. Do not hide your online presence. Now more than ever you need to know how others want to communicate with you. If in the past they have preferred using a phone, then they will prefer that even more now. If they liked texting, it will increase. If they choose email, that will pop into your inbox more now.

Management by walking around – remember that concept? Getting out of your office chair and walking the halls of the office to talk to others. Now you must “digitally” walk around. Connect to those that are not in your work circle. Use their preferred method, not yours. Make sure you check in with others that have not talked with you in a while. Keep relationships alive.

Keep it personal. You need to ask some questions on the personal side of life. Not too intrusive, just something not related to work. How is the family and kids? How are you coping? What are you watching on Netflix? If you group chat with a team, peel off occasionally and chat one-to-one with a team member.

Meetings - Do it face to face. No not in the same room, but in the same meeting tool. Zoom or Google Meet or other tools that you might use – and keep the camera on. Don’t go just audio if video is available - ever. You are a leader and people need to see you. Yes, just like everyone, they are checking out what is in the background of your home office, kitchen, closet or wherever you may connect. Whatever. Make it look as nice as you can and move on. People need to see you even if they have video turned off.

Define a work area. You need to have a space that is dedicated to work. It may not be an entire room but it needs to be a place that you can leave at the end of the day. When you define a work area, you can then leave it. Make it as ergonomic as you can and use it only for work. When the day is done, move away from that area.

If you are managing a team and they report to you, enforce days off and down time. Your team needs to remember to take a day off occasionally, even if they are trapped at home. They should disconnect and focus on something else.

EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED

Speaking of meetings, expect interruptions. It will happen and it is okay (briefly). Kids and pets do not understand what work means. Don’t worry about it. Let it go. Also, noises will happen. Many live near busy streets, sirens, trash trucks, street sweepers and more, are just outside the window. Learn to love the mute button so others don’t have to listen to your noises. During online meetings, I have heard Sesame Street on TV’s, other phones ringing (yes – also mine), and other people answering other phones during meetings (no, not me). I have heard people singing with their kids during meetings. Remind others of the mute button too. And don’t forget to unmute when you need to talk.

Speaking of mute, expect tech problems. Not everyone is tech savvy on every new remote tool that will be pushed to the front of the line. Not everyone will learn at the same speed. Not every tool works as good as the vendor says it will. Expect things to go wrong. But try hard to keep things moving forward.

Expect to be misunderstood or misunderstand others. With all of us scattered and communicating in new and stressful ways, expect to not get the message across the first time. Repeat yourself (advice I have given before). Have others tell you what you just said. Summarize all meetings and action items. Just keep saying the same thing again and again. Others might get it after your many efforts.

SET YOUR SCHEDULE

One of the hardest things to do for those who are new to working from home is to settle into a schedule. When you first start working remotely, the day may never end. Other people try to contact you off hours, the emails never stop, the issues continue to roll in. When you work in an office the clock tells you when to stop and go home. When you are at home, it gets crazy.

Force yourself into a schedule. Start work at a specific time and be on time. Don’t let it change every day. Start times usually nudge earlier and earlier and end times run later and later. Take breaks during the day and take a lunch hour (or half hour) just like in the office. Stop working at the end of the day. If it is 5pm or 6pm, pick a time and stop working. Leave your office area, silence your cell phone, stop reading texts and emails and be “at home”, with the family.

Get outside. Don’t become an inside hermit. You need fresh air and sunlight. Go for a walk. Make the weekend different from the work week. Cook more, cook healthier. If your area is restricting outside activities, then get creative. Work in the back yard or patio. Start a garden, plant some flowers in a pot. Work on that broken fence. Build something in your garage.

We will get through this. Many areas are starting to pull out of it. Many people are getting out more. If there is a resurgence in the Fall, then keep in mind what you learned from this round of remote work. Working from home can be productive and manageable. Try hard not to let it get out of control.

Mark Kiker has more than 25 years of hands-on experience with technology. He is fully versed in every area of management from deployment planning, installation, and configuration to training and strategic planning. As an internationally known speaker and writer, he is a returning speaker at Autodesk University since 1996. Mark is currently serving as Director of IT for SIATech, a non-profit public charter high school focused on dropout recovery. He maintains two blog sites, www.caddmanager.com and www.bimmanager.com.

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