Episode 102 – Working Remotely – Not a Crisis

Episode #102
Original Air Date: 04.01.2020

35 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Crystal Kadakia

Are you working from home or managing a remote team for the first time? How has social distancing changed your approach to work? Listen in for a conversation about redefining what the new work environment looks like, advice on managing yourself, and establishing new norms for your team. Hear about some potentially positive lifestyle and workplace changes emerging from this period of international crisis.

Many managers no longer have the daily touch points that come naturally in the office, and they worry that their team won’t be as productive. In light of this new challenge, Crystal Kadakia offers advice about how to build trust, and how to strengthen communication to promote healthy teams with proper expectations. More topics include: figuring out what communication channels to use based on levels of urgency, conducting effective virtual meetings, and finding balance when your office is also your home.

Crystal Kadakia is the CEO and founder of Invati Consulting. She is a speaker, author, trainer, and consultant for Millennial behavior and digital workplace transformation. Crystal is also a Velociteach InSite contributor, and she has authored an upcoming course: Managing Millennials & Gen Z: Demystifying and Engaging Modern Talent.

Learn More About Crystal's InSite Course "Managing Millenials"

Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

“It’s already a tough time. So really using this as a time to bond together. Times of crisis are great to emphasize a positive company culture.... Both frontline employees, team managers, and team leaders need to have a lot of grace ... because everyone is adjusting to a new normal.”

- Crystal Kadakia

“So the first thing about all this is you have to take care of yourself first.”

- Crystal Kadakia

“When you give trust, what you do is you state your expectations and your wants. You make a differentiation between these are “nice to haves” and these are “must haves.” So for you as a manger or a leader, for you to feel psychologically secure that someone’s on task, what do you absolutely need to be true?”

- Crystal Kadakia

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The podcast by project managers for project managers. We’re facing new challenges that are changing the way that we work. Listen in as we address the specific challenge of working remotely.

Table of Contents

00:43 … Coronavirus Impact – Keep Calm and Manage This
02:23 … Working Remotely and Managing Yourself
03:57 … Establishing a Rhythm
07:40 … Dealing With Interruptions at Home
11:45 … Sticking to a Schedule when Working Remotely
15:53 … Interruptions and Communication Methods with your Team
16:51 … Turning on Video Cameras
19:33 … Making Time to be Proactive
21:27 … Turning it Off at the End of the Day
25:39 … Experiment with Collaboration Tools
27:58 … Can I trust my Team to be Accountable?
31:57 … Facing New Challenges with Grace
34:35 … Connect with Crystal
35:20 … Closing

CRYSTAL KDAKIA:  It’s already a tough time.  So really using this as a time to bond together.  Times of crisis are great to emphasize a positive company culture.  So, and I think that goes both ways.  Both frontline employees, team managers, and team leaders need to have a lot of grace in all those categories because everyone is adjusting to a new normal.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  I’m Wendy Grounds, and with me in the studio is Bill Yates.

BILL YATES:  Hi, Wendy.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Every two weeks we get together to talk about what matters to you as a professional project manager, and this week there’s a lot that we want to talk about.

Coronavirus Impact – Keep Calm and Manage This

BILL YATES:  Yeah, these are very unusual times, not like anything that I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime.  The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has hit, and it’s affected everyone on Planet Earth.  It’s changing the way that we work.  And we thought, what a great time for us to address the challenge that is new to us as project leaders.  We wanted to talk about specifically how to work remotely.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yes.  I’m sure a lot of people are worried and anxious.  Someone wise I heard saying this on Sunday is we can’t allow uncertainty to dictate how we are going to react.  You know, we can’t change what we can’t control.  But there are things we can control, and that’s what our guest is going to speak about today.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, that’s great.  I think it goes right along with our tagline of “Keep Calm and Manage This.”

WENDY GROUNDS:  Absolutely.

BILL YATES:  We’ve got a lot of challenges to keep calm, so we’re all wondering how do we manage this. Fortunately, we have a past guest of our podcast, Crystal Kadakia, who’s going to join us today.  She’s had a lot of experience working remotely, she’s also written a lot about the ups and downs of working remotely, some of the challenges and some of the benefits of it.  And she is all about creating a better workspace.  So we are delighted to have Crystal join us today.  Crystal, thank you so much for joining us.

