Kelsey Dixon, co-founder and president of the digital marketing firm davies + dixon, has a distinct picture in her head when discussing working remotely. She’s sitting in a café in Chile typing away on her laptop. The weekend includes excursions up the Andes Mountains.
It sounds like a dream, especially in today’s environment of stay-at-home orders and COVID-19. But that was Dixon’s reality in 2018, as her location-independent business continued to thrive in part because employees were empowered to experience life and not be confined to an office.
Today, many in the events industry are furloughed or laid off, and the lucky ones are working remotely—not by choice and certainly not in ideal circumstances. While teleworking champion Dixon hopes companies will adopt a more flexible model due to the crisis, she says what we’re experiencing now is hardly the standard to set.
“I saw this quote and it really struck me: ‘We’re not working from home during a crisis, we’re at home, during a crisis, trying to work,” she says. “There’s a difference when you’re able to leave your house but have the option to work from home. Right now, we don’t have options and that is hard to mentally grasp.”
With an uncertain future ahead—for instance, no one knows yet what a regular school day will look like—employers will almost surely be forced to allow teleworking for the foreseeable future. Dixon and company were able to learn in a much-different environment, make mistakes and be in a prime position to help clients in their most desperate hour: Now.
Bosses will need to adapt and be understanding to new circumstances as the world reconfigures itself, Dixon says. “My hope is that employers see more of the human side of things,” she says. “It’s not the end of the world if your kid pops into the background of your video conference. It shows we’re all human and we’re in this together. Maybe this time will help us all stop apologizing for our personal lives. Because there's nothing to apologize for."
Dixon shares some pointers for properly implementing teleworking as organizations adjust to whatever the new normal will be.
- Hiring the right people is key. “Look for self-starters and conscientious people who believe in doing the right thing and spending their time wisely.”
- Set up systems that help you collaborate with your team, not micromanage. “We use spreadsheets for work tracking systems, Asana for project management, Slack for instant messaging and Zoom for video conferencing. The founders participate in all, too!”
- Have “watercooler chats” scheduled weekly. “It’s the time you normally get with side conversation in an office that builds rapport and relationships between team members.”
- Be transparent. “Distance makes room for misinterpretation, and you’ll want buy-in from your team.”
- Hold standing meetings to touch base on priorities. “We have a MMM (Monday Morning Meeting) consistently every week where we take a 30,000 foot look at all clients, talk about priorities for the week, etc.”
- Be flexible. “We're regularly checking in with our employees, and have abolished our 30-day time off request through June to accommodate any last-minute mental health day needs with our team. We're also now doing “Flex Fridays,” where the team can start/stop their days when they want. No meetings are encouraged so they can also take a guilt-free walk or workout in the middle of the day if they want.”
- Do things together, even if virtually! “We’ll host team lunches and have everyone order delivery from a local small business and watch a TedTalk together over Zoom. We call these ‘lunch and learns’!”
Of course, employees used to commutes and a cubicle are adjusting, too. Dixon, as demonstrated from the Chile story, practices what she preaches. Here are some tips for employees to stay productive, in crisis or not.
- Use a time block and stay organized. “That way you don’t spend too much or too little time on one given thing, and keep priorities in check.”
- Find a work-life blend. “‘A balance’” suggests something a little less attainable for me and puts pressure on the idea of perfection. That perspective has helped me see it more clearly.”
- Set a routine. “I'm not used to a routine, personally, so this has been a challenge for me. I'm working on scheduling in downtime or time for things outside of work that don't involve screens. This encourages me to shut down work mode and get moving in a positive personal way.”
- Try to lean into family time. “This is so hard when things feel as chaotic as they do right now. We're in survival mode. Try and be in the moment with this unique, extra time with your household. I know anytime I look back at the time spent with loved ones, I don't remember what I was working on at the time, but I sure do covet the memories with the people in my life. Give yourself grace, though, because it won't be perfect or easy.”