Beyond the Chaos partnered with Dan Evans and his digital marketing firm, Hydrate Marketing, to present the recent webinar “Best Practices for Remote Teams.” As someone who has been working remotely for over 11 years, Susan is certainly an expert in how remote teams can be more effective, no matter the industry.
If your team is one of the many that have been thrust unexpectedly into remote work, this webinar will give you the tools you need to maximize effectiveness in this new environment, including:
- How to manage interruptions
- Tools that will help your team communicate
- The specific structure you need to create to be successful
- How to adjust your expectations
One thing we know is that the remote workplace is here to stay, so it’s time to learn how to adapt and excel.
Please find the full video transcript below.
Dan: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for joining us this morning for our podcast today. Our podcast is called Best Practices for Remote Teams. And we’re excited to have Susan Fennema join us today and talk to us about this. My name is Dan Evans, and I’m joined today by Madison Merrihew. We both work at Hydrate Marketing. We’re a digital marketing company based in the thriving metropolis of Lebanon, New Hampshire, right on the New Hampshire Vermont border. And it’s a beautiful day up here.
And the interesting thing about being where we are this time of year is that I can get on my bike and go for a bike ride. It’s also still really good skiing over Killington mountain in Vermont. So I could do that, as well. We have a client who is a major ski manufacturer, and he’s actually headed over there to go skiing, which I would have joined him for. But I’m happy to be with you, instead.
On our podcast today, Susan is going to present to us. Here are a few rules of how we present. There’s a Q&A button down at the bottom. Feel free to use the Q&A button to ask questions along the way. Madison will be monitoring those questions. And we’ll be sure to interject and ask your questions, get them answered. At the end of the podcast, we’ll have some more information about how you can interact with Susan further and take it from there.
And so, I’m happy to tell you just a little bit about what we do here. As I said, we’re a digital marketing company. We work with companies on marketing strategy, marketing strategy implementation. We produce podcasts for our clients. Also, we do social media marketing and email, and all that stuff. But more importantly, we’re joined with Susan. Hi, Susan.
Susan: Hi, Dan, how are you?
Dan: Good. Susan’s coming all the way from, can we call it West Texas? Where you are, is that Texas?
Susan: I’m not out in the West Texas town of El Paso. I’m actually much further east. I would actually be closer to East Texas than West Texas. Yeah. Northeast McKinney, it’s slightly northeast of Dallas.
Dan: Okay. You and I met last year, and you did a couple of presentations with us at that time that were well received. And we’re happy to have you back again. Tell us just a little bit about what you do before we jump into your slides.
Susan: Sure. So, I help small businesses, simplify their operations, and usually ending up and helping them manage their projects so that the business owner is able to focus on growing the business instead of all those details and the operations of running the business. The results usually is also that that small business owner gets their life back a bit as opposed to constantly being bombarded by nonstop, urgent, overwhelm.
Dan: Sure, yep. And that’s a familiar story to all of us who were in management. It was interesting when you and I talked about what to present remote working, which is not a new thing, and it certainly existed before the pandemic, and became prominent during the pandemic, and will continue after the pandemic. And so, I found it particularly interesting to think about how we manage teams and be good team members in this environment while practicing a lot of the management skills we have and team members skills but doing them in a different way to make this new environment effective as we move forward.
And it’s hard for a lot of people to be effective in this environment. So I think is a timely topic. And one that’s really helpful to a lot of people, no matter what type of industry they’re in. And we have people from lots of different industries on our call biotechnology, healthcare. We have some research scientists.
Susan: Software developers, I saw in there.
Dan: Yeah, yep. So without further ado, I’ll let you take this away. And as I said, people, feel free to ask questions along the way.
Susan: All right, let’s jump right in. We’re going to start with me doing a few more details about who I am so you understand the background that I’m bringing to this conversation. My name is Susan Fennema. I am the Chaos eradicating officer, that’s CEO of Beyond the Chaos. I like the fun title because what we deal with a lot is dry. So we like to bring a sense of humor to it, and we start with the introduction part.
I have 30 years of experience, 30 plus. I’m not going to tell you how many 30 plus of experience as a project manager and operations consultant. I’ve worked with a lot of small businesses and in a lot of small businesses. So, I understand the workings of those businesses, and I understand how it affects the owner of the business. More importantly, to this point, I have been working from home for 11 years, the first five of which were at a software development company, as a project manager, the last six have been as the business owner. So this environment is not new to me.
I was a little surprised when I heard people, all of a sudden discovered, this miracle called Zoom. I’m like, “Yeah, I’ve been using that for a while.” So it’s been interesting coming from that standpoint to see the rest of the world so to speak, understand that virtual businesses are not just people sitting at home, working when they want, it is a real business environment.
The other is that there is an ongoing stress level still today of what’s going on in the world, even as business owners were wondering, “Is our business coming up? Is it going down? Is it ebbing and flowing?” It’s very odd, this new environment that we’re working in. But at the same time, you can create relationships virtually. I’ve only met one of my team members in person. And it’s because she worked for me 20 years ago.
