Collaborate to Innovate - 5 tips to help you and your team work-from-home

by Aravindh Rajagopalan on 23/03/2020 10:00

Working From Home Microsoft Teams

This article is a modified version of my original Collaborate to Innovate - 5 tips to help you and your team work-from-home post in LinkedIn.

We live and work in times of extraordinary and unpredictable change that can disrupt daily life and threaten business survival. Often we think of disruption as being caused by technological advancement or radical new business models, but as we’ve all experienced it can just as easily come from natural disasters (such as the Christchurch or Kaikoura earthquakes) or pandemics.

In these times of disruptive change though our Kiwi innovation and persistence does not stop. We continue to witness entrepreneurial spirit in action as businesses shift to more digital methods that enable greater adaptability to change, including the ability to continue working from anywhere with an internet connection, such as from home.

It is not all about digital platforms though, change can be challenging for your people. So in this post I share 5 pointers to help you and your team cope with disruptive change that may see them working remotely or from home.

1. Stick to your schedule

I am a “get to the office early and leave early” kind of guy but when I am working from home, I don't have the grim 90-120 min commute to the office anymore. This poses a question; do I break the cycle and stay in bed later? According to an article by North American education partner workwithinsight the key to "consistently achieving success both in and out of your career is a routine". Deriving from this, I tend to stick to my routine work hours even if I am working from home. This is an important aspect of working from home that gets constantly overlooked and when it does can/will eventually lead to burnout and worse, loss of passion and excitement for things you love doing. 

2. Importance of a home-office and equipment

Having a home office is vital to ensure productivity but also safeguarding your health. Most workplace offices today come equipped with ergonomic desks, chairs, keyboards, mice and lighting to complement working using screens for extended hours. Most of us won't have the luxury to replicate this in our homes. Below are some key and basic factors that you should consider as part of your home office:

Work desk - We are all used to having at least 1m – 1.5m (or for my non-metric friends, 3.2 ft – 5ft) of desk surface space. According to EHS provider Cority, Desk size is an important factor in ensuring ergonomics. 

Work chair - This is a more common part of household furniture as most professional households today seem to have some sort of office chair with enough back support. I tend to lean on gamer furniture which allows for a more comfortable seating arrangement while looking extraordinary. 

Peripherals - There is something that laptop screens don’t offer when it comes to extended use – screen real estate. I am sure you too have run into cases where your tiny 13" notebook screen is just way too small for that endless scrolling excel sheet you have to use. Using an external display does make you more efficient when it comes to working. With years of debate I have settled on a 120Hz monitor which I really like over traditional HD monitors, due to its high refresh rate and its viewing angles (although excessive for a home-office setup). You can easily source a cheap 60Hz monitor that would deliver a good experience easily today. The right keyboard and mouse is vital for your office setup as extended use of the inbuilt laptop keyboard and mouse can lead to ergonomic issues. You can settle for a cheap Logitech or Microsoft bundle that will give you the ease and power of the glorious and underrated 'numpad'. Check with your employer to see if they have standardised office equipment/peripherals available for you and teams to temporarily use at home. You may also want to make sure your insurance covers employees taking screens and peripherals home for work-from-home use.  

3. It's all about 'Natural Light' and "Fresh Air"

As a gamer I am guilty of locking myself in a room with very little to no lighting. I have learnt over the years; this is not very healthy. A Cornell University study found that eyestrain and headaches in employees are greatly reduced when they have the right amount of natural light in the office. Equally, fresh air is key to a healthy home office space. Keep those windows open, allow that fresh air to circulate with the room, providing much needed fresh oxygen – especially during long conference calls.

4. There is no such thing as over-communication

There is always one person that states something is being over-communicated. In a world where mainstream media is a repeat of adverts for the same product – there is no such thing as over-communication. When working remotely or from home, good and consistent communication is under risk – especially for businesses. This is where remote collaboration comes into play.

Today we are lucky to have access to many great tools that enable remote collaboration. As an advocate to Microsoft Cloud and digital working, I prefer Microsoft Teams which enables businesses to perform many essential business tasks remotely. You can virtually chat, collaborate, and meet with employees, customers, suppliers, and partners, including using Microsoft Office apps that are built right into it. Microsoft Teams is available for all organisations that are currently subscribed to Office 365 or Microsoft 365.

As of March 17th, 2020, Microsoft announced the availability of Microsoft Teams to non-Office 365 subscribers. Getting started with Microsoft Teams is fairly simple and there is plenty of guidance available online on docs.microsoft.com, specifically Microsoft Teams to support remote workers.

5. Regular breaks are vital

Final pointer but the most important of all, taking breaks. There was a period where I was working from home for 18 months. This was a new way of working for me at that time. As a young kiwi, I was loving it. I did not have to travel, and I could get my work/tasks completed on time and be productive in general. This was however surfacing a habit that was not very healthy. I would sit in front of my screen for hours and not take any breaks. We are all guilty of this and we must accept that sometimes we can all get really absorbed in the work we are doing.

As I grew in my career, I started to realize the negative impacts these break-less working schedules were having on me. Worse, I had to accept that I was doing this to myself. According to an article in the International Directors blog, taking breaks gives us a chance to refocus, boost creativity and prevent burnout.

Working from home using collaboration tools

Working in the IT industry, specifically for one of NZ's leading IT consultancy firms, I was lucky as we already adopt Teams and collaborate within it. With features such as blur-background, Live-event meetings and ability to classify meetings under channels it allows us to collaborate efficiently.

We’re also looking at the power of Microsoft Teams Live Events as a way of hosting remote learning and training sessions to continue to share knowledge with our clients and communities. This is vital as one of our key business values is 'knowledge exists to be shared'.

Finally, on collaboration, it is important to also maintain your work social contact while working from home. Using Teams or other collaboration platforms to keep up some of the fun, banter, and peer support is important for everyone’s well-being when working in ways that have less personal interaction.

To summarise, 5 key tips for making the most for you and your team of the sudden shift to working-from-home are

  1. Sticking to your schedule/routine
  2. Ensure you have appropriate home-office equipment
  3. Allow plenty of natural light and fresh air into your home-office space
  4. Communicate, communicate, communicate and do it efficiently using Microsoft Teams
  5. Take frequent breaks
  6. Don’t let the innovation stop – collaborate to innovate

For more tips and consulting around ways of working, organisational culture, collaboration tools and your business continuity plan – reach out and contact us.

Aravindh Rajagopalan is a Cloud Business Consultant, based in our Auckland, New Zealand office.


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