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Staying Productive When Working Remote [The Basecamp S1 Bonus Episode]

WFH Bonus

We know working remote – specifically from the house – is on a lot of your minds these days. Our regularly scheduled episode of The Basecamp is on pause this week. (More on that decision in the post below.) Instead, we took a little time to share and discuss our team's approach to working from home with Marc Herschberger, Director of People & Process at Revenue River. So whether you're an old pro or just getting started at working from home, listen in.

Back in February we launched our new video series, The Basecamp. It's where we talk business strategy and marketing trends, with the occasional "just for fun" conversation.

Now it's mid-March and the world looks different. We're well aware that just how different it looks for each of us as individuals depends on a number of factors. Even still, we feel we should continue to release a new episode of The Basecamp each week. (Rest assured these were filmed well in advance of social distancing protocols.) Why? Because even though the world looks different, we don't think it should stop spinning where it doesn't have to. Our intention is not to ignore current events, but to simply offer a break, some business insight you can use now or later, or even just bring a smile to your face.

When it comes to work here at Ascend, we'll be working from our homes to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. There will be no change in the service, support and the experience you have working with us. We'll be the first to say we know it's a privilege that our company and our team can continue on with "business as usual" from home. We know that is not necessarily an option for many of those in our community, our country and around the globe. 

While we're new to being a fully distributed team for an extended period of time, our employees do have experience working remote. And due to the nature of our business, we already have the tools in place to make going fully distributed a seamless transition. For example, our work ecosystem already includes video calls, instant messages, knowledge base articles, and project management dashboards, to name a few.

We know working remote – specifically from the house – is on a lot of your minds these days. So, we put our regularly scheduled episode of The Basecamp on pause this week and instead are bringing you this bonus episode. We took some time to share and discuss our team's approach to working from home with Marc Herschberger, Director of People & Process at Revenue River.

So whether you're an old pro at working from home or just getting started, listen in. And for four ways to make working remote a little easier, check out this post

Read The Transcript

Steven Carter: Guys, welcome back to another episode of The Basecamp. It's a little bit different setup today. As you can see, we've got a couple of guests today. We've got Anne and Gretchen from Ascend and then we've got Marc with us over from Revenue River out in Denver. Awesome agency out there. They've been a great friend to Ascend, do incredible work on the marketing and sales side of things. And today we're going to be talking about something that these guys know a lot about and we think it's going to be pretty applicable to you guys and kind of just the state of America right now. And we're going to be talking about working from home, things to do, things to consider, how to handle some different scenarios and what's important, and just ways to do it the best it can be done. With that, yeah, like I said, we've got Marc here.

Steven Carter: Marc, to kick things off, man, we'll kind of put you on the spot, but tell us a little bit about, you guys have a, not mandatory but optional, remote a couple of days a week, right?

Marc Herschberg...: Yeah, yeah. You know, part of our way of being competitive within the Denver job market is offering a little bit more flexibility when it comes to working from home two days a week. Every Tuesday and Thursday everybody on our team has the option to work from home and maybe just be able to be a little bit more comfortable at the house, getting stuff done. Because of that as well as us having a couple full-time remote workers, we've built up a little bit of an understanding of how we get stuff done when people are working from their own home offices.

Steven Carter: Sure [inaudible 00:01:59]. Are you guys putting a new guidelines in place or is it just kind of people are pretty familiar with the concept so you're just rolling with it or...

Marc Herschberg...: Yeah, nothing really new here aside from just telling people to stay home if they really feel the need to right now. That's kind of where we're at as a company. But everybody's pretty well comfortable with their setup at home at this point, so it's not too much of a change for us anymore.

Steven Carter: Gotcha. Yeah. Another quick question. What is maybe one thing that you wish you knew before you started working from home, if that makes sense.

