Posted on Mar 13, 2020
Salaam and hello everyone! I’m Lindsay, the Customer Relationship Manager here at Haute Hijab. I’m in charge of creating all those emails you get every week with new product drops, style tips and more. Like many of you, we here HH are worried and watching closely as the coronavirus pandemic plays out. Many of us are switching to working from home, limiting our social engagements and much more. This is an area where I have a lot of expertise thanks to my prior role as Director of Audience at a startup called Werk.
At Werk, I helped create the first and only people analytics platform dedicated to helping companies become more flexible. I spent nearly three years consuming every single piece of available data on workplace flexibility, and used that data to craft a narrative about the importance of workplace flexibility in the future of work.
Well, turns out that future is now.
Haute Hijab's CRM Manager Lindsey Dreyer grabbing a photo from her computer as she worked from home.
I know you're probably feeling overly stressed out and anxious thanks to the endless stream of news articles and op-eds about this pandemic, but I'm not here to give you medical advice or make fun of you for buying toilet paper in bulk (seriously though, what's up with that?). But with social distancing mandates already happening and more on the horizon, I want to share my expertise to help you stay connected to your job and co-workers as more of us move to a work-from-home situation while we ride this thing out together.
Making Work From Home a Success
The most important thing you can do is not let physical distance create psychological distance. What do I mean by this? Think about your best friend who lives across the country. Think about the last time your husband left for a business trip. Think about your parents or grandparents who might live miles away from you. Even though it's not always easy, these relationships are able to withstand the difficulties of physical distance because of the care and effort we put into them. We must apply the same level of care and effort to our relationships with our co-workers while working remotely.
But how? Don't worry — it's easier than it sounds. Here are some ways to overcome physical distance and feel more connected to your team while miles apart.
1. Create a virtual water cooler. If you use a messaging platform like Slack (that's what we use here at HH), take the initiative to create a "virtual water cooler" channel where you and your co-workers can discuss topics unrelated to work the same way you would in person. Or just share cute cat pictures and GIFs! You know your work culture best — whatever you would (appropriately) chat about IRL, you can (and should!) chat about online.
2. Check in often. When you're working remotely, it's not just important to be overly communicative with your direct reports — you must also manage up. This means that you should make sure to check in often with your boss or manager to let them know what you will be working on that day, what you have already achieved, and what you still need to complete. Even if it feels totally random and out of context, drop them a line a few times per day to say hello or relay a new discovery, thought, or idea. It will help reassure them you're still there, you're still just engaged, and you're still ready and eager to brainstorm. That said, it's probably a good idea to check in with your manager first to see if they'd like to receive these updates, or would rather have them bundled into a weekly update.
3. Celebrate success. One of the hardest things about working remotely is loneliness. Say you close a new deal or have some kind of technological breakthrough. You can't just turn to the person next to you and tell them about it (though you can always try talking to your cat or dog — hey, no judgment!). That's why it's super important to blast out your success to your co-workers using Slack (or whatever messaging tool your office uses), so they can throw a few celebratory emojis your way. And if you're not the one sharing, be sure to congratulate your colleagues when credit is due. Shout out your co-workers who have hit major milestones like work anniversaries or sales goals. If your company mood is a more serious one, maybe skip the emojis and respectfully acknowledge/congratulate yours and your co-worker’s accomplishments.
4. Be overly communicative about your plans. Need to take the dog for a walk? Have to get the kids from school? Have a doctor's appointment? Share your plans on every tool or platform you have — your Google or Outlook calendar, Slack, etc. When your co-workers can't see you physically entering or leaving the building, it's hard for them to know if and when you're available to chat. If you're stepping away from your computer, alert your team and give them a preferred way to reach you in case of emergency while you're away. Here at HH, we have a Slack channel dedicated to our availability where we can see everyone's whereabouts and plans for the day so there's no confusion.
Now, this all comes with the caveat that you and your manager (or your employees) trust each other enough to get the work done and are being courteous in letting each other know when you may need to step away. Especially now, if you’re switching to WFH during this particular coronavirus pandemic and perhaps your kids’ schools are closed as well, we all need to acknowledge and inform each other of our work-day schedules and breaks we may need to take to attend to something else.
5. Don't keep things to yourself. Have something to say? Don't keep it to yourself and assume you can just tell your co-workers later. At this point, it's unclear how long we'll need to work remotely. You also want to make sure you're sharing that information with ALL relevant parties. DMs are great because they prevent distractions for employees who don't need to be included, but they can also create silos. If you're unsure, err on the side of oversharing.
6. Utilize collaboration tools and video conferencing. One of the hardest things about working on a distributed team is not having access to a whiteboard. To keep track of your team's goals and progress, you'll definitely want to utilize a collaboration or project management tool such as Asana, Trello or Basecamp. These tools are lifesavers for remote teams and the key to keeping projects on track. For meetings, instead of old fashioned conference calls try using a video conferencing tool Zoom, BlueJeans, or Google Hangouts. (Just be sure to have a hijab nearby in case you need to get ready in a pinch!) Always include a link to the video chat in every meeting invite so you don't have people trickling in 10 minutes late. And, be on time to these meetings!
What if Your Boss is Not into Remote Work?
That all sounds easy enough, right? But what should you do if your boss is opposed to remote working and you don't feel comfortable taking the packed train to your office in the middle of a pandemic (I DON'T BLAME YOU!)? Here are some ways you can more effectively negotiate a temporary remote arrangement:
1. Always start with data. The reality is that remote workers are far more productive than their in-office peers. This can be substantiated in study after study after study. According to one recent study by ADP Research Institute reported in Harvard Business Review, employees who work away from the office four or five days of the workweek are nearly twice(!) as engaged as those who work solely from their company office. Not commuting every day also helps employees start working earlier in the day, which can also be a great selling point.
2. Use this as an opportunity to educate. "Social distancing" is a term used to describe the public action taken to stop or slow the spread of infectious disease. In the 1918 flu pandemic, New York City enacted social distancing measures quickly and lost the least number of residents out of any East Coast city.
According to David Gray, a former acting assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Labor, social distancing is especially effective today because most people will still be able and willing to work during outbreaks. "It is likely that many workers will be sick enough that they will need to stay away from work, if only to keep their coworkers from being impacted, but they will be well enough to complete substantive work," he wrote for HuffPo in 2010. "Or many will be healthy themselves, but they will be needed at home to help care for a family member or a child. Schools across the nation will identify potentially sick children and many will have to stay at home for a week or more, so their working parents will be stuck at home.”
3. Have a plan. When requesting any type of flexible work arrangement, it's important to come prepared with a plan. Show your boss exactly how you plan to meet your daily objectives and goals while working away from the office. This may include asking for access to new tools or platforms, proposing more frequent check-ins or virtual meetings, etc.
4. Suggest a trial period and let your results do the talking. Propose your new temporary arrangement as a test run. Perhaps you can get your boss to agree to one or two weeks of remote work. During that time, you must maintain the same level of output and productivity (though truth be told, you'll probably surpass it). It's critical that you show your manager that remote work works so that others who are at risk of this virus can also be afforded the ability to work from home.
We know this is a time of fear and uncertainty, and we are right there with you. Many of us in our New York office commute on the subway or trains to get here, and some of us already work remote in different states. We’re also moving to a more work-from-home environment here as we try and figure out the best way to be safe during this coronavirus time.
We try to be accommodating, gracious and flexible with each other, knowing that we are all working hard and are responsible team members. And, we are blessed that this trust in us comes from Melanie and Ahmed — from the top down. Our prayers are with you all for your health, protection and safety.