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5 tips to make “work from home” work for publishers

WFH is here to stay. Media managers need to find a way to make the model work.

Transitioning to work (effectively) from home was one of the big challenges for over the past year. Sure, it was great for some (especially with those with big gardens and/ or “digital-ready” jobs). But many processes and companies just don’t work as well in their remote version.

According to Eurostat, in 2020 the share of remote workers, aged 15-64 increased almost 2.5X (from 5%). While some companies (especially investment banks), are forcing employees back to the office, most expect the future to be hybrid.

Except hybrid means you need to build a solution where WFH is a core part of the model and really works.

Here’s a few tips to keep your team working effectively and not burning out: 

1. Make life easier for your team (and new people you onboard)

Not all companies (can) compensate employees’ internet bills and buy all the necessary equipment for WFH. For example, Twitter is giving teleworkers up to $1,000 to set up their home office. But you can always make your team’s life easier, help them manage costs, and reduce time spent on setting up. A few helpful steps: 

  • Co-create (with your team) a short guide on trusted suppliers of services / goods and internet providers in your region. Get people to share which headphones/ manufacturers work best in terms of price and quality? (really helpful if you have a lot of new-joiners)
  • Prepare a check-list of needed work equipment and programmes
  • Pick one project management tool and stick to it (consistent is better than perfect). Find out which associated apps are helpful for e.g., maintaining passwords, sharing information. 
  • Create and maintain a trouble-shooting/ FAQ document to manage support costs or time needed to fix the same issues over and over again.
  • Hold webinars/ tutorials on using tools, life-hacks etc. Record them and keep an internal library so you don’t have to repeat them every other week.
  • Create a short security hygiene protocol and remind your team employees to follow it on a regular basis.

2. Develop a holistic approach to communication

Gone are the days when you could settle questions near water coolers or during a morning coffee. Back then even tone of voice or a certain look signaled a possible problem. But with even a portion of the team working remote, you need a solution that works for the whole team. That usually means creating a holistic process to your workflows.

  • Agree on “rules of the game”. Do you communicate on Telegram or on Slack? What’s the process to turn a draft into a website post? You might want to draw out the editorial process flowchart .
  • You may want to separate communication channels by function (e.g., casual chats on Messenger or Whatsapp, but Slack to store and process documents). Make sure that the communication tool for the key document process allows easy search and tracking.
  • This helps you not to lose documents and tables among mems and other messages in your group chat. Content plans or weekend shifts should be also published separately.
  • Every meeting needs an agenda, sent ahead of time (some people need time to get focused), even if the goal is to creatively brainstorm. Likewise, every meeting should be followed up with next steps. Make sure someone is doing this on each call (and they know about it). If you want to be egalitarian, take turns.
  • Work out your Zoom-etiquette and document it. (this is not just about meeting mores, e.g., everyone has a webcam on, but about ensuring optimal information flows. Note: Zoom shared on it’s blog on the basic 7 rules of meetings).
  • Get your colleagues used to informing each other about their own availability during the day. For example, writing in a group chat, if we mute notifications for the duration of an interview, meeting or work on material.
  • Make sure that contacts of each team member are available to everyone: on the corporate page or in the email footer.

3. Watch the time

With the transition to home office, the place of work has changed, but the work itself has (probably) changed much less (e.g., publication schedules, meeting dates, and working hours remain the same). 

That said, with a lot of processes in the ether and calendars full of calls, it’s easy for things to get lost or take forever. So be brutal in terms of managing time:

  • When planning an agenda, ask yourself: “could this meeting be an email? (or Slack post)”. You know what to do.
  • Be ready to “give time back”. If you’re 22 minutes into a 1 hour meeting and you’ve exhausted the agenda, give people time back. Cancel that call if no longer pertinent. (note: frame it as a “gift” and people will be more ready to use this solution).
  • Plan meeting time and be punctual!
  • Encourage teams to respect their time. Mentioned above agenda, summary and follow-up saves from wasting time on unnecessary details and ensures discussion of the most important things. The appointment of a moderator at group meetings, who will track the schedule and agenda, may also help.
  • Encourage colleagues to track time they spent on each task. Especially in a remote setting, understanding how much a task takes is critical when it comes to planning larger projects.
  • Make sure boundaries of working and free time of the team members are not blurred. This should be communicated as well. Teach your colleagues to respect each other’s private life and to have a quality rest after working hours.

4. Make time to keep spirits up

Working in the media space is already stressful enough. Commiserating in person, often with a drink or meal, is a time-honored industry practice. So what do you do to manage stress in a digital setting?

  • If possible, provide professional psychological support or information on where people can get it for free. Potentially create a role or ask your HR manager about creating this safe space/ person for people to go to share what they are going through
  • Implement mentor or buddy roles (especially for new joiners). Buddy is a peer on the same level of responsibility, assisting new employees for a short period of time as they enter a new role. Mentorship is a structured longer-term process with concrete goals, curated by a mentor, who is often at a higher level in the organisation or has previous experience.
  • Organize regular, but timely training sessions and informal meetings online on coping with stress (or what to do if you can’t) 
  • Training may concern various areas, conducted by the employees themselves or by external experts. In turn, for informal meetings, time flexibility is very important. Let your team “take a break from each other”, letting these meetings be a nice personal experience. Do not underestimate team-building games!

5. Build a feedback-culture in your team

Feedback was often overlooked in the media sector even before the pandemic. And no, by “feedback”, we don’t mean telling people to make headlines punchier or stop making typos. It’s meaningful conversations about performance, successes, failures and how to grow.

Going remote makes this tricky. A lot of people prefer informal or ad-hoc feedback, for example during a break or on a coffee run. That means you need to pay extra attention to make sure your team is giving feedback to each other even if everyone is WFH. Here’s ways to help achieve that:

  • Be an example. Make sure you live the practices you preach (that holds for pretty much everything, not just feedback). 
  • Block time with people well ahead of time. For example, once every two weeks or so. Make sure they take place during “down hours” when chances of urgent interruptions are lower
  • Provide feedback that is specific – use actual examples (e.g., You were late last week by 15 min), not broad generalizations (e.g., you also come late).
  • Link back to impact. What were the results, for you and the organization, or a person’s actions. 
  • Make sure to talk up the importance of feedback on group calls, and follow up with individuals to make sure they are talking to each other.
  • Timely – there’s no sense to say something a few months later, especially if you want to influence the behavior of another person.
  • Candid – directly affects the proper reception of information, even during a telephone conversation.

by Sofiia Padalko

This piece was originally published in The Fix and is re-published with permission. The Fix is a solutions-oriented publication focusing on the European media scene. Subscribe to its weekly newsletter here.