CRYSTAL KADAKIA:  Thanks for having me.  Thanks for – it’s nice to be back.

BILL YATES:  Well, it’s a spur of the moment thing, but the times call for it.

CRYSTAL KADAKIA:  I think that it’s very timely, and also just something that I’ve been really wanting to share more and more about.  So I’m really glad that we’re getting a chance to talk about it.

Working Remotely and Managing Yourself

WENDY GROUNDS:  Crystal, you wrote a blog which recently we’ve published on the website:  “Does Coronavirus Have a Silver Lining?  A Guide for the Newly Remote Manager.”  And we’ve kind of highlighted some things in this blog that we want to talk about, can we start off with managing ourselves, what it looks like when you’re working remotely and how to manage yourself?

CRYSTAL KADAKIA:  Yeah, sure.  So the first thing about all this is you have to take care of yourself first, if you’re managing a team remotely, and you don’t have your own work environment together, your own rhythms and rituals at home ready, you’re not going to be able to manage the team.  So you’ve got to focus on yourself first.  And a lot of people don’t necessarily know this about me, but I’ve been working remotely for 10 years.  It first started because I was having health issues, and those really drove me to try out a different lifestyle.

At first, yeah, remote working is hard.  But over time I started realizing I can’t go back.  I really can’t go back.  And it’s because remote working gives you the opportunity to have more control over your work environment, over your interactions with people.  So it doesn’t necessarily mean no people, even though right now we’re talking about social distancing, like we’re never going to see people again, it’s not really social distancing.  To me it’s more of a physical distance, and so you’ve just got to do things a little bit differently.

Establishing a Rhythm

BILL YATES:  Crystal, it’s great to have the perspective of someone who’s been doing this for quite a long time. So for many, we’re facing this for the first time, everybody likes rhythm, right? They like the cadence of getting up in the morning, fixing your coffee, or maybe you stop somewhere to get coffee on the way to work.  You come in, you kind of, you know, you do the rounds, you talk with people, and then you settle into your workspace, and you start doing your thing.  You know, so there’s kind of a rhythm to life in the office.  How difficult was it for you to establish a similar rhythm when you were working from home?

CRYSTAL KADAKIA:  Yeah, it definitely took some rounds of iteration, you know, I think I’ve also changed it over time.  At first I tried one of those really rigid kinds of things, you know, that you get, like, everyone has these clickbait journals now on Instagram and Facebook that’s like, you know, “30 Days to Better Habits,” and every single part of your day is super structured.

BILL YATES:  Right.

CRYSTAL KADAKIA:  And so you wake up, you do a reflection, you do your yoga and meditation, you eat your breakfast, you say hi to the kids, you sit down, and you’re ready to go; right?  And it’s very, very rigid.  And I realized that that was me trying to force my corporate work environment into a home work environment, which is a lot more inherently flexible because it’s your home; right?  So you do have your family around, you do have your own things that you love about your home that make it really easy for you to stay in bed or to go make a great snack.  You can go check on people that you love.

And so I realized, for me at least, my rhythms and rituals needed to be much more fluid, and I found energy management to be a much more valuable concept. So for those of you who are freshly remote, I really recommend just taking a few minutes to just see where’s your energy at? What’s your work asking you in terms of core work hours?  Definitely respect those, but around those, what else do you really need to focus?  What do you need to get in touch with people?  What kind of environment do you need? And what kind of family agreements do you need to set up?

One of the ones for us that was really hard – because my husband also works from home, we both have our own businesses – is you would love to just check in on each other throughout the day.  I mean, you know, if I’m getting bored working on something, so I would get up and go say hi to him.  Well, he might be deep in something at that point; right?

BILL YATES:  Right.

CRYSTAL KADAKIA:  And so, you know, that’s not helpful.  So we’ve really started realizing over time that, hey, maybe you need to look at the person’s face and see what they’re doing and see how intently they’re focusing on something before you give them a hug or a kiss, or check in and say hello.  And I’m sorry, we’re kind of newly married, so I don’t know, that might not – but, you know, we got married last year.  And so anyway, that’s a little bit TMI.  But, you know, if you’re at home, everything’s TMI, you know, what are you going to do about it?

