Why we’re now working remotely, and how we’ll make it work

This is how I’m thinking about the decision to go remote:

  1. Keeping our people healthy is my only concern. If it turns out I’m overreacting, no problem, I’m fine with that. Much better than the alternative.
  2. I’d like us to be running smoothly as a fully virtual office before something happens that forces us to do so. It is much easier to fix things that aren’t working and deal with any technology issues or logistics problems if we aren’t trying to do it under pressure.
  3. I don’t want work to become a risky place to be. Right now, we are asking people to make two commutes, often on public transit, each day, plus time in the office with everyone else. Today that’s fine and low-risk based on the best data we have. But our experience in Italy tells us how quickly that can change. I don’t want people affected because we were slow to react.
  4. “Social distancing”, i.e. not clumping together in big groups of people, is (after hand washing!!) one of the best things that can be done to slow down the spread of COVID-19 if it shows up in a city. This keeps Kobo from being a place that could put staff and families at risk. I love seeing everybody every day, but I’ll find other ways to do that.
  5. For our office in Canada, spring break vacations are starting. That means that many people in Toronto are going to be going through airports, getting on planes, going to other countries, and coming back. It’s going to make the whole situation much more complex, with the weeks after the break being particularly risky and hard to manage. This creates some buffer around that time, just to be safe.

As for making remote work *work*, these are some things I think everyone needs to pay attention to:

  • Cameras. Turning them on for virtual meetings facilitates better communication and preserves valuable nuance. Keeping our working relationships healthy is important too.
  • Share remote work tips and gripes in a dedicated space — we have a Slack channel set up for that purpose. We are all learning as we go, so constructive discussion can make adapting to the remote working experience better.
  • Our Employee Experience team will have a webinar out shortly gathering up our best suggestions on making remote work better.
  • Know your working style and adjust accordingly. Do you work best when you can talk to someone and bounce ideas off them? Find a virtual way to do that. Do you rely on having someone check in on your progress and remind you of deadlines? Make sure to talk about what you need from your manager or your team. There will be lots of little adjustments to make. Just be generous with each other while everyone’s figuring it out.
  • Pay attention to the social dimension. I heard some great stories in our Work Remote dress rehearsal about people just getting together on video just to chat and catch up for a bit. It’s part of what makes work fun. This is no reason to give that up.

Advice to managers:

  • Be over-engaged. Have a plan for making sure that people have face-time with each other, and more than the usual amount of checking in with individuals.
  • If it isn’t a part of your team’s daily routine already, a daily or twice-daily video stand-up helps teams feel more in touch.
  • Know your management style and adjust accordingly: if you are a manage-by-walking-around-and-talking-to-people kind of manager, you are going to need to find a new way to stay engaged with your team.
  • If you manage contractors and other people who might not be included in regular lines of communication make sure they know what’s going on too. That includes cleaning and maintenance staff, delivery people, etc.

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