Marc Herschberg...: Yeah, I mean a couple of things, right? I had wished that we understood the importance of creating your own safe space or creating your own working space at home. Unless you've spent a lot of time consistently working from home, you don't realize that a desk in the corner with just your laptop, you're not going to be as productive as you would be if you had, say dual monitors and your actual mouse that you can work with versus just the track pad on your laptop. Which we've been able to establish the key things that every home office should have and just help people get that set up faster or understand the importance of it.

Steven Carter: Yeah. No, I think that's great. And I actually went by the office last Friday because we were going to be starting working from home this week and I've got another monitor over here. Obviously, you guys can't see it. But yeah, I think for productivity for my job and the way I've worked through processes that it's almost a necessity, so I think that it is very important.

Steven Carter: To kind of along those lines, setting your team up for success is kind of what you're talking about, right? Like giving them ideas and goals and thing, the guidance that they need from a leadership perspective. I know, Anne, I'm going to throw this over to you now. In our weekly meeting that we have every Monday morning, she kind of addressed the team and we went over some guidelines and expectations and made sure those are out there early and clear. And so, yeah, Anne, just maybe some thoughts on that.

Anne Shenton: Yeah. And this is one of those things that you have to learn a lot about in a short amount of time. And same goes, not only for this but having to have my kids at home, kind of learning how to work with their school schedule and kind of keep the same structure with them that they're used to while also maintaining the structure in our work environment. And a lot of it comes down to scheduling. Just having a rigid schedule that you follow as closely as possible, like these are my work hours and they're different than they are most of the time because I do have to carve out time during the day to do school stuff with my daughter and these are my family hours.

Anne Shenton: And of course, that means longer hours in general, but it's a short timeframe that we have to work with this in and we can make it through it. But the guidelines and the sort of, what seems like rigidness but it's really just making sure that everything continues running without disruption kind of while all of this is going on. A lot of the stuff that is in these guidelines are things that Marc mentioned. Having your space set up for success, having your dual monitors and your equipment as close as you can get it to the way that it's set up in the office is really important. We stressed that this morning of course.

Anne Shenton: Talking about when our working hours are going to be and marking that really closely on Slack. So if one of our team members is away, they're going to Marc that on Slack so we know that they're not available for communication at that point, but trying to be as available as we can during this timeframe too. Using our tools, our project management tools and software, even more vigilantly than we usually do or being even more mindful about using that software just so that everything that we're doing is getting documented and all the assignments are being made. Just being extra mindful of that during this time.

Anne Shenton: Clearly outlining what the tools of communication are and then having regularly scheduled check-ins every single day. And again, I know that that might seem like overkill, but I don't think that during times like these that you really can over communicate. It's important to set up that kind of structure right out of the gate. Again, we're just kind of all set up for success.

Steven Carter: You talked a lot about communication being imperative, especially when everyone's at home and dealing with other things. I was sharing with Marc this because we have on the call a minute ago, but how we had our kick off meeting and we saw behind Anne's chair a little blonde-haired little girl popped her head up and just kind of looked to the camera and then went down again real fast. But that's very realistic. I got three kids that are everywhere all the time. And this kind of state of things, it does, it requires lots of attention to lots of things and prioritization of that time, so communication is huge.

Steven Carter: You mentioned Slack, and so that is a messaging system that a lot of companies use now to communicate internally. And if you aren't using Slack that would probably be a very good thing to look into at this point because email chains are going to get ridiculously long if you're not implementing a system like that right now. I'm obviously not an expert on the organizational side of things, but I think that's important.

Steven Carter: And another thing that we're using right now is Zoom for these type of meetings, so Zoom.us. It kind of gives that face to face. You can kind of check in and see everybody, and it just kind of helps I think with just kind of staying in touch. It's a lot more personable seeing someone's face than just a bunch of dry emails. It's not difficult to just jump on here for a quick standup meeting or something like that.

Steven Carter: What are some other tools that you guys can think of, Marc, maybe that you guys use a Revenue River and things like that to help kind of everybody stay on the same page?

