Staying connected

When we first learned that the Coronavirus was becoming something to consider, we did our preparations, tested our plan and then rapidly shifted to working from home.

We thought it would be a good idea to provide some insights into what is working for us so that others can learn from it, and hopefully this will help.  We’ll note straight away that this might not work for every business, but might help some.

Team meetings

We have changed up our “full” team meeting, which we used to hold on a Wednesday morning (Perth time, or lunchtime in Brisbane and Darwin).  This meeting has now been split into two; we now hold them on Tuesdays and Thursdays, again in the morning (but shifted a little earlier, so that we can make sure that the Brisbane and Darwin crew have a bigger opportunity for lunch!).

On Tuesdays, we pretty much do our usual meeting, focused on project work, “blockers” and “wins”.  On Thursdays, we’ve changed the focus to be more about people – so we’re using it to touch base around what’s working well in the individual setups for working from home, so we can learn from each other (more on that below).  This split has been great already, and it gives us in the executive a good handle on what’s happening with our team – so we can resolve those “blockers”.

Both meetings also have a little executive briefing at the beginning about any issues we might have been hitting, and a “future look” at the end – which at the moment is all about what we’re doing at the executive level around Coronavirus, so that our team knows that we’re working hard to maintain our entire team in these challenging times.

The most important part of these team meetings is about maintaining contact between all our team members, so that no one ends up not knowing what’s going on – there’s nothing like uncertainty and fear to kill productivity, so these team meetings are aimed at removing those things.

Where are you?

We’ve had an ongoing issue in our organisation since having multiple offices that we can’t seem to settle on a way to let each other know when we’re around.  It’s easy in a single office environment to do this – you just look around. But in this distributed, online workforce, we have to find other ways to make this work.

There are heaps of “sign in, sign out” boards – and we’re putting together a bunch of ideas on this, ranging from new systems to chatbots, to all sorts of things – but right now what we’re using is a pretty simple chat thread in our Google Chat rooms.  Of course, with our team there was a gadget built to do it in the space of hours…

Voon-Li’s Arduino that does our daily roll call

But basically, by being able to react to your name with your status as an emoji, you can quickly and clearly see who is “in” and working – so you know who you can and can’t contact, or at least set the expectation that you won’t get an answer until they finish lunch!

Virtual coffee and virtual beer

Two other things we’ve set up are “ad hoc” virtual coffee chats – anytime anyone wants one, they can sing out in the “Virtual Coffee” chat room and set up a virtual meeting, and whoever has a cuppa (or needs one) jumps into that room for a chat.  It’s totally ad hoc (although we’re now thinking of setting it up at particular times), and we’ve all found that it can really shake you up out of a “I’m at home by myself” funk pretty quickly.

On top of that we’ve scheduled in our usual Friday drinks for all the offices as virtual ones.  While Andrew and I as the exec turn up to all of them, we certainly don’t start drinking alcohol at 2.30pm local time!  This is a good way to decompress after the week and to just catch up on how our team all are (and no, there are no pictures available for that – what happens at virtual beers, stays at virtual beers).

As an added bonus, last week it turned into a games session and a bunch of people hung around to play some games together, which was for many a highlight of the week (and reported in the team meeting as a “win”!).

Trends

On a more serious note, we also wanted to keep an eye on our team’s mental health and productivity, so we instigated some polls early on in the piece.  We do two polls daily:

  • Is working from home a positive or negative experience?, and
  • How productive are you today (more than usual, about the same, less than usual)?

So far these polls are showing that it’s an overwhelmingly positive experience for most of the time (tracking at around 93% positive working from home, and on average, we’re as productive as we are at the office environment).

These two polls are used to track on a daily basis, and we report on them in the team meetings as well; so that we can all see how we’re going.  It’s going to be a very interesting set of data to analyse and see how it all went!

Other miscellaneous things – looking out for each other

As a team, we also did some general discussion in our team meetings about what is working for you from home, and came up with a range of things that are working well for the team from home, as summarised in the chart below (Editor’s note: yeah I know there are labels missing, but you get the gist).  This was a great thing for us to do as it got us to come up with a list of things – which some of us took on board and tried here and there, and reported back on it the next week with what worked for each of us (and a few new things).

We’ve also offered our staff access to fitness and support to help them with their exercise (one of the key things indicated on the chart above).  I’ve personally shifted my training to remote for the last couple of weeks since the gyms closed down, and it’s a very different way of training – but hopefully will still keep me fit enough over this period!  This is very much aimed at helping our mental health as well – and we’ve even compiled some resources for each other, like the Headspace and Smiling Mind apps to help with some mindfulness meditation and support.

It’s also about using the tools that you have – we use Google Suite for our email, calendar, chat and the like – and this is something that you have to push and reinforce.  We have a lot of channels in Chat, so that we can weed out the fun chats (which are still important) from the official chats, and we encourage people to use them as much as they can.  It’s also important that when chats are going around in circles, you drop out of that method and move to a video call or something similar to have a discussion and to make sure things are clear.

There are also little things that pop up during the week that are also helping with team cohesion – things that seem silly at first but every little bit helps.  For example, we’re all submitting our favourite songs to a group Spotify playlist, so that we can share our musical tastes, and we even contributed our ambient “home office noises” to some creative work that Meg was doing with NoizeMaschin (Editors note: maybe NSFW due to a swear in a hashtag).  The games session (even if it was only an hour) also helped keep us all connected. 

The next few months are going to be really interesting for everyone, but I think it’s critically important that as colleagues and teams we don’t lose what worked before – which is all about looking out for each other.  Everything we’re doing here is all about that, to make sure that we can work well as a team and that we can continue to deliver on our clients requirements and projects right through this difficult period.

Again, from all of us at Gaia Resources we really appreciate the support our suppliers and clients are giving us, and we hope to continue to also give back as much as we can.  If there is anything in here that you would like to know more about, please contact me directly via email, or drop us a note on our social media channels, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Stay safe, healthy and happy,

Piers

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