Getting creative and collaborative from home

At Northbound, we are beginning our 4th week of working from home. We know we’re not alone, as millions of other office workers around the globe transition. We feel very lucky to still have our jobs, and our wonderful clients to work with - over Microsoft Teams of course - when so many others have already lost their jobs and their income due to this outbreak.

We are all getting a crash course in working from home, perhaps one that will create better practices for the future. This shift to working remotely poses unique challenges to teams who typically work in a highly social, collaborative environment. At Northbound – as within many other teams – most of our day is filled with meetings during which we collaborate and brainstorm together. We thrive in an environment where ideas can easily flow from one person to another, and many of our best ideas are the product of collective thinking in front of a whiteboard. So how do we maintain some semblance of this collaborative environment while working from home? How do we keep our creative juices flowing when we feel isolated and uninspired?

We don’t have all the answers to these questions. We are all doing our best to learn as we go, all while navigating a global crisis that can be distracting if not downright scary. That being said, we wanted to share some strategies our team has implemented to preserve personal connections, maintain collaboration, and foster creativity while working from home. We hope you find some of our tips helpful as you navigate your own work from home journey.

More Than Ever, Communication is Key

This one is pretty obvious. It is easy to communicate with each other when we spend 8 hours a day in the office together. Casual, passing conversations between meetings are the norm, and are often the most efficient way to check in with each other.

In order to simulate these casual check-ins while working from home, our team has implemented a practice of sending a Slack message to the full team channel each morning, letting everyone know what projects we will be working on, and if there are any time blocks that we will be unavailable. We also send morning Slack messages to our smaller teams, to lay out what deadlines and deliverables are coming up, and to delegate tasks so nothing falls through the cracks. This simple practice gets everyone started on the right foot.

Without sitting next to one another during meetings, we have to put in extra work to ensure everyone is on the same page. When collaborating with teammates on a conference call, be prepared to repeat yourself and ask for clarification from teammates. In larger virtual meetings, don’t be afraid to call on people to make sure everyone’s voice is heard. If you feel like you’re over-communicating, you probably doing just enough.

Block out Focus Time

When we are in the office, we can clearly see when our team members are in a meeting, or if they are in heads-down focus mode. This is harder to do when working remotely. That’s why it is so important to block out worktime on your calendar. This way, you won’t be distracted by Slack and email notifications when you’re trying to focus, and your team won’t wonder why you’ve suddenly gone silent.

Video, On!

Think about how much time you spend face to face with your coworkers in the office. Sometimes it feels like we interact with members of our team more than our family members! Face time is important, especially when working collaboratively. Many of our social cues are derived from visual inputs.

We know that working from home rewards the luxury of not having to put on "real clothes." And having to turn on your video when on a conference call might get in the way of you living your best life in your favorite fuzzy bathrobe. But…we are here to tell you that seeing your teammates faces on video conference calls not only delivers much needed social connection during a time of isolation, but it also promotes higher levels of attentiveness and collaboration during meetings. But beware - before you turn your video on, make sure your background is something you're comfortable with your coworkers seeing.

Get Creative with Virtual Collaboration

At Northbound, we frequently conduct 4-5 hour long collaborative workshops with our clients. These workshops largely consist of creative exercises that require a whiteboard, sticky notes, and interpersonal discussion. One of our biggest challenges has been finding a way to facilitate these workshops virtually.

Over the past few weeks we’ve come up with some creative ways to simulate the experience of collaborating in person. In replacement of a whiteboard, try giving all meeting attendees access to a Google Doc that can be edited simultaneously while on a conference call. If there are specific questions or prompts you are hoping to answer, send them to attendees ahead of time, and ask people to bring some thoughts to the session so you aren’t starting from scratch.

When the session is over an hour long, make sure to include a combination of open-ended discussion questions, and more structured activities to keep it fresh. And, as with any meeting, sticking to an agenda is key. This is especially important when people aren’t in a room together and are more likely to get distracted. We will be sharing a blog that dives deeper into best practices for virtual workshop facilitation in a couple of weeks – stay tuned!

Hit the Road

When working in the office, we are forced to get up from our desks to walk to meetings or to grab lunch. That is not the case when working from home, but it doesn’t mean we can’t get outside for some fresh air (while keeping a 6 feet distance from others, of course). Exercising for at least 20 minutes a day boosts immune function – which is something we can all benefit from right now. And, a change of scenery combined with physical movement can bring you a fresh new perspective, or even that lightbulb moment you’ve been waiting for all day.

If you don’t have free time between conference calls, try taking your work outside with you. Sam, our co-founder and chief brand officer, has been taking walking phone calls throughout the day, and is happy to report that it leaves her feeling more clearheaded and energized when she comes back to her desk. It helps that the Seattle weather decided to cut us a break from the rain.

Check in with Each Other About Life

Last but certainly not least – don’t forget to check in with your teammates about life. This is a stressful time for everyone, and a quick text or video chat can lift our spirits and help us feel connected to one another. Even in normal times, a positive team culture is built on a foundation of trust and understanding. This is even more true today. Maintaining personal connections with each other during this time of fear and uncertainty isn’t just a means to stay creative and productive – it is about being there for each other when we need it most. We’ve set up weekly happy hour calls, to share WFH stories and celebrate life.

Taking care of ourselves and each other is of the utmost importance during this time. If we can keep ourselves healthy, we are doing our part to keep our communities healthy. We can’t wait to get back to the office, and to see each other and our clients again. But until then, we'll be doing our best working from home. Do you have any work from home tips or tricks you'd like to share? Drop them in the comments section!

Stay safe, everyone. And please wash your hands 😊



Piper Donaghu | Strategist

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