So I would just recommend spending some time thinking about your energy and creating some family agreements respecting your team’s norms, and then sharing what you’ve come up with to the rest of your team.  For some of you it might still be very structured.  For others you might find you might start shifting your waking hour because you don’t have a commute, you don’t have to get completely dressed up.  And you know what, that extra 30 minutes of sleep, you might find out that that’s a huge benefit to your productivity overall.

Dealing with Interruptions at Home

BILL YATES:  You’ve said so many things that I want to dig into.  Wendy, I know one thing, when you were setting up the room that we’re in that we do our podcast in, you wired a light so we could let the outside office know when we’re recording.  You know, so, hey, try to keep things down, no wrestling in the hall right now, you know, or no ping pong, we’re trying to record something here.

And so I think what a practical thing for us to do from a home office, too, just to give that signal to other people that live with us to know, hey, I’m on a call now. So I’ll put this piece of paper up, or I’ll, you know, if I close the door, that means I’m on a phone call, or I shouldn’t be interrupted.  But I’ll remember to crack the door open or change the sign to let you know when I’m available for interruptions, you know, when I’m more interruptible.

CRYSTAL KADAKIA:  Yeah, this might sound really silly, but one thing that we do is we have a shared Google Calendar, and I can see his meetings, and he can see mine. Especially because we do things like this, like web conferencing with people, and again, I know more of you are doing that now, as well.  And, you know, you don’t necessarily want your significant other or your kids walking around in the background, so that can often help is just having like a shared calendaring system.  Because we still all have our devices, even though we’re at home.  And before that person comes and checks in with you, they could look on their phone real quick, oh, wait, are they in the middle of something?

BILL YATES:  Yeah.

CRYSTAL KADAKIA:  I think another thing is, if you don’t have a dedicated office space at home, this might be really hard, and, you know, you might be working from your kitchen/dining room table.  And that might be in the middle of all of the family action.  Well, you know what?  Maybe this is the moment to move the table to a corner of the room, just because now this is your workspace.  So I would really tell people to be okay with making some changes to the way your rooms are laid out for this moment in time.  Maybe the kitchen table or a small table gets moved into your bedroom so you can have some of that space.

BILL YATES:  That’s good advice, but another practical tip that I think our team has quickly picked up on working remotely, whatever messaging system we’re using – in our case we’re using Skype, could be Slack, whatever – we’re getting better about indicating when we’re available and when we’re not.  And then, you know, where am I working today?  Of course right now everyone’s working remotely at home.  But am I having lunch right now, or am I in a meeting?  Am I on a call?  So just updating that status so people know, they send a message to me, they know if they’re going to get a quick response or come later.

CRYSTAL KADAKIA:  That’s a really great practice, and I think something that goes along with that is the concept of check-in.  So, you know, you might be starting either your team day or your family day or both with some check-ins with your groups, like saying, hey, what’s going on with everyone today? Like, okay, I’ve got a big meeting from 1:00 to 3:00, whatever the case might be, so really kind of sharing that stuff at the beginning of the day.  And you might do that with your work team, but you might also do that with your family.

So say if you don’t want to have a shared calendar thing, just do it over breakfast, quick check-in, what have you got on your calendar today?  What do we need to block out?  Who needs to be taking care of the kids during those chunks?  Those sorts of questions, and unless your child is really, really young, even if they’re 10 years old, asking them to co-create their day’s agenda – don’t use those words.  But, you know, ask them what they want to do that day.

I also think a lot of parents right now are feeling like they’ve got to be the entertainment, and they’ve got to be in control of it all.  And the truth is that there were many times before digital, before a lot of support, where kids would just play on their own, and they were fine.  So, you know, I think sometimes even remembering back to your own childhood of, well, how did you entertain yourself? So it doesn’t always have to be as structured as we might think or want, and they can help create that.  Give them some options, see what they feel passionate about or pick up on.

