‘Small office in the city’ by Edward Hopper. All rights rest with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
For about two weeks now, most of India Inc has been working from home (WFH). Even for freelancers, who are used to WFH, this is a new set of circumstances. There is general consensus, that when life as we know it, resumes, WFH will have a place in it, even for corporations who have shunned it so far.
Not Just Another WFH Guide
We know you’ve been flooded with information about WFH best practices. We have no intention of repeating that advice. What we want to do, is help you create the WFH style that’s best for you. We went out (virtually) and spoke to both full-time employees who are new to this working style, as well as freelancers who have worked from their couches since corona was just a beer. And trust us when we say, one size does not fit all!
Take, for example, the common suggestion that one should dress as if you are going to office. This may work for some people, but might be a needless burden for others (especially if it means added laundry). After all, if the general attire of creative agencies is anything to go by, we would say many of them dress for office as if they’re working from home!
The Tough Bits
There were some common challenges and insights that emerged after our conversations.
1. Reporting and structure
Even though overall reporting structures in a team are clear, one project can have many different owners. Confusion about project ownership and ‘who does what’, emerged as one of the top challenges in this period. This was true for both large companies as well as smaller ones.
2. The curious case of communication
It is well-documented that remote working requires more communication so erring on the side of caution, people are making sure that communication lines are always open. Neha Tulsian, Founder NH1 Design, a Delhi-based design studio, says she has setup three, mandatory, twenty minute Zoom calls with her team a day.
However, walking over to someone’s desk and casually getting a clarification is way easier than texting them or interrupting a team video call. We also heard from junior people who were confused because they felt that their ‘problem’ was too small to actually bother the boss or their colleague with, even though it was holding up their work. New WFH processes will need to account for this.
3. Blurred boundaries
Even WFH veterans found that the lockdown caused boundaries between work and play, day and night to blur in a disconcerting way. You tend to lose track of time and days of the week. The prolonged period inside the house, often sitting in one place or position for long hours, was taking its toll.
4. Loneliness for some, chaos for others
Living alone vs living with kids seemed to make for diametrically opposite experiences. The people who lived alone, found this enforced solitary experience overwhelming and had to work hard to stay connected with friends and family. Working parents with young kids, on the other hand, had gone ‘completely bonkers’, trying to juggle the two, without the usual support systems of grandparents and nannies.
5. Resisting distraction
You’re taking a lunch break, you open Twitter for a quick news check and before you know it, you’ve just sunk an hour of your time. Everyone needs to set up their own ‘monitoring systems’ to make sure they keep control over their time. Sumit Singla, a freelance consultant, says he creates a high barrier to access entertainment such as the TV or his iPad.
… And The Not-So-Tough
Many of the people we spoke with, admitted that after the first week of ‘settling-down’, they were seeing benefits that would carry over even when the lockdown gets lifted.
1. Higher productivity for teams
Almost everyone agrees that video calls are more demanding than physical meetings, leaving you with a ‘whew, glad that’s over’ feeling. As a result, we heard that fewer meetings were being scheduled. A lot more work was happening over tools like Slack and Basecamp. Stricter processes had been put in place for huddles and sign-offs. As a result, productivity, much to everyone’s surprise, had actually gone up instead of down.
2. Tools rule
Besides the ‘Zoom in every room’ paradigm, teams have been forced to explore tools for communication and collaboration. Even if they were using the tool before, they are only now discovering its true potential (including add-ons). Even small design studios have moved to project software like Asana, Trello and Basecamp. Slack was the clear winner for larger teams and amongst design software, Figma was the new favourite, along with Miro for collaboration. Sketch seems to be losing out, while everyone has renewed respect for Google Calendar.
3. Best practices beyond WFH
When the dust settles, whether WFH becomes a standard or not, it’s apparent that some of the practices and revised processes that we have adopted will become permanent – and impact working styles for the better.
Prasanna Venkatesh, UX Architect at Swiggy summed it up nicely:
“This is a golden opportunity for designers to hone their ownership and communication skills, set accountability for themselves, seize the initiative and drive the project in a direction that is welcome by all other stakeholders”.
He goes on to list some best best practices that have emerged from Swiggy’s WFH experience.
- Each manager takes the initiative for their team and gives clear action plans. All major issues and requests are only handled by the manager.
- We communicate to engineering managers whom they should reach out to, for any project-specific requests.
- We ask hard questions to Product Managers to ensure that whatever we ship is relevant and has instant impact on the Swiggy platform in these trying times.
- We encourage people to call us for urgent requirements on Slack, Hangouts or Zoom, and we ensure we close all discussions before we hang up
- We are more mindful of the developers’ efforts in building our products
- We use Slack and Figma more than usual, and I think this will continue
The THC Work From Home Planner
Based on inputs from folks who have actually been working at home for the last fortnight (and of course, freelancers), we have put together a planner for you that will help you develop your own WFH style. It is not prescriptive. Instead, it asks you questionsand suggests experiments.
We hope you find this useful. Do write in to us to tell us how you’ve been using the planner. Stay safe.