I have 10 people that are on my team, they’re all virtual. Many of them I have known before they came to work for me, but not ever met in person. So we know each other well, we work together well. And there are ways to grow those relationships even after or even without being in person. And a lot of that’s going to come down to how you communicate. So we’re going to talk about that a lot.
But first, let’s do a little poll. Let’s talk about what your work environment looks like. So, if you can go ahead, pick what you’re doing right now. Are you working from home full-time? Do you have a hybrid where you go to and from work? Are you going back to an office full-time? Or have you already? Either one, love to know who we’re speaking to here.
Dan: Susan, you have to push a button to launch that poll.
Susan: I did and people are voting out there.
Susan: It might just be the panelists that can’t see the poll.
Dan: Oh, it’s just me. I can’t vote. Great.
Susan: Well, Dan, you can just tell us your answer.
Dan: I have a hybrid work environment.
Susan: So, the results are in, let me end the poll here. And we have a majority that’s working from home, but not a huge majority. Well, I guess 63% is a huge majority. But the other part of you are hybrid work environment. So, nobody on this call is looking at going back to a full-time office environment. That’s going to be a big difference in how we move ahead in how we work together. So let’s talk a little bit about what that looks like.
Life has changed. Everyone is living in a totally different situation. That’s the one thing that was so apparent to me when all of this started 15 months ago, is some people are dealing with elderly care, some are dealing with childcare, some have family members that have moved in that weren’t living with them before. You might have a work-from-home spouse, your kids are going to school online, even if it’s not full-time, many of them are still doing some learning at home.
It just has added to weird living situations that were not the norm before. There are many single people that have been very isolated for the past, however long and that’s going to be interesting as to how do you merge that social back into the world. Some are loving working from home. Their first opportunities to do it, man, it’s the best thing ever. And some hate it. They miss the interaction with people. Some managers haven’t yet fully figured out how to accommodate the new environment and make it a little bit more seamless.
The takeaway here is really, everybody’s work environment is different. So while some people have an office that is designated in their home, I do. Others are working at a kitchen table, while other things are going on around them. You might be working from your bed in a studio apartment, maybe on your couch, the back of a van. Some people have taken this to not work from home but work from anywhere. So they’re in a van or an RV traveling the country and enjoying different things along the way. That’s one benefit of doing all this, you get a whole different lifestyle.
I talked to one guy who was holed up in his bathroom with a folding table and chair because that was the only option for him to have quiet privacy. So, everybody is living and working in this totally different environment.
One of the main keys that have come out is how technology helps us with this. It’s definitely come to the forefront. And it’s certainly something that we can’t ignore, it’s not going to go away. It’s going to be in our lives. So, there is a degree of how do we handle that? And how do we communicate better using those tools? Beyond the chaos, as one of its values, that we really believe technology helps businesses run more effectively, this has been a value of ours for a long time. But how to use it is what is imperative because just having it isn’t really all you need. Still got to use the tools properly.
So, let’s take another poll here real quick. Let me see if I can get to the second one here. So when you’re working from home, do you have a dedicated office, a makeshift desk at the kitchen table, or some other place where you’re sitting like a desk in another room, even if it’s a shared room? Or are you working from your couch or your bed? That kind of thing. I’d love to know what kind of environment you’ve created for yourselves there.
Dan: Well, since I can’t vote, I don’t mind telling you that I have a combination of those as well. It’s usually the kitchen table.
Susan: Okay. We’ll wait for a couple more here to pop in, and then we’ll share these results. Wow, a lot. This is great. So let’s share these results. So, most people have a makeshift desk at a kitchen table or somewhere in a bedroom or guest room or something like that. As we move forward, that might be something you want to address. Do you even just buy a screen from Target that separates you a little bit from the rest of the environment so you’re setting yourself up with a little bit more of a work environment? But that is really an interesting change in how our homes have even changed.
So, let’s jump in and talk about communication a bit. In general, you can’t over-communicate when you’re working remotely. This is the main thing to remember, making sure that people know when you’re available next, or making sure that you’re checking in and out more. People can’t walk by a desk and see if you’re working. You need to be able to talk about that and talk about the big things too. You’re not going to lunch in a lunchroom together or even going out to lunch together. So, being able to share things about what’s going on in your world is really important.
As managers, I think it’s very important that you address your team’s fears if possible. Many of them are still worried if they’re going to be laid off. If you’re going to go bankrupt and close down. Are you still getting furloughed? Are there cutbacks? These are still fears going on with your team. Now, while the unknown is much more disruptive and frightening, if you can positively reach out and share more information as a manager than usual, that will be beneficial. Even if it’s something that might be scary or worrisome.
If you can tell somebody that, “Hey, we’re struggling with business right now. We’re struggling with new business right now. We’re hoping to turn that around. These are the things we’re putting in place to make that happen. Even if it is a little frightening, and a little nerve-wracking for you to share that information with the team, it’s going to help them feel more engaged in the company. So that’s the other.
Now the other thing is, you’re also living through a lot of stress, and a lot of changes, and you’re also human. So don’t be afraid to say, “Yeah, man, I’m just worn out this week, it’s just too many Zooms. My face is out there too much.” Those types of things. But make sure you’re not adding to their stress.