Sticking to a Schedule when Working Remotely

WENDY GROUNDS:  We have asked our staff, who are all working from home, what challenges they have been finding in this last week that we’ve been at home.  We’ve asked them for suggestions and challenges, and some of the things they are saying is sticking to a schedule – when to wake up, when to start work, just sticking to that daily schedule.  And also it seems like a lot of them are talking about interruptions they’re having.

When we’re working all together in the office, it’s really easy to just pop over to someone and say, hey, can you take a look at this?  Or what are your thoughts on this?  Whereas now there’s chats, there’s emails, there’s Skype.  They’re getting so many interruptions because people are trying to get hold of them in multiple different ways.  So how do you suggest they stick to their schedule and get the work done?

CRYSTAL KADAKIA:  Great questions.  So let’s tackle the schedule one first.  I am not a huge fan of structured schedules when you’re working from home.  And that’s because it’s really draining to have, say, a four-hour chunk straight in front of your computer.  It doesn’t – for some people that might work, but for many people that can really hurt your energy.  Not to mention give you headaches and eyestrain and poor posture and back pain and all these other things.  So what I really focus on from a schedule perspective is more around why, like what is it that you need to get done today?

So I really recommend and what worked for me was picking one to two really big stones to work on that day, and maybe three to four pebbles, things that I know if I got done would make a lot of progress and would keep up with managing more logistical types of things.  And that would make me feel like, okay, good enough, so I have done enough today.  And then really letting my energy guide when I need to take a break, when I need to go back to diving in, when do I need to be doing focused work, when can I just have an hour where I’m knocking through a bunch of those smaller pebbles, and really letting the energy kind of guide my schedule, rather than saying, okay, this is the rigid thing I’m going to stick to every day.

Because it’s just tough when you’re at home because you’re working with life, there isn’t that kind of segmentation.  That doesn’t work for everyone, and especially if you have younger kids because younger kids sometimes really need that structure.  So take everything I’m saying with a grain of salt, you’ve really got to figure out what works for you.  I do think goal-setting is a really key part of it.  One of the problems people have a lot is either working too little or working too much.  And the way you get around that is just having goals, knowing what it is you want to accomplish that day.

BILL YATES:  Crystal, you brought up the, you know, like two big rocks, maybe a couple of boulders, and then smaller pebbles.  I like that because I find that my energy level stays higher longer if I have smaller chunks that I can accomplish kind of between the boulders.  You know, if I have a big project that I know, you know, is going to take weeks and weeks to be done, after a while I get a little depressed because I can’t check it off my list. So if I can have some smaller things that I feel like I have progress on.

And then, just to be candid, when I’m working from home there’s a part of me, there’s one guy on my shoulder saying, “The pantry’s like 20 steps away from you, and there’s a big bag of Cheetos. Let’s go.”  You know, so I set up these simple reward systems for myself when I’m home, and I’ve got access to things.  So maybe I can grab a quick workout or have a chore I want to start, or it is some kind of snack, maybe I pick a pebble, pick a smaller activity. When I’m done with it, then I can go do that other thing that gets me out of my seat, you know, raises my energy level again, helps with the posture, helps to keep me healthy, but I’m still making progress throughout the day.  I like the idea of rocks and pebbles.

CRYSTAL KADAKIA:  Yeah, totally.  And really good tips.  Thanks for sharing kind of what your workspace looks like at home.  I mean, very similar for me, I have free weights right next to my desk because I want that to be my interruption on the way to the kitchen.  So, yeah.

Interruptions and Communication Methods with your Team

And I think, tackling Wendy’s second question about the interruptions piece, as soon as you can, get with your team around communication norms, figuring out what channels to use for what level of urgency.  For some teams, if something’s really urgent, then texting makes the most sense, you know, if you wanted an immediate response. But for others, it might be chatting, or through Slack or Skype or whatever.

You know, you really want to set those norms now, if you haven’t already, around what are the expected turnaround times?  So if I text you, I expect an immediate response.  Well, for some people, if you text them, that’s like an ignore and I can respond to it when I have time.  So have those discussions now and come to an alignment as a team around when you’re going to use email, when you’re going to use the chat, when you’re going to actually schedule a web meeting, and when you’re going to text.  I think those would probably be the four I would cover.

