Strategies for Effective Teleworking

Many of us probably never imagined that we would be teleworking, and we particularly never thought that we would be thrown into it for an unknown, extended period of time with no warning. For most of us, teleworking is likely not feeling comfortable or easy at first and we may have little to no experience doing it. 

As we gain experience in teleworking, we will find our new rhythm and what works for us as individuals. As you continue settling in to this new way of working, consider some of the following strategies.

  • While your previous routine may change, work hard to establish a new routine quickly and then maintain it. Getting up at the same time every day, getting ready for your day as you normally would, taking a lunch break, ending your day at the normal time, etc., can be effective ways to maintain discipline in your day.
  • While it may not be possible to do for a variety of reasons, dedicate a space in your home that you can use solely for work. Where possible, make sure the place is private and sensitive materials can be appropriately secured. If you have concerns about your ability to secure sensitive materials, please speak with your supervisor.
  • Take a critical look at your work environment and make sure it is set up in an ergonomically correct manner. There are numerous online sources for ergonomic workstations, including the Whitman College Office Ergonomics site, which also has some videos on home office ergonomics.
  • Familiarize yourself with the Whitman College Work from Home website. It has numerous helpful resources, including communication tools, security considerations and using the VPN. Whitman's VPN is a limited and shared resource – remember to disconnect from the VPN after you are done accessing resources that are only available through the VPN. If you forget to disconnect, others may not be able to connect to access their resources. Please contact the WCTS Help Desk for assistance in getting an account, installing the software and the process for connecting to Whitman’s VPN.
  • Acknowledge to yourself and your colleagues that these are challenging times. Trust that both you and your colleagues are going to do the best work that we can do. Show yourself and your colleagues understanding, empathy, compassion and gratitude for their ability to quickly adjust and move to a new way of working. 
  • Be mindful that teleworking will blur work and home boundaries for many, if not most, employees. Some may find you have fewer distractions at home and will be more productive than ever. Because you are in your home much more often, you may even find yourself working more hours as you likely have fewer outside-of-the-home obligations. Make sure to put a definitive end to your workday and maintain a healthy work/life balance.
  • For staff who are caring for children or other family members or who have a partner who is also working at home, you could face the challenge of minimizing distractions. Talk with your supervisor about this and be open with what needs you might have in case they can extend flexibility with work hours.

Communicate with your supervisor and team to determine how you will connect and interact with each other. Together, talk through:

  • What technology will we use to connect with each other? Who needs assistance in learning how to use these technologies and who can provide it?
  • When is it a good time to send an email versus making a phone call, sending a text or using Google Meet? Instead of one-off emails or phone calls/texts every time we have a need, is it better to commit to talking through things once or twice a day or is it better to send that email or make that phone call/text in the moment?
  • How will we work on team projects?
  • How can we commit to creating community when we are not in close physical proximity on a daily basis?

Get creative and maintain ways to stay connected to your colleagues. Suggest opportunities for casual, virtual interactions by having a virtual staff lunch or coffee break on a weekly basis. Remember that you have lost the everyday ability to have casual, spontaneous conversations with each other, so look for ways to promote these important interactions.

Be mindful of how you are feeling, and ask your colleagues how they are doing as well. Some people who are introverted might be OK working remotely from home whereas extroverts could be craving human interaction. As teleworking continues, all of us may experience feelings of loneliness, isolation, boredom, and anxiety that can contribute to mental health concerns. Reflect on the following often, and check in with your colleagues.

  • How are you practicing self-care?
  • How have you been able to (or not) establish a routine that works for you?
  • Are you using technology to connect with family and friends in place of social outings? 
  • Are you exercising and eating healthy?
  • Are you regularly going outside for fresh air?

Regularly talk with colleagues about what is working for them. We do have colleagues that are experienced at telework and some that will flourish in this environment. Use this opportunity to learn from each other. 

Strategies for Supervising in a Telework Environment

Did you ever imagine that you would be working from home for an unknown and/or extended period of time? And did you imagine you would also be responsible for helping staff members you supervise do so as well?

While these circumstances were unanticipated and we might not feel equipped to do so, it is important to recognize that providing high quality supervision to those we supervise is extremely important in these new telework conditions and will require an investment in time, particularly initially. You may feel pulled in different directions and struggle to find the appropriate balance between needing to accomplish tasks and actively and visibly being there for your employees. The initial time you spend in meeting the needs of your employees will be very important and will enable both you and the staff you supervise to find a new rhythm for accomplishing work.

As you thoughtfully think through how to set up this teleworking arrangement, please consider the following strategies.

First, Take Care of Yourself

Check in with yourself. How are you doing? Being a supervisor in telework conditions can likely be anxiety provoking, particularly for those of us with little experience doing so. You may be asking yourself, “How can I provide high quality supervision when I don’t get to interact with my employees in person every day?” These concerns are real but can be alleviated by thinking through your approach carefully, asking your staff for regular feedback, talking with other staff supervisors to explore strategies they are using and continuing to evaluate what is working and what isn’t working.

Communicate how and when you want to receive information from your staff on a daily basis. It’s OK to think about and communicate your preferences.

  • Are you OK with periodic one-off phone calls, texts or emails?
  • Do you prefer setting open daily office hours in which staff can Google Chat or Google Meet with you?  

Check In With Your Staff and Continue to Re-Evaluate

Now that many staff employees have begun teleworking, check in with the staff you supervise and have a conversation on how their telework arrangements are going. Supervisors previously signed telework agreements, but likely that was under stressful conditions while you were responding to many different pressing matters.

