Initially, Lisa Sanders thought her staff would be working from home for a couple of weeks, maybe a month max. Now, that thinking has turned into several months, and the staff not returning to the office for the rest of this year.

Like many other executives running a big company, she’s relying on videoconferencing to not only make sure the work is getting done but also coming up with creative strategies to maintaining a bond with her colleagues while working remotely.

She said the results have been surprisingly positive, and productivity has increased. 

“Videoconferencing has been a lifesaver. We’ve been very fortunate to be able to thrive as a business,” said Sanders, the vice president of operations and chief of staff at Zededa, which designs and develops cloud-based enterprise software with offices in both San Jose, California, and Bangalore, India. “It’s been a very fluid situation, and we’re still learning to adapt.” 

Maintaining a healthy work environment while spending hours behind a computer screen and a video camera is a challenge many of us are dealing with. We’re being asked to complete tasks, develop new skills, and improve our communication along the way. Much of that is happening through videoconferencing. 

Home is the new office

According to a recent study, researchers compared employee behavior over two eight-week periods before and after shelter-in-place was mandated. Looking at email and meeting meta-data, the group calculated the workday lasted 48.5 minutes longer; the number of meetings increased about 13%, and people sent an average of 1.4 more emails per day to their colleagues.

And that’s quickly becoming our new normal, said Tom Griffiths, the CEO, and co-founder of Hone, a remote management training startup with offices in San Francisco and New York, 

“The way we used to work and do training was in the office and the classroom,” he said, but remote work trends have shifted now almost overnight. “We couldn’t have imagined that a few months ago.” 

Griffiths said Hone might have had a head start in the way companies are currently utilizing videoconferencing. Instead of using pre-recorded videos, the company’s professional coaches teach its customers with live sessions using video conferencing with classes between eight and 12 people. 

The goal is to get those taking their classes to retain their training and offering feedback quickly. Engagement is measured by seeing how many questions company employees ask during the training. “We keep mixing it up, so they stay engaged and are not too tempted to check their email or eat their lunch,” Griffiths said. 

Griffiths said his company has recently seen demand from companies to provide diversity and inclusion and bias training.

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Adjusting to the new normal

Overall, Griffiths said video conferencing could be effective if employers don’t overwhelm their workers with so many of them during the day. He encourages companies to set goals and targets with their employee. He said the outcome and results should be the bottom line, whether they show up on the screen either at 8 a.m. or noon, to foster “a level of trust that shows they can do the job.”

Sanders of Zededa agrees. While she can have up to eight video conference meetings a day because of her dual roles, she’s encouraged her staff to dress down for meetings and find time to block out time to focus on both work, themselves, and their families. 

She said it’s completely healthy now that while tasks are discussed during video conference meetings for interruptions to occur from family members asking questions, to pets jumping onscreen for attention.

“We immediately embraced it. We laugh more than anything at the challenges around it,” Sanders said. “It’s humanizing, makes us real people, and gives a glimpse into our co-workers’ lives, and I think it creates a stronger connection than just sitting in an office.”  

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Sanders also has one-on-one video conference meetings with her staff with the intent to “create an even deeper bond between myself and them,” even though they are working remotely. 

Relax and recharge

About three months ago, to combat work-from-home fatigue and possibly more extended hours, she and Zededa CEO Said Ouissal decided to shut down the offices by noon on Fridays.  

“We close down communications, and encourage our staff to spend time with their families, to relax and get recharged,” she said. “We also advise them not to attend a meeting just for the sake of attending them. If you don’t have to, politely decline it, ask colleagues to help fill you in later.” 

And, Sanders helps organize the company’s optional “5 p.m. happy hour” through videoconferencing. Many Zededa employees are musicians, so the occasion often morphs into a sing-along.

“They bring their guitars, and sometimes their kids join in, and it’s so wonderful to see their families get involved,” she said. “It’s been a great experience.”  

She’s already thinking about the company’s holiday party, which will take place via videoconferencing. 

“There’s going to be a lot of onscreen planning for that, too,” she said.

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