Turning on Video Cameras

BILL YATES:  So one of the other pieces of practical advice that you give related to these different methods of communicating with a team I really wanted to highlight. You talk about the importance of turning on video.  So let’s say we’re having a meeting that allows for video using Zoom or Skype or whatever it may be.  When you use video, then we know the statistics on communication, we know 93 percent of our communication is not the words that we use, it’s all the other things – the visual cues, the inflection of voice, et cetera.  So just by turning on the video, then I’m able to see, you know, how are people doing? I’m able to connect with them, see their eyes, so there’s a deeper connection there, and I think it really enhances the communication.

But I know, I mean, I’m like anybody, you can look at my hair, I don’t spend a lot of time on that; right?  I pretty much get out of the shower, and I’m done, but I know for some people they’re like, I don’t want to take the time to get all dressed up.  I’m not going into the office, so I’m just going to leave my video off.  So make the pitch, tell us why we need to keep our video on.

CRYSTAL KADAKIA:  Well, first of all, the more ugly everyone looks, and less prepared, the more comfortable we’ll all get with video.

BILL YATES:  Transparency.

CRYSTAL KADAKIA:  And no one’s ugly; okay?  So first rule of remote work, nobody is ugly.  We’re all just not prepared.  And that’s fine.  The thing with video, the biggest reason I see is turn-taking.  When you’re on video, you can see when someone wants to say something.  And when you’re working virtually, and everyone’s calling in, you’ve already had that experience in person, where it feels really awkward.  If you imagine you’re in an in-person conference meeting, you have one person who’s on the phone, maybe two.  And they never get a chance to speak because there’s no real way for them to indicate that they’ve got something to say.  They’ve either got to straight-up interrupt, or someone has to remember to say, “Hey, folks on the phone, anything you’ve got to contribute?”

Well, when you webcam, it’s so great because you can now see when someone’s got something to say.  You can also support other people’s thoughts, like I’ve been seeing a lot of silent agreement, and you don’t have to waste the time voicing that on a call.  So I think there’s a lot of team process that is much more efficient, that really can help move things forward, make decisions, make sure everyone who wants to has gotten a chance to share their perspective.

And with that I’ll also state using chat and pairing that with video is really great because you can have people queued on the chat to speak.  So that way again you don’t have, you know, one voice dominating the conversation.  You can really almost do better turn-taking virtually than you can in person.

Making Time to be Proactive

WENDY GROUNDS:  So another comment that I’ve got.  One of our staff sent something.  She said it has been a learning curve navigating setting clear boundaries.  She also said that she wants to make sure that her team feels they have the space to do that so that they are not just being reactive to incoming requests all day long, and have time to be proactive, as well.

CRYSTAL KADAKIA:  So there’s the part about setting your communication norms of we’re going to use these different channels for these kinds of communications with this kind of expected response time.  Right?  There’s that part of it.  But then once you’ve done that, the other part is really stating that, hey, it’s on you, team members, to be accountable to yourself for how much interruption you get because it is very easy to get stuck in that, oh, did I get a new email, did I get a new email, instead of working on something real.

And so you’ve got to realize that you might have that tendency.  And when you need to be working deeply on something, X out of things.  Like X out of Slack or Gmail or whatever it is because you already have those agreements with your team.  You’ve already been checked in for the day.  People know what you’re working on.  If you’re working on something immersive or, as you mentioned, proactively trying to take care of something, rather than just being reactive to all these incoming messages, turn it off.  I mean, that’s going to be the thing that gets you there.  I think as the team manager it’s important for you to be okay with that, that people might be turning things off or being in a do-not-disturb state.  And that’s the way that they’re able to keep themselves from going down that social media rabbit hole.

Turning it Off at the End of the Day

BILL YATES:  Crystal, I wanted to ask a question, too.  For those team members that are struggling with turning it off at the end of the day, now that they’re working from home, how do you ever step away from the computer, step away from your workspace, and turn it off?  For the person who’s struggling with that, what should they do?

CRYSTAL KADAKIA:  Yeah, really think about what it is that worked for you when you were transitioning from the workday to coming home, and see what opportunity there is to replicate that for your at-home environment.  So a lot of times we all struggle with bringing work home with us, especially today, again, with our mobile devices constantly being connected.  But most of us have now figured out some way to transition home, whether that’s listening to the radio on your way home, or checking off your final to-dos before you leave work and putting that away on your desk.  See if there are things like that, that you can bring back to your home life.