  • Revisit telework agreements with your employees and see if there are any adjustments that are needed.
  • Ask them if they have the equipment and office supplies they need to do their jobs remotely.
  • Ask your staff what their work stations look like. Encourage them to set up ergonomically correct workstations. There are numerous online sources for ergonomic workstations, including the Whitman College Office Ergonomics website.

Encourage your staff to familiarize themselves with the Whitman College Work from Home website. It has numerous helpful resources, including communication tools, security considerations and using the VPN. Whitman's VPN is a limited and shared resource — staff need to remember to disconnect from the VPN after they are done accessing resources that are only available through the VPN.  If they forget to disconnect, others may not be able to connect to access their resources. Staff can contact the WCTS Help Desk for assistance in getting an account, installing the software, and the process for connecting to Whitman’s VPN.

Acknowledge to yourself and to your staff that these are challenging times. Trust that your staff are going to do the best work that they can do. Show understanding, empathy, compassion, and gratitude for their ability to quickly adjust and move to a new way of working. Most importantly, be there for them.

Be mindful that teleworking will blur work and home boundaries for many, if not most, employees. 

Some staff may find they have fewer distractions at home and will be more productive than ever. Because they are in their home much more often, they may even find themselves working more hours as they have fewer outside-of-the-home obligations. For these employees, it will be important to encourage them to put a definitive end to their workday and maintain a healthy work/life balance. 
For staff who are caring for children or other family members or who have a partner who is also working at home, they could face the challenge of minimizing distractions. It will be important to extend empathy and understanding to these staff and ask what you can do to support them in their work and what kind of flexibility they might need. For example, instead of working 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., the employee may more efficiently accomplish work tasks if they were able to on occasion work earlier in the morning or later in the evening when their family has fewer needs. 

Working Together in a Telework Environment

Help your staff establish routine by maintaining one-on-one meetings and team meetings. In a telework environment, temporarily increasing the frequency of meetings or check ins may be important to ensure that everyone is feeling as connected as possible. Doing so can also give you the ability to be very clear on work priorities and objectives and help you reprioritize as needs evolve. 

Early on, have your staff work together to determine how they will connect and interact with each other. Have them think through:

  • What technology will we use to connect with each other? Who needs assistance in learning how to use these technologies and who can provide it?
  • When is it a good time to send an email versus making a phone call, sending a text or using Google Meet? Instead of one off emails or phone calls/texts every time we have a need, is it better to commit to talking through things once or twice a day or is it better to send that email or make that phone call/text in the moment?
  • How will we work on team projects?
  • How can we commit to creating community when we are not in close physical proximity on a daily basis?

Staff Meetings and Interactions

In staff meetings, take the time to continue building a sense of community and relationships. Oftentimes people say that the “people” are what they most enjoy about working at Whitman College. When teleworking, it is essential that supervisors work hard to ensure that staff maintain a feeling of connection to others and to what they find most meaningful about their work.

  • If you have an already established ritual for beginning staff meetings, continue that remotely.
  • If you don’t, think about how you can take the time to check in with everyone. Consider doing a “go around” at the beginning of every meeting, inviting everyone to share what may be on their mind, what they are working on, what they are finding challenging about working remotely or a telework success, their “high” and “low” of the week, a question of the day, etc. Start first to model the depth you want to encourage and invite each individual to do likewise.
  • Keep your staff meetings organized. Consider creating and sharing with your staff a Google document in which you maintain a running agenda of all of your meetings.
  • Instill a sense of collective ownership in creating the agenda and invite staff to enter agenda items ahead of the meeting.
  • Take turns taking meeting notes in this same document so that staff members that need to miss the meeting for whatever reason have access to it.
  • If using Google Meet, consider recording the meetings if team members are absent.
  • After meetings, send a follow up email highlighting key points and/or or encourage people to go back to the meeting notes.

Get creative and offer opportunities for casual virtual interaction. Suggest having a virtual staff lunch, coffee break, or quick “water cooler” discussion. Be cognizant that employees have lost the everyday ability to have casual, spontaneous conversations with each other, so look for ways to encourage this, and ask your employees what ideas they have for doing so.

Being Attentive to the Needs of Individual Staff Members

Remember that each individual staff member you supervise has different needs, so adjust accordingly. Some people will flourish in the telework environment and be more productive and creative than ever, whereas others may be challenged and will need extra support. Don’t assume you know how each employee will respond to this new environment, ask them regularly. Pay extra attention to new employees and people who may need more contact.

Be mindful of how your employees are feeling, and ask them often. Some people who are introverted might be OK working remotely from home whereas extroverts could be craving human interaction. As teleworking continues, all of us may experience feelings of loneliness, isolation, boredom, and anxiety that can contribute to mental health concerns. Ask your employees:

  • How can I support you?
  • Tell me about your workload.
  • How are you practicing self-care?
  • How have you been able to (or not) establish a routine that works for you?
  • Are you using technology to connect with family and friends in place of social outings? 
  • Are you exercising and eating healthy? 
  • Are you regularly going outside for fresh air?

Communicating With Your Staff

Err on the side of over communicating, and be mindful that in the absence of information, people will speculate and worry. Multiple, short messages instead of one long will be better for a couple of reasons. One, often people simply don’t read long messages all the way to the end, and important information can be lost. Bite-sized chunks are better. Two, having multiple daily connections with staff versus just one will be welcomed by most.

Figure out when to use email, phone calls/texts or Google Meet. Use Google Meet if you need to communicate information that could too easily be misunderstood in an email.