This past year has been surprisingly busy for IT professionals. When COVID hit, we all battened down the hatches, expecting a potential business downturn. However, within a month, a wave of new business hit our doors, as companies realized they needed to be able to offer their services online to stay relevant.
This, of course, was also the point that we had sent everyone to work from home, and since our main point of difference from overseas development houses was our locality and communication skills, this was a risk for us. The solution was to make sure our consultants were able to be as effective as possible while working remotely.
If you are facing the same challenge, here are some tips:
Webcam and mic
The experience of speaking to someone on a video call can range from terrible to excellent, depending on a few things.
If the webcam and mic on their laptop is not up to the job, get them an external webcam. Even a simple Microsoft Lifecam for AUD $100 is usually sufficient and has a decent inbuilt microphone.
If you want to one level higher, you can fork out $600 for a full Marantz Turret with a high quality camera, mic, and light. However, be aware that this will not be centered with their screen, so often they will not look like they’re looking at the camera.
Video call background
A good background separates people who look like they were forced to work from home and those who can thrive there. It’s not always possible to do all of these, but in a perfect world you do as many of the following as possible:
- Keep it tidy. A messy background can be distracting
- Close doors and cupboards
- Possibly use a screen behind you – ideally with company colours
- Digital background options
- Blur – simple and effective
- Take a photo from where your webcam usually is at your desk at work and use that as your digital background
We take general office banter and water cooler talk for granted and, although some of us feel like we spend all day on Teams calls, you should remember that there is another extreme for people who do not get to talk to anyone all day.
Make sure everyone you’re managing is part of a team and do at least a Daily Scrum call to check in with each other each day. If you’ve got people who are not part of a larger team, consider having a daily check-in call for those people yourself. No one should be left without any human contact for days at a time as it can be isolating and demotivating.
Think “Remote first”
In the instance you have some people co-located, and 1 or more people remote, it’s best to prioritise the remote people as much as possible. They are missing out on the body language and non-verbal cues that the rest of you will enjoy, and they will not be able to hear any muttered back channels, so whenever someone talks, make sure they talk towards the mic.
Even if you don’t usually use Scrum to manage your staff, Daily Scrums are a very valuable tool to quickly touch base with your team and make sure they’re on track, both with how much they’re getting done each day, and whether their understanding of the project priorities line up with yours (i.e. what order the work is done in).
Ideally you can use something like Azure DevOps to prioritise and track work items, but even a free tool like Trello can work in a pinch.