For me, at the end of my day, when I start to – and again, for me it’s based on energy.  When I start to feel like I can’t really accomplish much more, my go-to is generally to take a walk outside.  And that’s – even checking the mail.  It just starts to switch you.  Having that conversation, “Hey, what do you want to do tonight?” with your spouse or your kids.  And psychologically there are some things going on, too, where because you have that connection open in front of you in your home space, it’s also a really great way to feel productive and to feel like you’re needed and getting those messages in and replying instantly; right?  It makes you feel like you’re doing something.

And sometimes it’s just a good, healthy, psychological reminder, a little mental pat on the head to yourself of, well, my family needs me, too.  I need me, too.  Like I’m doing something meaningful in that space, as well.  And it sounds, again, it might sound silly because of course we all know our families are important.  But when you have that connection constantly open in front of you like that, all of a sudden you have a new choice to be made; right?  And so it’s a good, like, I said, just a good little mental or heart reminder that, wait a second, there’s other things that make me feel like I’m doing something meaningful; that it might not be as quick, as easy as responding to an email, but it’s still just as important.

BILL YATES:  That’s good.  I think, again, just visual cues, for me.  If I can close the door to my office to kind of indicate that it’s done, I’m done with that now.  Or if I can close my laptop.  Those are things that kind of help my brain go, all right, disengage from work, reengage with family or whatever else you’ve got going on.  And also, you know, a normal part of my routine at the end of most days would be some kind of physical exercise.  And I don’t need to abandon that now that I’m working remotely.

CRYSTAL KADAKIA:  So, you know, we all have things that worked really well for us at work.  Try to see how you can bring those things home, and then take a look at the things that kind of weren’t working that well at work.  One of the things for me was actually the interruptions I got at work.  Like people just stopping by my desk to chat or whatever.  And sometimes there’s toxic people at work.  When you’ve got a little bit of distance, you can act much more thoughtfully around those folks than you could in the past.  You can choose when you interact with people a little bit more than when you’re at work.  And that can, and the reverse, actually allow you more focus time, if you’ve got some of these team norms and family agreements in place.

When we go back after coronavirus, for those of you who will be going back, you might bring some new tools and skills with you that you have now.  You might include the person on the conference call line who’s calling in a little bit more.  You might be way more comfortable with web calling, and you might start using that for your remote calls instead of just the conference line.

Experiment with Collaboration Tools

BILL YATES:  Crystal, that’s so true.  Again, I saw just this last week, just talking with colleagues at other companies that are experimenting with different tools.  One was a collaboration tool like a shared space where people could collaborate, and they could still see faces, they could see each other’s face as they were on this collaborative space.  It’s almost like you were in a virtual room setting where you’re all standing around a whiteboard, and you’re adding to it.  The particular tool is Miro.com, so I don’t know if it’s Miro [me-ro] or Miro [my-ro] dot com.  But great collaboration tool.

So there are things like that.  There’s Trello.  There are so many that we’ve all either dabbled with or maybe seen somebody use.  Now we’ll become heavier users of those.  And you’re right, we’re going to bring those back to our workspace when we’re all working physically together, and it’s going to make us better.  And I think it’s going to impact the way that we work with vendors and other partners into the future.

CRYSTAL KADAKIA:  Yeah, I mean, virtual brainstorming tools, that’s a really great example because the nice thing about using remote brainstorming tools or cloud-based ones are they’re asynchronous.  Like you can contribute at any time.  You don’t have to just wait for that physical team meeting where you’re all gathered around a physical whiteboard and you’re providing your thoughts.  Hey, maybe in that physical time, the way we used to do it, you might have been burned out that day.  You might not have been ready to contribute your thoughts.  You might have had a lot of other stuff going on.  There might have been a very dominant person in that particular meeting.

