How to get the most out of Covid remote working

Karen Mangia’s new book Working From Home focuses on how we go from just getting by while remote working to thriving.

woman working from home at night


It’s been a few months since many of us switched to remote working out of necessity. At the time many thought this was a temporary situation, but now, as we face the winter months and rising infection rates, it’s looking a bit more long term. So how do we not just get by working remotely, but thrive? A new book seeks to explain how to do just that.

Karen Mangia is Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce and has been working from home since 2002. In her book Working From Home, she emphasises that work is a thing you do, not a place you go. However, she also outlines how you cannot just replicate what you do in the office at home. A shift or reinvention is required to make the most of remote working,

She starts by talking about getting your work environment right – it should be comfortable, but not to the extent that you are hanging around in your pjs all day, she says. She stresses the importance, however small your home is, of making a dedicated space for work. For video calls, she says lighting is key [don’t work with light behind you or spooky shadows], consider your background [not piles of washing] and use headphones to get the best audio possible and cut out excess noise. You could also consider upgrading your camera and microphone.

For those new to homeworking, Mangia says it is vital to establish routines and rituals – from start the day routines to winding down cues. Rest periods are also important and she suggests being ruthless about video meetings so you don’t become a “Zoombie” constantly online with no break. Ask yourself if a call needs to be on video, for instance. Preparation for meetings is also key, she says. Don’t arrive one minute beforehand, flustered. Keep messages simple, covering less content, but providing more context.

For those running meetings, Mangia counsels keeping things shorter than when you are physically present and putting more emphasis on collaboration [using the many tools out there], delegation and listening. Interactive elements such as polls and quizzes can help break up the meeting, as can breakout groups, and ensure people stay engaged. She also suggests trialling micro meetings which focus the mind when it comes to collaboration. Another handy tip is to set all meetings to start at either five minutes past the hour or 35 minutes to give people time between minutes to go to the toilet or make a cup of tea or whatever.

Homeschooling and middle managers

There’s a chapter on homeschooling where Mangia talks about the importance of communicating what you need and negotiating with partners, bosses and teachers. She talks again about getting into a routine – with the kids knowing, if they are not too little, that when the door is shut there is a reason for it. And she says it’s a good idea to expect more from your children than you think they can deliver. That may they may surprise you, she states, adding that you might need to be creative and, for example, collaborate with other parents in the neighbourhood to share teaching responsibilities remotely as many homeschooling parents have done for years.

Another chapter focuses on the vital role that middle managers play in remote working. Mangia writes: “The real crux of the work-from-home culture falls on the shoulders of those who are caught in the middle – those who are asked to monitor and supervise a workforce that they can’t see, while managing up to a leadership team who might not really understand.”

Middle managers, she says, have to keep tabs on how everyone is really feeling, how they are adapting and what they can realistically achieve. Those managers embody the company culture and need to set aside more time for check-ins than they need, give people their undivided attention and ask for the support and training they need, says Mangia. That includes the kind of time management that ensures they don’t burn out. She also underlines that organisations need to work out how they measure, recognise and reward the contribution of middle managers managing remote teams during the pandemic.

There is also a section on career progression while remote working, how to reach out to others, how to stand out in an increasingly competitive labour market by focusing on how you solve an employer’s problems, honing which employers you concentrate on, creating your own work-related community and how, when you reach out to people in your network, you need to offer to return the favour.

When everything is uncertain, says Mangia, you have to focus on the day to day and take small steps forward. Being positive and cheering people on is important, she says, but the current context needs to be acknowledged. She states: “When encouragement comes from a place of truth and authenticity, it’s much more meaningful than some motivational shouting or well-intentioned applause.”

*Working from home: making the new normal work for you by Karen Mangia is published by Wiley, price £13.59.

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