Working from home is an art form. Throw in a pandemic, political madness, a childcare shortage and a down economy, and working from home is like asking a toddler to match the talents of Michelangelo. All joking aside, at Konnect we are nearly a full year into working exclusively from home and the adjustment has taught us a couple of things about ourselves both personally and professionally. While we can only speak to our own experiences and there aren’t many of us who would consider themselves experts on working from home, one of the benefits of being a PR agency with skills in crisis communication and digital strategy has been our ability to pivot and act fast. With that, here are a few things we learned this year that have helped support us working virtually – along with a few we are leaving behind.
Onboarding Clients and Staff
Pre-pandemic, we had an efficient and smooth in-person process for onboarding both clients and team members that we grew accustomed to. As demand grew in the first few months of the pandemic for snack and beverage brands, so did our PR services as a food and beverage PR agency. We were onboarding new clients and employees at a breakneck pace, so we quickly learned that communication was our best ally and implemented the digital tools to help us communicate proactively. We rolled out Calendly to minimize the back-and-forth emails that come with scheduling, we deployed Monday.com and HeyOrca as project management trackers and set up designated “regroup” calls for alignment on all accounts. Leaving meetings with clear direction and ownership of the next steps has always been an asset for effective collaboration and has set the A+ teams apart from the rest during this year.
This year I’ve taken up residence in my home’s mudroom and trust me, it’s as glamourous as you are picturing. I’m nestled in with the coats, shoes and am next to our front door so from time to time a delivery person dropping off a package will make a cameo in my call for a moment. Recently, a pallet of wine for my upcoming wedding was delivered during a video call as I was leading the discussion. The delivery person knocked loudly on the door, which scared me and caused me to jump like I was electrocuted, and then cracked open the door to ask if I was 21 and waved at the camera. Now, talk about a Homer Simpson moment, “doh!” Whether it’s an extra friendly delivery person, a barking dog, a crying baby or breaking national news, interruptions will happen. And I’m sure most of us have had, or seen, our fair share of them this year. The important thing we’ve learned is giving empathy and offering flexibility. Empathy can show up in a number of forms but is most effective when it’s sincere. In complement, flexibility can be moving a meeting, being OK with a phone vs. video call or cutting a meeting a little short on a particularly heavy day. When unpredictability is at an all-time high, we do well to offer empathy, flexibility and a dash of positivity.
Modern séance or not, technology issues during a virtual meeting are more common than any one of us would like to admit. Whether it’s the sound and video failing to work, the computer freezing or a screen-share failure during a presentation, tech headaches abounded during the past year. But you can make it all work with proper preparation. Ensuring that everyone on the call has the presentation or agenda beforehand can allow the call to continue. Updating your team members about the expectations and goals for the call will allow for them to fill in for you. Having a team member prepped to share their screen means that there can be a flawless transition on the call without stopping. With preparation and communication on your side, any technology blunder can be sidestepped with grace. If you are in a position where your find your tech failing often, ask your HR team what solutions they can provide and help troubleshoot with you. Without asking you may never know if you qualify for a hardware reimbursement or internet upgrade.
There is no question that one of the best ways to collaborate is face to face via video call. But when you consider multiple back-to-back video calls in a day, 12 months on end, the screen time and video burnout is real. Virtual working is the perfect time to reframe your boundaries by setting time for work vs. hanging at home (which is often the same area), blocking your calendar to step away from the computer for lunch or being comfortable turning your camera off for an internal call and taking a rest from being “on.” Creating and maintaining your boundaries can help avoid burnout, increase efficiency and overall happiness while you’re “logged on.” On the flip side, having respect for these boundaries will be the key to your success, so you’ll need your team’s help. Enforcing a ‘cameras-on’ policy or asking where someone is if they have a new background isn’t fair and can cause discomfort for those who are taking a break or working to separate their professional life from their personal life. Truth be told, balancing privacy, professionalism and face-to-face connections isn’t an exact science, but beginning with mutual respect is a good start.
One of my favorite benefits of working from home is seeing clients week after week. I know at this point that weekly phone calls vs. video calls seems like an ancient practice in this remote work world but it wasn’t too long ago where we deferred to audio-only calls. In fact, I would speak to many clients on a weekly basis via phone and see them just 1-2 times per year at a planning meeting or tradeshow. Now I’ve met many of their pets and kids virtually and built better, more personal relationships because of our video chats. Additionally, I’ve built stronger relationships with my colleagues because I can read their facial cues, their body language and see when they’re thinking about their next point instead of assuming that the temporary lag was because of my poor cell reception.
Reflecting on the last year we had can be quite humbling, and equally rewarding. Our comfortable routine of commuting, communicating and executing was interrupted in an unexpected and scary way. But as we look back on the last 12 months, I hope you find solace in the milestones you hit, the new ways of working together you created and the sense of community from knowing we’re all in this together.