Well, when you do that same kind of activity virtually, now you have people being able to contribute on their own time, their own pace, and you can still get together as a team to brainstorm together and talk together.  So you really kind of get the best of both worlds, that’s such a great example of the future of work we’ve all been waiting for, that to me coronavirus is really just speeding up.  Like we dove in.  We’re all in right now with the remote work.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.

CRYSTAL KADAKIA:  But when we go back we have this really great opportunity for us to learn a lot in a short time and then bring it back and have an even better workplace culture than before.

Can I Trust My Team to be Accountable?

WENDY GROUNDS:  I want to go on a slightly different track.  Thinking about our project managers leading teams, as well as someone managing an organization that has a lot of people that are working remotely, I know that something they’re all thinking is accountability. So how do I know that my team is being accountable?  They’re not all just…

BILL YATES:  They’re watching Netflix.

WENDY GROUNDS:  …watching Netflix.

CRYSTAL KADAKIA:  Yeah.  Trust comes from many places; right?  You can either be the kind of person who’s like, you have to earn my trust, and in that case you’re always looking for the moments where someone disappoints you.  Or you can be a manager or a leader who’s giving trust, and then seeing what people do with it. Most people don’t like to be known as the person who is not trustworthy, so again, psychological consequences.  You can look into the psychology of trust and find a ton out there.

When you give trust, what you do is you state your expectations and your wants, you make a differentiation between these are “nice to haves” and these are “must haves.”  So for you as a manger or a leader, for you to feel psychologically secure that someone’s on task, what do you absolutely need to be true?  And that might be something that you need now, and so as you continue to give trust, you back off on.  One of those things might be I need to have a check-in with you once a day. Okay?  And we might say – we might do our team check-in in the morning of what everyone’s up to, but then at the end of the day, I want to have a check-in, 15 minutes, just to see how everything’s going.

And especially right now, you really might want to do that because there might be barriers that you might want to work on removing for your folks.  But over time you might start realizing, okay, this person is being accountable, and I’m already removing barriers for them.  There’s not really much coming up in our 15-minute check-ins, and so you might start backing off on that.

So think about what you need to feel psychologically secure that someone’s doing their work without having to see them all day on Slack or Google Hangouts because the thing you don’t want is to become a micromanager remotely, like a remote micromanager is really a pain.  It’s a pain for you because now you’re in front of your computer seeing who’s on and who’s not.  Oh, wow, they took a two-hour break.  That’s just enough time to watch “Bourne Identity.”  So, you know, I don’t know.  I don’t know.

BILL YATES:  It’s a good movie.  That’s an idea.

CRYSTAL KADAKIA:  You know, I mean, that’s painful for you, and that’s painful for them because, again, sitting in front of your computer for eight hours a day straight is not actually productive.

BILL YATES:  Crystal, so I think depending on the type of project we’re leading, too, our team is really connected in terms of what they’re working on.  You know, maybe they’re making regular updates to the list of tasks that are being worked on.  There may be a Kanban board where they’re actively moving pieces.  They may be, you know, checking out work packages and assigning it to themselves and then turning it back in so that the next person knows to pick it up and go with it, or now I can test this, now I can document this, et cetera.

So I think communication is always the key, and I think as a project leader I would never want to be the one that was always in charge of all of that.  I’d want the team to own it; right?  I’d want them to, hey, how are we going to communicate with each other so we’re not both working on the same task or, you know, that kind of thing.  So as we develop that, I think there’s kind of some natural accountability that comes along with that.

It’s now, as a team member, when I grab this piece of work, and I’m responsible for it, I’m also going to give an update to the team so they know where I’m at with it.  And of course my leader’s going to find out, too, we’re all communicating off the same platform.  Could be something as simple as a spreadsheet, or it could be the scheduling tool you’re using or whatever, so working remotely just puts that emphasis on the communication.  And through that communication, then, we all trust each other, I think the trust naturally grows.

Facing New Challenges with Grace

CRYSTAL KADAKIA:  Absolutely.  Great points, Bill. So just really I think communication and picking your structure, picking your platforms, and keeping that simple.  Okay, just because we have all these different digital tools doesn’t mean you have to be using all of them.  So, you know, if you’re a team manager or leader, you know, recognize that your role is to help create the sandbox and help facilitate the team processes. You’re the one that’s really guiding those things, so pick a few simple things, don’t feel the need to add in every single technology tool out there.  Pick a few that will get the job done and get your team started on aligning on communication norms, scheduling, and moving tasks forward.

