A sudden surge in the volume of work calls in a typical workday may lead to less productivity and more stress if not managed properly. Let’s make sure you do it right.
Remote work is peaking internationally due to COVID-19 restrictions and calls for social distancing. While it is a great privilege to maintain the company’s operations and revenue during these uneasy times, teams across the world are facing new challenges of a fully remote workflow. One of the most stressful elements of this new environment is the never-ending flow of calls and video conferences. While some people are used to calls in their office routine, for many of us it is becoming increasingly unbearable. Without clear management and a little effort from each team member, unregulated work calls pile up and easily spiral into a time-consuming, stressful, and pointless beast. So how can you prevent that spiraling?
Tame the chaos — plan ahead
Now that your daily, weekly, and monthly meetings have transformed into calls, it’s important to plan ahead of any other type of calls. Ideally, have all your meetings planned one week ahead and organize them in a calendar. Of course, urgent situations will inevitably arise and plans will change, but there are two things you can do about it: prepare yourself mentally that these sudden emergencies can happen and try to pack even these calls into blocks to clean up some time for actual working. You cannot predict everything, but planning is a good way to take at least some control over the unstoppable chaos of calls.
Invite only essential team members for the calls.
When deciding whom to invite for the call, the organizer always tries to gather as many people as possible so that nobody is missing out on anything. It may seem like a good approach at first, but it gradually leads to everyone in your company accumulating an enormous pile of scheduled calls, many of which are not even essential for them. As a result, people are in an exhausting, stressful hurry between the calls every day with almost no time for other work. To avoid that, set up a simple rule: for each meeting invite only those team members who are absolutely essential to the topic of the call. Communicate this rule clearly so that no one is hurt and share the call’s minutes with other involved parties after each important meeting.
Set up strict time limits
Often a scheduled 30-minute call ends up taking an hour or even more, ruining each participant’s schedule and annoying pretty much everybody. The solution here is simple in theory but much more challenging in practice: introduce strict time limits. Communicate them clearly to everybody and explain that this is a measure of collective comfort, not a rude interruption of individual expression. End every meeting no more than 5 minutes late no matter what and you will see that meetings can become much more laconic and to the point.
Keep a glass of water nearby, always
Whether you’re a central speaker or a quiet listener, it’s always a good idea to have a glass of water beside you during the call. Seriously, people, keep yourself hydrated!
Don’t let large meetings slip into specifics
A lot of calls involve just 2-5 people discussing specific work details, but there are occasional calls that unite various teams involving 10, 20, even 50 people. Whether you want to make an announcement or just have a brief hi-how-are-you type of conversation, make sure these meetings remain to the point. It might be frustrating for the engineer’s team to sit through discussion with the marketing team about the newly established strategy. Try to reserve internal talks to the internal meetings only and keep the big calls equally engaging for everyone.
Add a little touch of creativity to lighten up the mood
Under the barrage of business calls, it is easy to forget that work should be fun, too. Try to blend in some creativity into your calls. Get a cat every other call come over and sit on your lap or put on a funny background picture for your video conference in Zoom. These small gestures humanize the new reality of everyday remote work and relief you and your teammates from stress.
Be open to adjusting your approach to calls
Truth is, nobody knows for sure what is the single correct way to handle remote workflow. This is a new environment for many of us and there are no definitive rules to how calls should be done. That means you should always be ready to adjust your routine as you try things out. For example, if you feel like having a few calls in a row is tiresome, try spreading them across your workday and observe how it affects your productivity and well-being. The only correct way to approach remote work is to accept that it is the new reality we are going to be living in for some time and be open-minded in addressing the challenges of this time.