As a manager, you still need to be the fearless leader, you still need to be putting a positive face on things and a positive outlook on what’s to come. So, don’t forget all of that. Obviously, all of that is very hard to meander through and to make sure that you’re getting what you expect from your communication. So, listening is part of that. And encouraging your team to talk as well.
The other thing that is important in setting expectations is changing your KPIs a little bit. One of the ways owners and managers used to look at how productive are we, it’s how many people are in the right seats in the building at the right time? Are they working these numbers of hours? So, one of the ways that management needs to change its approach is to start looking at the results generated by a team member, rather than whether the person is just sitting there in front of their computer at the right time. The right time has changed a lot too. We are meandering through how all of those situations that we talked about at the beginning are affecting our work.
And while people still might be getting their eight hours a day in, it might not be all at once, it might be late at night, after the kids go to bed, it might be early in the morning, getting up early to work before the rest of the household wakes up. There are a lot of those situations. Obviously, that’s going to depend on the role the person is playing. If you have a phone support person, they better be in front of their computer or on their phone during the correct hours that they’re supposed to cover. So those are some things that you want to look at to be able to manage some of those KPIs a little bit.
The team member should also not be forced to dress up. When all of this started, I saw all of these new rules about how to use Zoom come out. Make sure you’re dressing up for work every day, get up and take a shower, and put on your work clothes just like you would if you’re going into the office. I say [inaudible 00:18:39] to that. There are benefits to working from home. And some of those are that you don’t have to go be in public in front of a bunch of people.
Obviously, today, I have put on work clothes, I have put on makeup. I’m using my judgment because I am talking to a large group of people. But this is not how I look normally. Normally, I might be in my pajamas or in a T-shirt or whatever is comfortable. And I’m not wasting extra time doing those things that are not necessarily important to what matters. So you can work in different clothes.
I remember a friend of mine when I first started working from home, she said, “So, what are you going to do?” I said, “I’m going to get up every day and I’m going to get dressed just like I was going to the office.” And she said, “So what are you going to do when your husband comes home from work?” And I said, “Wash my face and put on my pajamas.” And she’s like, “So, why are you doing that?”
And so, it was a little eye-opening too to see the difference of does it really matter? Is that a useful part of time? I know, men, you’ve got that easier because you can always just look great, but you might want to shave every week or so is days. The thing that can happen… Now, obviously, again, use your judgment. If you are somebody who is on Zoom calls all day, and you’re a banker offering people loans or a financial adviser, you might want to look the part a little bit. But this is where your judgment comes into play. When and where is it appropriate? And what are you doing?
I’ll tell you what, I try to schedule things on the days I need to look great, I tried to schedule a whole bunch of things that require me to look great. Even if it’s recording videos for my company that day, I’ll put it on that day. It is an efficient and productive way to make sure that you’re not wasting time doing those extra things.
Now, I will also tell you, could an emergency call come up where you have to be on camera unexpectedly? Sure. But you can jump on and say, “Hey, this is an emergency, sorry, I just got back from walking the dog, I look a mess. I’m not turning on the video this time.” You can say things like that. Everybody knows this world we’re living in. And I’m going to tell you, I have a lot of virtual software developers for most of my clients and no offense, but fashion is not their thing. So, and that makes mine a little bit more flexible as well.
Dan: It’s amazing how I can get by with a dress shirt and some sweatpants at the right time.
Susan: Right? And who doesn’t have their Zoom shirt hanging on their doorknob, right?
Dan: Good point.
Susan: For those last-minute emergencies. So, that’s a new thing, the Zoom shirt is a new thing. Let’s jump in a little bit about how we set those expectations with our teams. So, I call them the rules. You can call it policy. You can do whatever you want. But one of the important things is this is written down. So, first thing, what is the attire on calls that you’re expecting? Make it clear, what is the company’s expectation of the appearance of the team? And make sure that, again, they’re written down. Let’s also talk about what the hours are. Do you have scheduled or set hours that you expect everyone to be available?
Susan: I don’t believe any manager expects their team members to be available 24/7. But I will tell you right now, very clearly, that there are many employees that do think their managers expect that. So being clear as a manager as to, “Hey, listen, as long as you email me back within four hours, I’m good.” Or, “If you’re away from your desk, make sure that on our chat tool you’re designating that so that we know you’re away.” Go ahead, Dan.
Dan: Susan, yep. Okay, you could tell I was going to ask you a question.
Dan: How about for the team member? Certainly, the manager is in a position to dictate these things. But as a team member, who in a good environment is used to managing up, how do we help set those expectations around our availability to management?
Susan: That’s important, and it is important that it be discussed. So, I will say that I do believe it’s the responsibility of management to be clear in their expectations, but it is also the responsibility of the employee to set boundaries. And you can communicate, again, we talked about that at the beginning, that communication is the important thing.