You know, I really acknowledge that, for people who are leading organizations, this is a really tough time. So I’m not trying to sound like Pollyanna here, everything’s amazing, because I understand, you know, there’s a lot of panic going on, and there’s a lot of systems that need to be put into place really quickly. There are definitely companies out there where they’ve never worked from home.  Many people don’t have home offices, and also they don’t have home office equipment.  You know, CIOs, the IT department, they’re really on the hook to get this in place, like last week. And so that’s a really, really tough challenge.

There are some things that are within our control, there are some strengths that we can emphasize during this time because that’s what’s really going to get us through some of those tough spots.  And so if you find yourself getting frustrated with lack of support from your company, know that they’re working on it; right?  So I think the more gracious we can all be, especially to folks who are in IT or are team managers and team leaders who might be figuring out for the first time how to work remotely for themselves, much less manage their teams.

So let’s be a little gracious, let’s be cool, let’s try to do what we can do in our control to help the team and the company maintain business continuity.  Because that’s the last thing anyone needs is a bunch of people who are really frustrated, and especially employees. It’s already a tough time, so really using this as a time to bond together.  Times of crisis are great to emphasize a positive company culture.  So, and I think that goes both ways.  Both frontline employees, team managers, and team leaders need to have a lot of grace in all those categories because everyone is adjusting to a new normal.

BILL YATES:  That’s good.  Thank you so much, Crystal.

Connect with Crystal

WENDY GROUNDS:  Thank you so much for being with us today.  Thank you for your advice.  How can people reach out to you?

CRYSTAL KADAKIA:  Yeah, please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn.  And I would really, really love to learn more about what’s working for everyone, so I’m definitely not saying enough about the parents with kids at home.  I would love to see people’s advice around what is working for them. So you can do that through sharing comments on the articles, posting your own status updates and tagging me.  I would just love to keep focusing on these strengths that people are finding and things they’re excited about with this remote work situation.  So, yeah, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn, and let’s keep this dialogue going during this time.

Closing

WENDY GROUNDS:  That’s it for this episode of Manage This.  By now I’m sure you’ve also discovered the double benefit from listening to these podcasts.  You have just earned some PDUs towards your recertifications.  So to claim them, go to Velociteach.com and choose Manage This Podcast from the top of the page, click the button that says Claim PDUs and click through the steps.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.

11 responses to “Episode 102 – Working Remotely – Not a Crisis”

  1. Avatar Steven Hedger says:

    An insightful discussion that is not only timely but relevant to future business models post COVID-19.

  2. Avatar Mike McKanna says:

    I enjoyed the discussion! It is topical to what many are experiencing right now and informational to those that are new to remote working.

  3. Avatar George says:

    Nice podcast. I have been working from home before, not 100%, but a lot.
    In my line of work it only matters if you deliver. The actual time we work is not really a concern.

  4. Avatar Megan says:

    Great podcast! It’s comforting to know others are experiencing the same things I am and suggested ways of managing the balance.

  5. Avatar Sameer says:

    NIce Podcast. I must agree it is well mentioned about staying always on emails and showing you are there. I must say by working at home the fear has developed to show I am working

    • Avatar Wendy Grounds says:

      That’s where we are all having to learn to trust each other, and if the work is getting done, it will show. I appreciate your comments.

  6. Avatar Sheryl Cartee says:

    Excellent podcast. I found the information informative and relevant, during this COVID-19 remotely working from home.

    Thanks.

  7. Avatar Fred says:

    Absolutely. COVID-19 only shows how lazy (some) companies were to follow the path of digital collaboration. But it’s possible and it’s the future. To put it positively, at least this crisis demonstrates that remote work is possible, even in places where it seemed to be unthinkable in the past.

  8. Avatar Hawa Iyamabo says:

    Wish i had listened to this before we went remotely due to Covid… lots of lessons learned
    thank you!

    • Avatar Wendy Grounds says:

      Thank you for listening. It’s been a time of new lessons for us all. We are grateful for Crystal’s advice.

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