As the small business owner of Create & Cultivate, an online platform and offline event series for women looking to create & cultivate the career of their dreams, I pride myself on building a collaborative close-knit office culture. As a small team – due to the nature of our work – we were used to travelling together, working weekends and hosting large scale events.
When we shifted to working from home full-time, our team had to make major adjustments and find new ways to keep the lines of communication open across the organisation while also maintaining employee morale. Staying productive is a challenge during the best of times and in the current environment, even more so.
Over the last few months, I have found a couple of hacks that we, as a team, have been able to implement to drive our business productivity.
Make the most of your “working” hours by taking regular breaks and reducing distractions
Initially, after our team fully transitioned to working from home, we were trying to operate the same way we would as if we were in the office. The difference was that a quick five-minute connect in the hallway to cover off on an issue, was replaced with an entire video conference meeting for thirty minutes or a flurry of pings and chats. These extended sessions inevitably led to an onslaught of communication in addition to full days of back-to-back meetings.
I quickly realised this left no time for deep thinking or “work” time, and my productivity began to suffer. It became clear that I needed to reorganize my day – even down to the “make yourself some lunch” moments; otherwise, it was easy to get sucked into being at my computer from 7.00 a.m. to 7.00 p.m. with no breaks.
For small business owners, our business is our livelihood, and now more than ever, there is extreme pressure to perform and operate at normal speed, but you need to show up for yourself first.
- Block your calendar for personal time. When we were no longer working in the office, it was as if hours no longer meant anything and boundaries disappeared. The way we re-established them was by putting time blocks in our calendar. During that time, I could go for walks, eat lunch and take a moment to myself, which was critical for me to clear my mind before diving back into work. By scheduling in DO NOT DISTURB times, I was able to balance my family, life and work more effectively. If I didn’t purposely plan this and tried to power through, I’d lose motivation and tasks would take longer than they should. By having these calendar time blocks, our team maintains a sense of sanity and an opportunity to break away from our computer so that we can come back refreshed and ready to go.
- Minimise distractions while working. I encourage my team to set their chat status to Do Not Disturb, allowing time for productive work. With the increase in video calls and IM conversations, a lot of our day is spent communicating versus working. In an office, someone can see your door is shut, but at home, there is no virtual door to do the same. So, when I have important projects or proposals, I set my status to Do Not Disturb so that I don’t receive distracting notifications or ad hoc requests that may pop up while I’m trying to concentrate. I’ve found that this has helped me finish out tasks quicker and stay focused and motivated.
Maximise the cloud
Design is a massive part of Create & Cultivate. We build out new creative pieces daily that requires ample feedback and cross-department collaboration. I remember the early days when we weren’t on the cloud, and the path to creative approval was exhausting. I would receive a file, send an email with all my notes, and so forth until the email threads became long and complicated and version control became an issue.
By keeping our documents in one place, we save time so much time removing the need to comb through to email 7 out of 19 to find that old piece of feedback and ensure we are acting off the latest version. Working from home has shown the value of operating using a cloud-based solution, especially the ability to co-author documents.
My assistant creative director and I will roll through creative decks at the same time. I can drop in images she needs for specific slides, and she can format them in real-time. Concurrently, I can continue to work through and leave notes for her on slide 9 while she’s on slide 7 finishing the copy, etc. By tag-teaming the process, we can make our time together as efficiently as possible, since we are both able to tackle the same document simultaneously.
Record meetings to save others time
In this new WFH environment, people are dealing with multiple responsibilities. This situation often prevents them from attending the same number of meetings they could while they were in the office. Parents are having to home school their children, spouses are having to share a workspace and might have overlapping meetings, plus the many other various factors we all have to face each day. Having to juggle these responsibilities, new and old, makes getting on some calls difficult.
Due to all of this, my team started recording meetings. Now, we don’t have to panic if we miss a call, or part of one, as we can bring ourselves up to speed on our own time.
We don’t have to rely on a recap from someone else on our team. We can loop back and double-check what was missed during those five minutes while your child was having a meltdown or when the Uber Eats driver knocked on our door, by watching the recording.
Implement a daily check-in
When we were all in the office, our usual meeting cadence was light, as we were able to shout across the room or nudge our neighbour if we had a question. We quickly realised that when we transitioned to working remotely, this cadence wasn’t working – too much was happening daily. On top of that, we lacked the informal discussions that you get in a face-to-face working environment.
With all the unknown variables, we implemented an end-of-day check-in to see how we are tracking as a team towards the hot deliverables on our plates. We also found that these daily touch-bases didn’t need to be an hour! By having shorter regular check-ins, our team doesn’t need to carve out a big chunk of their day.
However, everyone remains up to speed on what is happening. The daily connections help us stay on task and be more productive while also providing a quick way of troubleshooting and getting ahead of potential roadblocks to avoid holding up progress.
Keep your office culture alive, and team morale high
Happy teams are more productive teams, and keeping up morale during these uncertain times is Create & Cultivate’s priority. When we were in person, it was a lot easier to keep spirits up because we could do in-person events like happy hours every Thursday, with special guests, good food and great conversations.
From these happy hours, we came up with some of our best event ideas. We wanted to find a way to keep this social connection up and stay connected, so we shifted to hosting two virtual, casual brainstorming happy hours a week using video chat. We’ve found that especially in these trying times, these light moments with our team have helped us offset the lack of face-to-face time, while also keeping a pulse on how people are acclimating to the new environment.
Another technique we’ve used to boost morale is weekly emails, with tips and advice for the team, ranging from what TV programmes to binge on the weekend to in-home workout ideas. The communication helps remind everyone that we are all in this together and reinforces that feeling of team comradery.
During these unprecedented times, it is more important than ever to reassess and adapt our workflows to fit today’s WFH realities. What drove productivity and morale in our traditional office environment may not necessarily work the same today. But, simple adjustments are possible. As a small business owner, I’ve found these hacks have helped maximise my time and have kept my team and I working efficiently, without sacrificing much-needed personal time to relax and recharge.