If somebody says, “I need you to be on a call at five o’clock,” if it is something you were not expecting, and you have to pick up kids from school, or you have to, my thing. I’m not ever-changing my hair appointment, it takes me six weeks to get back in. Whatever that thing is, if it is outside of a normal day or a normal expectation, communicate that. “Hey, I can’t make it at 5:00 today. Do you need me or can we reschedule that to earlier or tomorrow?” I’m not saying there aren’t emergencies, we all deal with emergencies. So when those come up, let’s make sure that we’re talking about that and what we might have to change.
Dan: Sure. That’s a difficult situation-
Susan: It is.
Dan: … because I know several people who work in an environment where they could hear from their supervisor anytime during the day. Sometimes late in the evening, and it keeps them on edge a lot because they feel like they have to be available 24/7 because they never know when that person is going to email and they fear not being available when they reach out to be immediately available with a quick answer.
Susan: Well, and that’s absolutely an understandable feeling and why it is so important that a supervisor or a manager is very clear on their expectations. One of the things that you can do as management to prevent that, schedule your emails. So even if you’re working at eight o’clock at night, nine o’clock at night, because you had to wait until the kids went to bed to get your work done, I know you’re not expecting an immediate response from a team member at all hours of the night. Shoot, if they’re early risers, they could already be in bed at nine o’clock at night.
So, making sure that that communication is clear, but then also, if you are emailing at nine o’clock at night, use those tools that come with that technology that allows you to schedule that email to go out tomorrow morning at 8:30. Those are ways as managers we can help. As employees, you can help by not assuming that just because they emailed you, they require an immediate response.
Again, if you’re working, maybe your way of setting the boundaries is to schedule your response to go out the next morning at a certain time. So use that technology to your benefit and set boundaries. And if you need to ask, flat out ask. You can ask the next day, “Hey, I got an email from you last night at nine o’clock. I just want to be clear, were you expecting an immediate response? Or is me responding today acceptable?” Unless you are working for a tyrant, the answer is probably going to be, “Oh no, I didn’t expect an immediate response.”
Susan: So again, that’s back to the communication and setting the rules. Don’t assume anything, don’t assume your team understands your expectation. And team members don’t assume that your supervisors are asking for something that they’re not. Communication is totally important here. And that’s actually my next bullet point. So we’ve covered it.
Make sure you’re working as a team to navigate through this and being willing on both parties’ account to make some changes. As the employee, if you’re dealing with kids that are going to bed and you can’t do anything between 6:00 and 8:30, you might have a supervisor who’s trying to go to bed at nine o’clock that wants to get up at 5:00 because they work better between five and seven before the family gets up.
So negotiate that together. “How’s that work? When are you responding?” What can you expect of each other? And that communication is not only going to improve your good feelings about working where you are, it’s going to bond you two together. You’re going to learn more about each other, you’re going to respect each other. That’s the type of thing that’s going to make a stronger team when you’re working remotely.
The response time, we talked about that a little bit. Email, should never be the expectation of an immediate response. If you email somebody, the beauty of it is it sits in a box until you’re ready to respond. So, that’s something important to remember on both parties accounts. It’s not an emergency if you receive an email, and it’s not horrible if you don’t get a response for several hours.
To that point, flexibility, I am encouraging tremendous flexibility offered on both sides of the world, management or team members, talk to each other, be flexible, be accommodating. As long as you are getting the value you’re expecting from each other, the support from management, and the outputs from team members, as long as that is being met, who cares if it’s 3:00 in the morning? Who cares if it’s five in the morning because that’s when they got up. You don’t know their life situation. Probably would behoove you to ask that. But those life circumstances just are not as easily known.
Right now two people deal with all the stress in very different ways. Some people are also more forthcoming about what’s going on in their lives than others that might be more private. So, keep that in mind as well. You need to be flexible to everybody’s personality type, which is a whole other thing we can talk about, as well as their life environment. So, management becomes a lot harder right now. It’s harder to be a team member. And that communication is helpful. And the respect and empathy that you’re sharing in both ways are hugely important.
So, another value that Beyond the Chaos has is that we’re lifestyle-oriented. We are creating lifestyle-oriented work for our clients. But that also extends to our team members. So, we might have team members, I have a team member now, she only wants to work 10 hours a week, she’s taking care of a sick grandbaby that lives with her. She needs flexibility. So we accommodate that and use her only on projects that have extreme flexibility. So, you can work with people differently, depending on their needs. And that might mean their type of employment needs to change. So be open to that from both parties as well. Let’s do another poll here.
Dan: And what do you mean by that, Susan?
Susan: Okay. Can you ask me a specific question in regard to that? The employee…
Dan: The type of employment.
Susan: The type of employment. So perhaps you’re ready to go part-time as an employee. How does that look? Perhaps as a business owner, you’re struggling with, “I can’t find enough work to keep this person busy.” What does that mean? I know in some places right now, they’re even offering part-time unemployment. So, it’s different by state. So I think California offers that. I don’t know all the states bunch out there. But that gives you some flexibility that you might not have had have. Have those conversations too. If you’re worried that you have several team members and you can’t keep them all busy, and as an owner, you’re worried that you might have to lay somebody off, remember that right now, the unemployment benefits are really good.
