The Work From Home Secure Your Business Campaign is focused on security, but today we’re taking a little break from technology to remind everyone about how to put some principles in place to help you – and your team – cope with working from home. Graham Brookie from the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, which even in normal times has teams working remotely across five continents studying disinformation and online harms, put together some thoughtful advice on how to put boundaries in place and how to maintain healthy communication with your teams during this trying time.
Communication and Boundaries to Create A Better WFH Environment
By Graham Brookie, Director and Managing Editor of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab)
Set clear goals at the start of the day. When we’re at the office, we get used to a natural rhythm of the work week. We have meetings, we have events, we have emails, and we have more emails. We know how to manage our time to get our work done. While we’re transitioning as an organization to working from home, we will all need to think through our daily rhythm. The single most important thing to establishing that work flow is to set clear goals each morning to prioritize what you are going to get done that day.
Also, set very clear work and home boundaries. Every day, you have a transit period to come to and from the office physically, but also mentally. When you’re working from home, it’s important to set up similar boundaries to get in the zone at the beginning of the day and decompress at the end of the day. We work in a fast paced environment, but it’s not healthy to start the day and still be staring at the computer screen at 11pm, especially when work and home are in the same place. Making boundaries makes us and our mission more sustainable.
Over-communicate instead of under-communicate. Unless your team has secretly established long-range telepathy, communicating is key when working remotely.
Be intentional in how you communicate. While we’re over-communicating rather of under-communicating, your colleagues will like you more if you’re intentional about how you communicate. Don’t be the person who sends an email and calls thirty seconds later, and don’t be the person who sends vague notes about the “thing at the place” to your colleagues also working from home. Be concise and be clear.
Have a specific place for specific things. In remote communications, don’t take a scatter fire approach. Have channels for specific things so that everyone knows where to look rather than wading through multiple mediums. At the DFRLab, official business is done on email, “work about the work” or ongoing collaboration happens across Slack, group meetings happen on Zoom, immediately actionable items happen on WhatsApp, we use emojis more often than most, and we’re still working on a “Bat Signal” for when things really hit the fan.
Talk it out. Remember empathy — and sarcasm — don’t translate as well through email or chat as they do in person. Don’t be afraid to be direct in communicating with colleagues remotely, but also remember that miscommunications or perceived slights feel a lot bigger when you’re not there in person. When this happens, it’s important to pick up the phone or click into video chat to talk it out.
It’s okay to not talk about work sometimes, so have a set space for non-work interaction. Your colleagues are human beings that you share at least one third of your day-to-day existence with. It’s healthy and natural to talk about non-work stuff. For instance, the Atlantic Council’s World Cup and March Madness brackets are legendary. Even when working from home, we should encourage those interactions. At the DFRLab, we have entire Slack channels dedicated to #CUTE and #RANDOM. We also have a larger custom emoji collection than I would like to admit. It helps us break up the day and look out for each other’s mental health.