Marc Herschberg...: Yeah. Honestly, it's a lot of the same of what Anne just said, right? We also use Slack. We also use Zoom. One of our big notes to our team as we started to open up the opportunity for anybody to work from home as they needed to with the coronavirus stuff happening was every meeting that you have, if it was supposed to be face to face in the office, now it's just a Zoom. There shouldn't be anything different there.

Marc Herschberg...: We also, we have shared calendars. Everybody in our agency calendar is diligently on a weekly basis anyways based off of what's in our project management system as well as any other initiatives that they have running. Everybody has access to those. Being able to, if you need to reach out to somebody and maybe you don't get them right away in Slack, you can take a look at their calendar and be like, "Oh well, he's on a client call right now. I should probably stop messing with him."

Marc Herschberg...: But the last thing that I don't think anybody's talked about but everybody on this call is showcasing is just having good headphones with a good mic is really important to have at home, right? It's the toughest thing ever to be on a video call like this where you have one or multiple people who are just trying to use like the mic on their laptop or something else like that and you have to like sit there and just like put your head to the speakers and try to figure out what the hell they said. It's simple stuff like this. Most of us all get headphones that come with our phones or if we're fancy like you, we go and get some of those pods, but that's a really important thing.

Steven Carter: Yeah. No, I think that's right. And lighting and stuff, just making sure you're in a well-lit room and things like that are good as well. Yeah, for sure.

Steven Carter: Gretchen, I know you mentioned a lot about communication and you know how imperative that is going to be for our team moving forward. Any more thoughts on that?

Gretchen Elliot...: Yeah, I think Anne covered a lot of it. One thing that I think works really well for our teams is that we all have some experience working remote, which you touched on, but what will be the transition for us is when the team is fully distributed. I think the fact that the guidelines and protocols were set early will really help us. And I also just reiterate Anne's point that like we can't over communicate right now and not relying on email, like blacking somebody or say, "Hey, I really need to talk to you about this thing. Can we take like 10 minutes later today and talk about it over Zoom?" So just getting creative with how you might follow up with people. You don't want to be IMing them constantly all day, but also we might need to go a little bit further than email.

Gretchen Elliot...: I think one thing we talked about our team is going to either start doing tomorrow or look at doing is basically like a daily stand-up meeting. It'll be pretty much first thing in the morning, no more than a few minutes a person and we'll go over what we did kind of the past 24 to 48 hours, really what we've got on our priority list as we look ahead.

Gretchen Elliot...: And then I think most importantly if anybody is going to need something from a team member like if I will need Greg to have a video clip ready or we would need an update on a website ready, just highlighting like, "Hey guys, remember we've got these things that we need from our team members to help the overall projects get done," I think will be important to communicate as well.

Marc Herschberg...: I think too, if I could step in on that. One of the things that we've always, we focused really heavy on whether it's when we're working in the office together or remotely is just really understanding where our communication goes. So when it comes to anything that's very specific about like a client deliverable that we have, we try and always keep that communication connected to our project management system so that people can follow that thread there as needed versus having to go into a Slack channel, if it's even in a channel, versus a one-on-one conversation. So really trying to stay vigilant about understanding where you should be putting that communication is big. I'm also curious as do a Slack channel for every client that you have?

Gretchen Elliot...: Yeah, I'm glad you brought that up, Marc, because I was just going to say it's kind of funny. We found, I think, that works well for our team. We do track everything in our project management system, but we have found works well for our team. If you want feedback on an item, like a second set of eyes or you do want a discussion issue our team does tend to put that in the client Slack channel and that does work well for us. I do think some teams might have to figure out what's going to work well for them over the course of the next several weeks.

Marc Herschberg...: Right. Yeah. We've always said Slack is really about collaboration, the overall idea of the campaign or a larger portion. But if it's something that we're trying to connect to a very specific deliverable or task, it's got to stay in teamwork for us, which is our project management tool.

Steven Carter: Yeah. Yeah. I think even communication, organize is obviously important. I think another thing is just being at home is going to be distracting for people [inaudible 00:14:16], especially if it's something they're not used to. To your point, just going into a corner with your laptop isn't going to cut it. Having kind of your designated area that is as close to your office as what you're used to, I think it was really great.