And so, depending on your state, the employee might be better served by being let go. The problem is right now, hiring is really hard. So weigh that, weigh your decisions very carefully. And as an employee, know that if you are overwhelmed, a lot of people are right now, even though we’re coming to the end of this, a lot of people also have been, man, stressed for 18 months, and they’re worn out.
And some people feel like they just need a little bit more time in their world, or rest or whatever that is. Talk about that stuff. You guys might be able to work out something that works much more beautifully for everyone involved. But you have to be open about it, and you have to talk about it. You can’t make decisions in a vacuum.
As you’re showing that empathy, make sure that as a manager, you’re trying to do the best thing possible for your team. That’s how you’re going to get more out of them in the long run. And that’s how you’re going to build a happier culture, that’s this new virtual culture that you’re trying to create. So that’s what I meant about that, Dan. Does that make a little bit more sense?
Dan: Yes. Thank you for clarifying that.
Susan: Sure. So let’s do a poll here. We’re going to go into communication next. So let’s talk about how you communicate for work right now. Are you using your personal cell phone for calls and texts? Are you using your personal cell for phone calls, but maybe written communication is via email or Slack or another chat tool? Or are you trying to set up calls via email to avoid calls and texts entirely? Or are you using a company number and company email for all work communications? I’m interested to see how this is going.
Dan: And I’ll tell you on this one, I fit into the second one.
Susan: Using your personal cell phone but you’re [crosstalk 00:34:45]?
Dan: Yap, lots of texting, and quite a bit of email and we also use Slack internally and with clients on our projects.
Susan: Okay, interesting. Okay, so let’s see.
Dan: I know that’s not project management software, as you’ve told me in the past.
Susan: It’s not, but that’s okay. Okay, so let’s end this poll here. And I’ll share the results out there. So, it looks like we’re pretty evenly divided between using our personal cell phone in some areas, the Zoom calls, and the company numbers. I’m going to tell you right now, those two options are going to be your healthier options. So let’s talk a little bit about how to make that happen.
Cell phone and text use, I am a strong believer in not using personal devices to communicate your instinct is that they’re there in front of you, so it’s easy. But talk about asking for an immediate response. If you’re texting somebody on their phone that they have with them all the time, no matter what they’re doing, that makes people think you need an immediate response. So be careful about that. There’s also no way when you’re texting someone to be able to remember to come back to it after you’ve read. So if you’ve read it, and then 12 more texts come in, you can miss the text.
So, I know that that’s our first instinct, we have them, let’s use them. But I have an example of one of my long-time employees who was working with a client. It was a West Coast client. She was East Coast, and she went on a trip to London vacation. She had her clients’ client texting her in her middle of the night on her vacation in London. Totally not cool. And as soon as I learned that, I made a huge change to how our company does business.
We have a VoIP phone now, our team members get their own phone number, they can text or call through that phone number. And it serves two purposes. One, it makes that less of an interruption because it’s separate to the team member. And two, as the owner of the company, now I feel a lot more confident that all that communication is coming to the company.
So, if for example, that person left, like sadly, she just did, we knew it was going to happen. She’s become the play producer in New York City that she always wanted to be, very happy for her. We do miss her though. But if that happens, I now have her communications. I have that access to if somebody texts her, I can see it come to me, instead of her now being bothered on her cell phone when she’s not even in this business anymore.
So, that’s an important thing to consider is you can still put them on your devices, we can still text from the phone, call from the phone, but we’re using a work number. I can also do it from my computer, so they’re linked. So that’s a pretty cool thing, avoid it. It is also a nice work-life separation. When you walk away from work, you stop responding to that, those messages will be there when you get back and they don’t interfere with your personal texts about your kiddo saying, “Mom time to come pick me up.” So that’s good work-life separation. It does create urgency, it is intrusive. So consider that as well.
And especially if you’re communicating with clients, and not just internally, please try to skip the personal devices because now your client has that information. And they might not be as respectful of your time as you might be of each other. So consider that as well. And as I mentioned, the chat tool of VoIP phone, that’s what’s going to help you with that next step. I highly encourage that you get off your personal devices.
Okay, so let’s jump into the next thing. Okay, great. I can’t text, I don’t want to invest in the phone. What we’re going to do is we’re going to schedule Zoom calls. I worked with a team that this is how they did it. They didn’t have phone numbers. Or text at all. They would schedule a Zoom call through email, and that’s how they communicated with their clients and with each other. That’s a great way to do it as well.
But what about those quick little one-off things that we really need to look at? Well, we use Slack. That’s what we communicate through. Dan, you said that your team uses that too.
Dan: That’s correct. We use it internally. And we use it, we set up Slack channels with our clients as well. So we communicate through Slack. It’s a chat tool, partially, we can also attach documents to it. And so it works great for us.
Susan: You can also do phone calls through it.
Dan: That I didn’t know.
Susan: Yeah, so the free version, I’m talking about the free version here, you can do phone calls through. With a paid version, you can also screen share. But you don’t have to add any expense. The free version of Slack works great. You just need to set up, like in Dan’s case, you said you’re communicating with your clients that way too, set up different workgroups for those clients that each workgroup is free, and you just have a whole bunch that you’re looking at once. We do that as well. So, I love this, and so does my team.
