As the world struggles to deal with a virus that the medical community has limited knowledge about, India has its own battle to fight with the COVID-19 pandemic – a spluttering economy, stressed core sectors, and a country with questionable health and safety standards, packed to the brim with 1.3 Billion-plus people.
The one way to ensure we stay safe from the novel coronavirus is to adopt the extreme measure of social distancing. Prevention definitely is the cure at the moment! To enable such control, almost all state governments have advised the adoption of ‘Work-from-Home’ policies. This is the only viable option for the population’s safety.
Here I would like to draw inspiration from one of my favourite authors, Ray Dalio, who says, “If you can’t successfully do something, don’t think you can tell others how it should be done.”
Being an industry leader, it is always important to define the strategy the organisation should follow and succeed in implementing it. We have been extremely agile in not just setting the narrative but also in creating an ecosystem that enables and encourages our employees to seamlessly shift to the new paradigm.
So how can we do it? By remaining extremely focussed and productive.
As our teams start working remotely, we are continuously encouraging our colleagues to set aside space at their home as their workplace. This may require a little discipline in the beginning, but it is essential to have a dedicated work space. Team members are also encouraged to send a 'Daily Activity Report' or DAR that helps their line managers track the work done each day. We make sure that all members stay connected with their managers by scheduling regular interactions. We encourage managers to have review calls in the evening to check what the team member has accomplished during the day. To encourage two-way communication, the teams conduct daily virtual meetings via WhatsApp video chat / WebEx / FaceTime / Microsoft teams etc.
During these times, in order to get the desired results, our managers make sure their respective teams set top-5 priorities for the day right in the morning that would define their day and produce results.
So what are the overarching mantras or best practices to make remote working a success?
We define them under these three categories: Staying Connected, Staying Productive and Staying Healthy.
Staying Connected comes from being visible. We need to makes sure that we are visible by keeping the laptop camera on. Sending engagement signals like nodding our head or unmuting the microphone from time to time ensures that we are visible. Doing a simple video call at the beginning and the end of the day, even as short as 10 minutes, ensures that our “check-ins’ are in place. A virtual brainstorming session discussing the challenges and opportunities with the team members helps ensure that we continue to work as a team, howsoever remotely. It is also important therefore that when we are sending calendar invites for virtual meetings, we add relevant agenda and documents. And last but not least, we must ensure that we stick to regular work hours.
While staying connected, it is of paramount importance that we stay productive. Productivity when working remotely comes with discipline. Make sure you choose a quiet space with little disturbance. It also helps to keep your routine intact, have a dedicated work area, take breaks between work, by walking away from your ‘work desk’ at regular intervals. It is also important to ensure that there is a dedicated beginning and end of the day. You may go for a walk or a jog, but at the end of the day, focus is important. We bring the focus by working in 20-minute ‘sprints’. Limit distractions and use tools such as egg timer to keep track of your 20 minutes. A key challenge for productivity can be the presence of our children and other family members while we are working from home. We need to be more accommodating, accepting and understanding. We may need to work at different hours to ensure our deadlines are met.
By being intentional, we set ourselves clear goals for the day and reward ourselves for the successful completion of the same. Productivity gets a major boost when we are flexible and trusting. During these times, it is essential that we focus on ensuring team connections and ‘trust’. Productivity also comes from getting the ergonomics right. Positioning the laptop screen at about an arm’s length from us with the top of the screen level with our eyes and with the forearms approximately horizontal to the keyboard will ensure better ergonomics. Taking a 5-10 minutes breaks also help de-stress the eyes.
What is non-negotiable is staying healthy in these times. And this begins with knowing and managing our own stress levels. We need to recognise our own behavioural, physical, emotional and cognitive responses to stress and work towards reducing the levels. And how can we do that? Take regular beaks throughout the day, take a walk, and take a break. Nothing helps like a few minutes away from the screen. Inundated as we are in this day and age with negative posts, it helps to take a break from watching, reading or listening to news stories, especially on social media.
These are difficult and different times. But these are also times when we will make a better future, and will practice more innovation than ever before.
With better ideas, better technology and better understanding of the needs of the hour, we will be able to work productively and deliver results.
The author is CEO and Country Head, JLL India
Views expressed are personal.