How do you move tens of thousands of employees to remote work overnight? With the COVID-19 outbreak spreading around the world, that was the big question on our minds at Microsoft last week. Then, last Wednesday, we just did it—sending out an email that asked approximately 50,000 Microsoft employees in the Seattle area to work from home if they could. We were already heavy Teams users, but in our first fully remote days usage among Microsoft employees in the U.S. went up significantly. By the end of the day Thursday, chat was up 50 percent week over week and meetings were up 37 percent. And we’re seeing usage upticks among customers, too, as workers everywhere adjust to meeting, chatting, and collaborating exclusively online. We want to help everyone meet this challenge. As the team behind Teams, we have spent a lot of time learning about the best ways to make working from home productive and healthy. So I thought I’d share our top tips below.
A quick note before you read on: These tips are part of our ongoing effort to help everyone stay connected and productive during this challenging time. Last week, I shared how individuals and organizations can get Teams for free, along with our comprehensive plan for keeping services running smoothly through this crisis. We’ve also shared incredible stories from customers and employees around the world, including teachers and students in Hong Kong using technology for amazing e-learning innovations and customers in and around China who’ve found smart ways to keep work moving as well. But our customers are also asking for guidance on switching to remote work. We’ll continue to provide tips, information, and inspiring customer stories throughout the outbreak, so check back here for those in the days to come.
As you move to remote work, a few key habits will set you up for success.
Set up your workspace
If you don’t have a home office, don’t worry. You can still work from home productively. In fact, we designed Teams as a virtual office you can take anywhere you go. While you may not have a printer, physical files, or a desk phone at home, you can pull up documents directly in Teams, securely store files where the right people can access them, and quickly jump into calls and meetings. That said, it’s important to have a dedicated home workspace where you can be productive and signal that you’re in do-not-disturb mode. A breakfast nook, a quiet corner of the bedroom, an underused game table in the rec room—any focus-friendly area can double as a workspace. And don’t worry if it gets a little messy throughout the day, you can always use background blur during video meetings so your teammates focus only on you.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
While many of us work from home at least part of the time, we still rely on rhythms and core hours that are built around our physical presence at the office. When working from home, your daily rhythm may change. This is especially true for those of us balancing work and childcare. Clearly communicate your working hours with your teammates and collaborators so that they know when to reach you. You can also set a status message in Teams to share this information proactively.
Also, make it a habit to offer frequent progress reports to your teammates. Fully remote companies tend to emphasize documentation, since it’s a key way to stay connected when you work apart. We recommend posting updates, insights, and helpful resources you’ve discovered in Teams channels, so your teammates can stay connected with what you’re up to even without the benefit of a chance hallway conversation. Later, they can search within the channel for ideas or content when they need them.
Maintain healthy boundaries
Without the usual workday signals—a walk to grab lunch, for instance, or a commute—unplugging can be a challenge. Remote workers sometimes find themselves working for long stretches without breaks for exercise, socializing, or a proper meal. This will quickly lead to stress and burnout. Remember: your health comes first. Make time for meals, drink plenty of water, and remind yourself to mentally “clock out” from remote work at the end of the day. These behaviors won’t just keep you healthy, they will also help you be more productive in the long run.
Running effective meetings
Embrace online meetings
In the absence of a physical conference room, bringing everyone together can feel like the biggest remote-work challenge of all. As you move meetings to Teams, make sure all meetings have a virtual “join” option to create an online conference room. Also, we suggest that all participants turn on video if they are comfortable doing so. The face-to-face interaction goes a long way to help everyone feel connected. Teams has a wide selection of certified cameras to choose from, as well as devices like headsets and speakerphones to make sure you and your coworkers can always communicate clearly.
Be mindful and inclusive
Moving to online meetings may remove some of the visual cues we rely on to see if a colleague has something to say in a meeting. And overcrowded conference calls can make it difficult for people to share their opinions. Meeting organizer should pause frequently to invite questions and remind attendees that they can also use the meeting chat window to share their thoughts.
Record your meetings
To compensate for lack of face time, some remote workers schedule extra meetings in order to stay connected with customers, partners, and coworkers. Double-bookings can be hard to avoid. If your organization allows it, record meetings in Teams so coworkers can catch up later. If you can’t attend yourself, remind the organizer to record in your absence. The automatically generated transcript is also super-useful when you’re trying to remember information covered in a meeting you attended. Want to learn more about Teams Meetings? Learn more tips here.
Make up for missing hallway talk
A lot of remote workers find the thing they miss the most about the office is casual conversations. Chats at the watercooler or snack shelf not only keep us connected, they often surface important information or insights we wouldn’t have guessed. Be deliberate about reaching out and connecting with your co-workers. Think of chat messages as your virtual watercooler and set yourself a reminder to check in with people regularly. Emojis, GIFs, and stickers are a fun way to keep the chatter fun and light.
Bring the team together
Working remotely can feel isolating. As a leader, it’s important to create opportunities for the whole team to get together virtually. Maintain your regular team meeting cadence or team lunches, just make them online. Use the “General” channel in Teams for discussions that might be of interest to everyone. For large brainstorms you can use the Microsoft Whiteboard app, which provides an infinite digital canvas for meeting participants to ideate and collaborate directly in Teams. We also suggest team leaders download the Crisis Communication Power App. You can use this customizable app to inform yourself and your team on everything they need to know throughout this outbreak.
With all the changes that come with moving to remote work, it’s important to foster and maintain team morale. There are many things you can do within Teams to keep people feeling positive and engaged. Share news and stories in your team chat, or hold a photo contest. One of our education customers in China hosted a cooking challenge for students that proved particularly popular.
I understand that every individual and team works differently. But I hope the tips from our team helps you stay productive and connected as you adjust to a new way of working. And remember, you can start using Teams today by signing in or signing up for free.
Be remote-work ready! Download our remote work checklist and share with your teammates.
Remote work checklist:
- Set up your workspace
- Communicate often
- Maintain healthy boundaries
- Embrace online meetings
- Be mindful and inclusive
- Record your meetings
- Make up for missing hallway talk
- Bring the team together
- Have fun!