There are tons of other options out there. So Skype, Whatsapp, Teams, a lot of people are using Teams these days, Google Hangout, or chat that comes with your G Suite subscriptions. If you’re using a Google back end. If you’re using Teamwork, which is my favorite project management tool, it comes with a chat. Basecamp comes with a campfire that’s similar to a chat. These types of tools are highly beneficial. But to me, Slack is the best.
And there are some benefits to this. As we’re talking about, most are free. You can put the apps on any device, or you can access them online. So, you can use it on your computer, on your phone. It’s going to reduce internal email and meetings. So anybody wants more meetings or email?
Dan: No, thank you.
Susan: Ever heard anybody say that sounds great. You’re able to have group conversations too. So, instead of communicating one on one through text, or a group text that goes different to Android, and iPhone, and all that, you’re able to group the communications that are about a certain topic. You can separate channels, you can have direct conversations. In most of these tools, you’re even able to set privacy at certain channels so that if you’re talking with your HR manager, nobody else can see your chat.
I would say that in most cases, the owner of the app, might be able to see everything. So if you’re an employee, and you’re having a chat backend on a client, or on your company communication, treat it like any other company communication, what you say might be read by a company owner. So, be cautious of that. The other thing it does is it reinvents collaboration. You’re starting to be able to chat in real-time, or even in spaced-out time if somebody is not available to respond right away. But you’re reinventing how you’re talking to each other.
So, for example, my team every morning, we have two things that we do. One is a fun question. The other day it was if your dog could talk, what are the three questions you would ask him? So fun things like that, that let everybody put in something fun, laugh a little bit, enjoy each other, which might spark some side conversations. And then the other thing that we do is we have a daily check-in. And on that daily-check in, you’re to answer three questions.
The first is, what did you accomplish yesterday? And we don’t want a laundry list, we want the most important thing you accomplished. Number two, what is your highest priority to accomplish today? And then number three, what do you need help from a team member or did someone do something to help you that you want to thank them for? So, we have that option out there too. That helps people know what’s going on overall, and also how they might be able to help a team member. So, those types of things, also let your manager jump in and go, “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, why do you think that’s your highest priority today? Maybe you should focus on this, that could be a tomorrow thing.” So it helps people redirect if that’s needed.
Dan: That’s a great idea. But do we do that in a few different ways? We have a couple of meetings a week, they usually take place on Zoom. And on occasion, I will do what you said not to and use my personal device and text people individually and ask similar questions. Of course, it becomes a private conversation. And I love the idea of putting it out there for everybody.
Susan: Yeah, it really lets the team know, “Hey, what’s everybody doing? What’s going on?” Things that they might say in passing, or as they’re writing an elevator together, those kinds of things. So the other thing that comes cool with most of these tools, but Slack does it really well, is, okay, “I read that I need to answer it. But I got to go look up something. And I’m literally driving right now. So I can’t.” There is a remind me so that it will pop up again and remind you that you still need to answer it in an hour.
Some of the tools, you can integrate with your project management tool and add a task in your project management tool to do the thing that somebody asked you to do. So, that kind of collaboration that can happen in that kind of integration that can happen on a tool is different from your texts as well. Texts go away really easily. And as we talked about, yep, you can call each other on most of them. Skype does it, WhatsApp does it, Slack does it, and Teams does it as well. So those are your benefits of going to a chat tool rather than using your personal devices.
So let’s talk a little bit about conference calls. I think most people are very familiar with this at this point. But we’re using Zoom, GoToMeeting, BlueJeans, that’s one. If you haven’t looked at that one, kind of a funny name. It’s hard for me to take that one seriously. Google Meet comes free with your G Suite. The only thing with Google Meet, you have to have a business G Suite in order to record from it. So that’s an important thing to note.
Sometimes these come packaged with a phone system. So, if you’re looking into something like that, you can look into RingCentral, or go to LogMeIn, they change their name every other day. So, I’m not sure what they are today. But both of those come with chat, a phone system, all sorts of other things that you can do. RingCentral packages like white labels Zoom, and GoTo white labels, not white labels, it is the same thing. It uses GoToMeeting.
So, all of those are ways to work on your conference calling. You should probably try to adapt something that works for the whole team and use the same thing. Zoom does have a free one, but you do get cut off at 45 minutes or 40 minutes. So be aware of that, if it’s more than one person in the call.
Okay. So, should you share video, or should you not? I used to hate it. I used to hate seeing myself on screen. So I would go through all these efforts to get primped up for it every single time I was going to have a meeting. But here’s how you solve that fear. Just do it. Just turn on the video. Live your life. If your hair is not perfect, who cares? If your background is not perfect, who cares? Cat walks across your screen, who cares? Just do it. The more you do it, the more comfortable you get doing it. But there’s also a side effect. Avoid being on all day. This is exhausting.
