Members of Backyard Creative on a Zoom conference call

Work as Usual in Most Unusual Times

Like everyone else in the world, we had other plans for this month, and for this month’s blog post.

But here we are, alongside you, doing our best to adjust to the new normal in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis—we’re staying home with our families, cancelling trips / events / playdates, washing our hands obsessively, and trying so hard not to touch our faces! We’re taking things one day at a time to stay safe and healthy in body and mind. 

Many people are currently making the transition to working from home. At Backyard Creative, working from home has been our normal for several years now. Our team of collaborators is spread out across Western Canada and we’re pretty accustomed to working virtually and staying connected using online tools. Most of our team members are normally juggling their work with busy lives and kids, but the kiddos are usually at daycare, preschool or school during business hours, so some of us are now adjusting to working with little ones in the house. 

There’s quite a bit of information out in the world right now about how to work virtually from home. In the spirit of contributing positively to this conversation, we’d like to share some of the tips and strategies that have worked well for us over the years:

1. Create a new family agreement 

  • Everyone’s virtual work scenario is different. You may be at home working alone, or with a partner who’s also working from home. If you have kids, you’re on your own for childcare as well. And if your kids are of school age, you’re most likely expected to carve out time for virtual schoolwork. That’s a heck of a lot to juggle for any family. If you’re a single parent, there’s even more pressure on you. 
  • No matter your scenario, the goal right now is to create a new family agreement that creates family harmony, gives you control over your days, and ensures everyone’s needs are met. Have ongoing check-ins with your partner about each other’s work schedules and your family’s needs. You may need to do this daily, especially if one of your schedules is unpredictable. 
  • Identify times in the day when each of you must be working to meet obligations (like if you’re teaching live online classes, or are booked for must-attend virtual meetings), tag-team on the childcare, and make sure you carve out time to rest and recharge. Self care and prioritizing your health is important on a good day, but it’s truly essential now, to help you get through this unexpected and taxing new reality. 

2. Listen to your new boss — YOU

  • While you’re still accountable to your work boss (or your clients) for completing your work, you’re really running your day and determining how best to use your time for work and home activities. This can be both liberating and daunting. 
  • For self-employed folks like us, if we don’t work, we don’t get paid, so being self-driven and embracing the ongoing pressure to produce comes with the territory. Self-drive is a habit that comes with time, so be patient with yourself as you figure out what your work days look like now, and how to keep yourself going throughout the day. 
  • It can be super easy for a day to get away from you with just emails and web “research” rabbit holes, or for the boundaries between work and home to get blurry really fast. Check in with yourself hourly to ensure you’re running your day intentionally and set a firm time to finish work, so you can mentally check out and enjoy the rest of your day. 

3. Get clear and prioritize your time

  • With so much going on at home, maintaining your normal business activities and hours is probably not realistic. Set manageable expectations for each day and prioritize what must get done, especially if your work is deadline-driven, or you have limited hours in the day to work. 
  • Give time-blocking a try, an effective strategy we use that has become especially important during these chaotic times. 
  • We’re also finding Cold Turkey is working well for us to block out social media distractions during our work blocks. 
  • There will be days when things go sideways, or home activities end up sabotaging your workday. Aim to stay on task as best as you can, reset pressing deadlines if possible, and if you must, sneak in some work time in the evenings or when the kids are asleep. 

4. Become one with your collaboration tools 

  • You’re probably working on online collaboration platforms or using virtual tools that you may or may not be familiar with (Asana, Slack, Zoom, and Dropbox are the tools that keep our virtual team ticking). 
  • Take advantage of the tutorials available for your respective tools, and share what you learn along the way with your team (and vice versa). The better you know your tools, the more effectively you’ll be able to collaborate with your team. 

5. Communicate clearly 

  • Now that you’re communicating virtually, when you’re not having virtual meetings, making sure you’re communicating as clearly as possible. Take the time to express yourself simply and succinctly the first time—whether sending an email, text or Slack message—to avoid having to send clarifying emails, or picking up the phone to explain what you meant (much more time consuming). 
  • It’s also important to keep paper trails of decisions, important information and direction in a centrally-accessible place so everyone is informed and on the same page at all times. We lean on Asana to keep us organized this way. 

6. Prep for successful virtual meetings

  • For virtual meetings to be a good use of everyone’s limited time, they need to be well planned out, especially if virtual meetings are new to your team. 
  • Make sure everyone is familiar with the virtual platform you’ll be using, or have everyone practice with the tool before the meeting if needed, to avoid wasting valuable meeting time on technical glitches. 
  • Be prepared for your meeting with a clear agenda and meeting objectives, assign a meeting facilitator and timekeeper, and either record the meeting or have a notetaker to ensure the meeting takeaways and action items are clear for everyone.
  • You wouldn’t show up to an in-person meeting in your pyjamas, so make sure you’re looking presentable for virtual meetings as well — at least from the waist up! 
  • Be sure to clean up your workspace beforehand too, so your background isn’t a distraction on screen. 

7. Stay connected 

  • Part of what makes work fun for all of us is the connection we have with our colleagues, work friends or clients. While you’re not able to nurture those relationships in person right now, you can still stay super connected virtually.
  • For the past year or so, we’ve been doing a virtual ‘Picnic’ each month with our team, which creates space together that we’d have if we all worked in a traditional office. The rules are simple: bring something conceptual to share, and don’t talk about our work. It’s a chance to connect on a personal level, and we’ve ramped up these meetings lately, since we feel like it’s more important than ever to make time for connection.
  • Continue celebrating the small wins in your day, bouncing ideas off your team, and getting support when you need it, which is especially important during these uncertain times. A pep talk, a quick virtual vent, or a funny meme or emoji may be all you need to turn a hard day around.  

8. Shake off the hiccups — laugh out loud 

  • You’re probably familiar with the BBC news clip that went viral a few years ago, of a child interrupting an expert’s interview in his home office on live TV. Well, that scene is probably playing out regularly now, around the world, multiple times a day. 
  • Rather than getting stressed when your workday doesn’t go as planned, aim to embrace the bumps in the road and laugh them off. As you’ve properly seen and heard everywhere, “we’re all in this together”, trying to work and look after our loved ones (and ourselves) in this surreal, and temporary, situation. 

While life and work may feel chaotic right now, trust us when we say that soon you’ll end up finding a rhythm to your days, and you’ll create a new normal that works for you and your family. 

What tips and tricks can you share about working virtually from home? We’d love to hear from you. Contact us today!