Editor's Note: This blog was co-written by Tess Varney and Colleen White.
As the current pandemic of COVID-19 continues to spread, companies are rethiking their approaches to remote work including Fuze. We are now working 100% remotely (you can read more about our move to 100% remote work from our CEO Brian Day). As Fuzers who have been with the company for several years, we have always been grateful to be a part of a company that allows us to work from anywhere.
However, as workers at other companies are discovering, working remotely occasionally and working remotely full-time are two very different experiences. We wanted to share our perspectives on transitioning to full-time remote workers—from both an individual contributor and manager viewpoint.
Tess Varney, Product Manager
I’ve been working at Fuze HQ in downtown Boston for the past year and half as a member of our product team. Last week, as Fuze transitioned to all employees working from home full-time, I had a realization that my daily work habits were going to have to change to move from a once a week casual to a disciplined “professional” remote worker. Below I’ll detail the things we may take for granted working in an office, and how I’m adjusting to them in my new daily work environment.
1. Mental Health
When you come into the office most days, it’s much easier to create boundaries with your workload and your colleagues. You’re in the office for a set amount of time, either in meetings, socializing, or doing work at your desk. When you pack up to go home, you (usually) get to close the lid on whatever you were working on for the night. Now that I’m working from home, I’ve set more regular timelines for myself (“Okay, I’m going to stop working at 6PM sharp”) so that I do not burn out and create an unhealthy habit of overworking.
Also, when working remotely full time, you do lose access to the natural social interactions of an office, and ultimately can become more isolated. This, coupled with the fact that you are most likely moving your body less (not commuting, walking to the office kitchen, or meeting rooms, or going on a coffee run), can really impact your mood in a negative way. It’s important to be cognizant of how you’re going to keep yourself stimulated both physically and mentally.
2. Communication & Visibility
When your entire team is working remotely all day, it can really change the interpersonal dynamics of your communication—mostly in that you need to establish intentional communication throughout the day. There are a lot of things a team does together in person that doesn’t immediately translate into remote work. For example, my team had been planning a celebration for Pi Day (March 14th) and were going to bring in our favorite pies to all taste during lunch. Now, we’ve shifted this to having lunch together via video conference and talking about which pie we’re enjoying at home. We also continue to talk throughout the day in our product team chat in Fuze, particularly in our “random” channel, intended for fun —but not business critical— banter everyone needs during a break in their day.
Another thing that resonated with me is that not being in the office with management or executives reduces the opportunity to interact with them at a baseline level, as well as the opportunity to give them transparency into your work, thoughts, opinions, etc. The leader of our product team, Jed Brown, is distributed in our normal workscape and has addressed this by holding open office hours over Fuze 2 hours a week, allowing increased access and one-to-one interactions.
3. Daily Structure
It goes without saying that working from home gives a more casual feeling to the day. You need to create the structure that you lose going to the office—set your wake up time, eat a good breakfast, plan out your work around meetings, have lunch, take a walk, head to the gym, etc. It looks different for everyone, but I do think it’s important to view things in terms of “hard starts and stops”. This helps me get done what I need to, while communicating with my team members when I need help or have an idea, and end my day at a reasonable time.
Colleen White, Group Product Manager
As a people manager on the product team at Fuze, I agree with Tess that the dynamic of our team has shifted dramatically over the last week as we transition to a fully remote team for the foreseeable future. Thinking about what this might mean for managing my team, there are four key takeaways and best practices to help see us through the transition:
1. Clarify expectations up front.
Last year, I attended a conference where one of the speakers shared that what makes for a bad remote work situation are bad managers. It’s difficult to understand what the expectations are for you as a remote individual contributor if your manager never took the time to go over them with you—and it’s not fair to be punished for something you were not aware of. At the beginning of last week, I made sure to establish clear expectations for all of my team members on what I was looking for from them during this period of time. In our 1:1s, we reviewed the general expectations for their role, and specifically what it means for them to be doing a “good job” working from home—ultimately allowing us to have a more open conversation about their position.
2. Encourage sensible boundaries.
I spent the first full remote day in six hours of back-to-back meetings, without even the normal break I got as I walked from one conference room to another. After that it was clear I needed to be more deliberate about building in things that happen naturally at an office. It’s important to me that my direct reports still experience normalcy in their work days while we are all remote—after all, no one in the office sits at their desk for eight hours straight. I encouraged my team to block time to take a walk, go to the gym, or even clean the house. As long as work is being completed (and the expectations we set above are met), I can give my team the space to dictate how they get that work done. Workers should never feel like they can’t step away from their computer and do what they need to.
3. Be deliberate in your communication.
Just a few days in, I’ve found I need to be more deliberate about establishing baseline communication with my team. In place of our typical office small talk, I try to spend the first few minutes of meetings just catching up with fellow colleagues rather than diving straight into the topic at hand. It’s a delicate balance to ensure you don’t make meetings longer, but so long as the meeting has a clear agenda (another remote work must!) this socializing doesn’t cut into productive work time.
4. Find a way to replicate positive aspects of office culture.
Since water cooler conversations and social interactions have now moved online, it’s important for teams to keep that dynamic while working remotely. It can be easy to go heads down and not interact with people throughout the day, so managers need to find creative ways to retain and encourage those bits of office culture we take for granted. The Fuze product team has two team chats, an “official” thread for work related questions, and a “random” one for small talk and sharing articles and fun stuff. We’ve also had to experiment a bit with our social activities. We typically do small birthday celebrations for members of our team in the office, but now we’ve had to adjust those celebrations. Instead of a signed card and cake, we found e-cards that everyone can sign, and we sent the team member a $5 Starbucks gift card. It’s small gestures like this that can provide a sense of stability to a team during uncertain times.
It’s never easy to adjust habits, particularly in times of crisis, but a few thoughtful changes can make a huge difference in the happiness and productivity of your team.
To learn more about best practices for working remotely, visit our Ultimate Guide to Remote Work:
Tess is a Product Manager at Fuze, focusing on contact center. Throughout her career, Tess has focused on understanding the customer lifecycle and has a lot of empathy for how customers purchase and adopt new technologies. Since joining over a year ago, Tess has worked to enhance our contact center offerings with our technology partners as well as through improving our proprietary contact center product.
Colleen is a Group Product Manager at Fuze and runs a team of product managers response for Fuze's administrative tooling.