So, if you have a bunch of calls, pick and choose which ones you want to be on video. Unlike being in a meeting room where everybody’s in there, nobody’s really looking at you unless you’re talking and you’re not worried about it. But if I’m sitting on a call, I can assume that somebody might be looking at me at any time. So, I am staring at the camera, trying to have a smile on my face. All of those things can be exhausting if you’re doing it all day.
So we talked a little bit about the daily check-in. I do recommend this for your teams to stay in touch, set priorities, make sure everyone’s okay. That’s another one too. A lot of people working from home by themselves all day, are they there? Did something happen? Do you have an emergency contact for these people? That’s something that you need to think about as managers. If you haven’t heard from somebody, make sure they’re okay.
If you’re in the same time zone, and you’re all on the same work schedule, you could do quick Zoom calls to start every day, and run through that company, check-in as a group, get everybody interacting a little bit, that’s an option too. My team is all virtual all over the country, and all work different hours. So we don’t do that. It would be way too intrusive into their day to require that. But different teams work in different ways. That’s why we do the daily check-in when they start working. So some people won’t check in until 3:00 in the afternoon because they’re not working with us until that time. So when they come in, that’s when it’s been work. Our clients are using this too, and they love it as well.
Set expectations of when you want people to answer in your daily check-in. Do you always want an answer by noon? This is how you start making sure that they’re okay as well. Set that expectation. And as managers, you need to read this stuff. You need to make sure that you’re acknowledging that you’ve read it, give them the thumbs-up emoji or a little laughing tear crying, emoji, whatever, based on their response, so that they know they’re being heard. And you’re not just asking them to send this information out into the ether.
We even have a gratitude channel. So, when somebody needs to feel a little bit of gratitude or be thankful, this is a way to share those things with a group of people that might bring other people up, especially when we’re all suffering with a little bit of depression these days. Remembering to be grateful, and thankful is a good way to fight some of that. So that’s a great one. The other thing I do is I have a client feedback channel. And when somebody gets a compliment from one of our clients, I throw that in there, so that everybody gets to see that compliment. So, those are some other ways that you can use the tool to help create your culture.
Dan: Those are Slack channels that you have, Susan?
Susan: Yes, those are Slack channels.
Dan: That’s a great idea too. I love that.
Susan: Yeah. So you can open those channels in your workgroup, and you can… Like our daily check=in, we have team members that are sitting on the sidelines, maybe not working with a client right now, they’re not in that daily check-in. So they’re not getting bombarded with messages. We pull them in when they have a client, we send them out when they don’t. And so that way, you’re able to manage who’s seeing what, and it’s not constant, everybody has to pay attention to everything. So that’s a good reason to set those channels as well.
Another thing that’s important, and we did a whole session on process and project management. You can go back and look at that one. But you have to be using some tool to manage your projects that’s in the cloud. You don’t have a whiteboard that everyone can look at anymore. You don’t have a centralized hard drive server that people necessarily can access without a lot of effort. So, make sure you’re using your project management tools, make sure that you’re using your storage tools that are out in the cloud. There are even whiteboard apps out there for brainstorm meetings that you can pull into Zoom, and you can share and you can draw and all of that kind of thing.
The gist of all of this comes down to make sure you’re keeping the work off personal computers, keep it in the cloud. And I would recommend that your policy about personal devices includes something like do not work locally. Make sure you’re working off of the main drive or minimally, if you don’t have a great internet connection that you’re putting it back to the drive.
Some companies, this is a security issue too making sure that a personal computer can’t get hacked or, “Oh, all the work I’ve done for the past month was on the computer that I left in the coffee shop and got stolen.” So think about those things. If you are working off of a personal computer for any time at all, for any reason, if you’re writing code and it’s faster, whatever the case may be, make sure you have a good backup that is off-site but is not in your home, that is in the cloud so that if anything happens, you’re able to get to it.
Dan: Susan, we use Trello for our simple project management software. And I know you’ve mentioned Basecamp, which we’ve used in the past. Do you have a couple of others off the top of your head?
Susan: Well, Teamwork is my favorite by far.
Susan: But for people who are starting with Project Management, I would recommend looking at something more simple, like Basecamp, Trello, or Asana. Monday.com is one that you can customize. I think that requires a little bit more thought process of how you’re going to set it up. If you’re a software developer, though, it’s a low code type thing. So it might be something quick for you to set up the way you want. But teamwork allows you to do pretty much all of those as well as time-tracking and some workflow management, or workload management. Sorry. So that would be the one I would recommend if you want something more. If you’re just starting, go with some of the more simple ones.
Dan: What are people risk where they choose to not use project management software, you end up doing what?
Susan: You’re going to… Well, man, I can talk for an hour about this, but the gist-
Dan: It’s a mess.
Susan: It’s a mess. You’re not all on the same page, you can end up duplicating efforts. You’re always reinventing the wheel, you’re struggling with what is standardized steps of things to go through when you’re working on a project. And then also how are you working together on it? Are you actually emailing each other the whole time of every step of a project? That’s insane, and it doesn’t work. And that falls through the cracks.
So, if you’re not using these tools, you’re really risking teamwork problems, and more importantly, problems with your clients not reaching what they need on time, on budget, and in scope.