Steven Carter: And prioritizing any important tasks that you would have, kind of making a game plan for the day, and almost like if you wouldn't do it in the office then don't do it at home, like laundry. You know what I mean? Set time for laundry in the late afternoons or in the early morning. While you're at work, try to work, you know what I mean? As much as possible. Again, we got reference to kids again, because I know that's one of the craziness for me in my house for the next few weeks. But yeah, yeah, it's good stuff from everybody. Any more thoughts from anybody before we go?

Marc Herschberg...: Yeah. I mean, Steven, I would actually push back a little bit on, on you with trying to figure out your day and keep them separated. It's not going to be that easy, right? Especially right now, people have... they're going to have kids at home that they're going to have to take care of, right? There's going to be distractions here and there. I think the biggest thing that any sort of remote policy in general is built off of is a framework of trust, and obviously some checks and balances with that. But being able to have an open conversation with somebody to ultimately get to, kind of what Anne talked about earlier in this conversation, was sometimes there's going to be a little bit of time where you're going to have to take a break during the workday where normally you wouldn't if you were at the office, and that's okay. Just make sure you make that time up somewhere, right?

Marc Herschberg...: We're all going to have to be flexible together, not just the employees but the employers, and let's trust each other and talk through it and make sure there's a little bit of that checks and balances. But if you got to stop for a little bit to feed the kids during lunch or if you've got to walk away for a second to move your laundry from the washer into the dryer, I don't think that's the biggest issue anybody's ever going to face. You just got to make sure that people understand what they can and can't do, and be a little flexible.

Steven Carter: Yeah, yeah. No, I agree. I think flexibility is key, especially for employers that have people that this is going to be a new thing for them completely.

Steven Carter: I saw on Facebook there's this girl I know and she works, she's got three kids at home so they're all home from school because all the schools are closed down and stuff, and her employer expects her to work. Her husband is it going to be working and so there's this crazy situation that is trying to figure out how everything is going to kind of fit within a typical eight-to-five work day, right?

Steven Carter: And so I would encourage empathy, right? If you don't already exude empathy for your employees, now is the best time to start doing that. Man, be compassionate. This is a crazy, crazy state of the world right now and we're all just doing the best we can, right? We still have clients, we still have tasks, we still have goals and objectives that we're having to do. But flexibility and empathy and compassion, I think, are going to go a long ways in the days ahead.

Marc Herschberg...: I really agree with that.

Anne Shenton: Yeah, I think that really, it goes back to what Marc was talking about was establishing that trust too. It's really important for employers to be empathetic right now to the needs of what flexibility employees need. But on that same token, it's also important for employees to realize that this is a very critical time for employers, especially small businesses. Especially folks like us who our clients are really counting on us right now to deliver important messaging around COVID-19 and sort of help them navigate their messaging around how they're going to handle this situation over the next few weeks. We need to be there for them. We need to be that assurance for them right now too. It's just a very important balance that we have to strike.

Anne Shenton: It's going to sound so corny, but we really just kind of have to come together as a team. And when I can't do work for a while, Steven is really stepping up and helping me with some of those loose ends. And then I'll be working really early in the morning to kind of help relieve some of his slack tomorrow and the days to come and things like that. It's just a time for everybody to really, again, definitely have that trust, but definitely come together as a team also and know that we're all trying to just get through this together.

Marc Herschberg...: Yeah. It's just all about finding the right balance.

Steven Carter: Yep, always.

Anne Shenton: For sure.

Steven Carter: Hey, well, thank you guys so much for your time away from work. But at work, as we talk about working from home, while we all work from home, try to work all the way through that. Got a little tongue-tied there. At least it wasn't another Revenue Rever, right? So, hey, thank you guys. Appreciate it. Yeah, hope you guys have a great afternoon and I'm sure we'll all be in touch later.