Dan: Great point.
Susan: So, the other big important part is you need a clear process to store and how to use the tools. So, where is everything going? We talked about the policy, but then also, where is the process? If you’ve written a process, how do they access it? I’m a firm believer, as long as you don’t have hundreds and hundreds of processes, which some bigger companies do, if you have just a few, put them in your project management tool into whatever is the text doc or notebook, whatever they call it in that tool and put it in there not as an attachment, but as verbiage, then it’s searchable, they can find stuff that way.
But make sure that you have that centralized. Just because you have a process in your head, that’s not real, nobody else knows what it is. You have to write it down. But the next step is you have to share it and then hold people accountable for it. So, if they don’t have something to reference it, it’s all wasted. So make sure that you’re doing that part.
Dan: Got it.
Susan: The other thing we’re going to jump into, interruptions. This is going to happen. We are going to have interruptions throughout [crosstalk 00:58:47]
Dan: So let me interrupt you and say we have a couple of minutes left if we want to keep people on schedule.
Susan: Okay. I can go for a couple more minutes. If people need to leave, I get it. I will crank through these as quickly as possible.
Susan: We are going to have interruptions. Baby’s going to cry, the dog’s going to bark, that’s not controllable. UPS is going to ring the bells to drop off your Amazon packages. And it’s always going to happen at the very worst time.
Dan: [inaudible 00:59:14]
Susan: It’s never going to happen when you’re sitting there just doing your work. It’s going to happen when you’re doing something like this. So everyone understands it, own it, just really owns it. You can also do some things to help with that. Put the baby in the crib during an important meeting, put the dog in his crate or outside. You can even put a note on the front door that says, “Don’t ring the bell.” So there are some things like that.
I have another poll, but in the interest of time, I’m going to skip it and just run through quickly on some family tips. This is also an opportunity for you to team up for each other successes. So, communicate internally better with your family. See if you can schedule calls at different times to save your bandwidth. If it’s possible, go for it.
The kids might have to get off their video games for your calls. Heaven forbid, it might be a thing, and they might not like it. So you’re going to have to practice being a little bit more of a stern parent in some cases too because who’s paying for those video games after all? Again, sticky notes on the outside of your door. If you have an office that you can say, “I’m in a meeting, come back later.” Create some household rules around all of this. That’s really what is important that everybody’s needs are being met.
We’re going to get into what is work-life because you have one life now, it’s all mixed up together. Own that too. So, you can do laundry while you work. I do chores a lot during my break. It is not that time-consuming to get up and move stuff over. And sometimes it even helps you because you’ve switched your mindset a little bit. Make sure that you’re working on those things that are important, enlightening your spirit, exercising your body, feeding yourself good foods. These are things that have gone to the wayside, and we have to get back to them. It’s going to help you do your job better and be more present in your life.
Standup. I’m at my standup desk right now. Stand up, it makes a huge difference in how your health is. If you’re going to sit for 10 hours a day, you’re going to end up with some bad problems. Be sure you’re taking breaks, making lunch, all those things, and don’t work 24/7. All of this can be done with some calendaring and planning. You can create an at-home commute that starts your day. What do you do? Walk your dog, do some reading, you can transition in the evening by cooking dinner, but come up with some ways to transition in and out. Schedule the tough workaround when your brain works the best.
So, if you have some deep dives, put that in there. Calendar your day. It’s a huge benefit to making some structure that’s going to really set you free. And by all means, do not get sucked into social media. It’s going to take your productivity down, as well as probably your attitude. So with that, I am coming to the end. So, I will-
Dan: But to get on social media enough to see the ads that we place up there.
Susan: All right. Do that for sure. I do think there are a couple of questions. Let me give real quick, Madison, if you can paste this in the chat for everybody the link to if they’re wanted. There is an ebook I have, 3 Ways to Control Chaos in your Small Business. You can get it for free. Just download it from that site. That also gives you contact information for me. And then if anybody is still here since we’re five minutes over, I’m happy to take questions.
Dan: And Susan, even though you mentioned small business, I know a lot of the processes and things that you discuss really crossover all sorts of different businesses.
Susan: It totally does. So, three ways to control business are going to be building process, managing projects, and managing interruptions. And so those three things can apply outside of the business world to your life even.
Dan: Great. Thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking the time to join us. I don’t see any questions from anybody right now. If anybody has a question, you can type it into the Q&A. We’ll hang around for a few minutes. If you need to take off and get back to work at the kitchen table, we certainly understand that. This webinar is being recorded, and I will send you the recording this afternoon. Feel free to share that with your friends and colleagues and your grandmother and whoever else. And we’ll have Susan back in the not too distant future. We already have some ideas from some great follow-ups to this subject matter. And we really appreciate you joining us. And Susan, we really appreciate you taking the time to come and talk with us today.
Susan: Thanks so much. This is all response.
Dan: Yes. So we’ll follow up, you’ll hear from us, and we’ll make sure that you have Susan’s contact information, and we look forward to catching you on the next webinar.
Susan: Bye, everybody.
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