Corona drives the Germans into the home office. It goes so far that even our Chancellor now manages the country from the home office. Homeoffice – the supposed nightmare of many managers – “they don’t work anything”, “they sit in the deckchair”, “how am I supposed to know what they are doing”,… These are sentences that I hear more often as soon as you ask for home office in the company.

The cliché: Home office = holiday

I have been working regularly in the home office for 3 years and have already completely adapted my working method to the work between home office and the office of my company. But home office is something new for many companies. If you look at a study of a master’s degree from me, you realize that many people are not allowed to do a home office at all. With almost 40 employees interviewed from the knowledge work, it was almost 1/3 not possible to make home office.

homeoffice study
Study as part of my research with Paul Niebler

My experience is fundamental that employees who hardly work anything in the office do little at home. On the other hand, hard-working employees are just as diligent at home. A recent study, which examined nearly 30,000 employees, found that home office employees work an average of 4 hours of overtime per week than employees in the office. So the fear that employees are doing nothing only seems to exist in the minds of managers?

In this text, I want to make tips for executives on how to organize, equip, and control teams from the home office.

Communication and technology

It is important that you realize that virtual work cannot work the way you do in the office. The cooperation does not run via hallway radio, but via software tools.

Reading Tip: Virtual Teams Tools

It is important that you have a meaningful communication infrastructure. This is for me:

  • Task management tool such as Kanboard or Jira
  • Chat system like RocketChat
  • Mail servers such as Open Xchange
  • Staff such as Joplin or OneNote
  • File sharing like ownCloud
  • Edit common documents such as OnlyOffice or OpenOffice
  • Meeting options such as Kopano or Zoom
Collaborate on documentation from an ownCloud

Reading Tip: OpenSource Stack for Remote Work

These technologies are your first port of call. For example, set a task in Jira and then discuss it with colleagues in Rocketchat. Create a document in ownCloud and edit it with colleagues at a video conference via screen sharing.

The success factor is to use the right technologies together and not sink into a huge mail ping pong. My tip: Don’t send attachments by mail anymore, just link to the files in the cloud e.g. sharing with ownCloud. This prevents many versions of a document from being available.

Meeting formats

Especially in times of distance, it is important to keep the virtual closeness to the team. My experience shows that virtual teams require a lot of proactive communication.

project boundaries
Remember it is better to proactively call or write to people. If you don’t hear anything, it doesn’t mean everything is OK!

In order to ensure the motivation of the team, I have established the following formats in addition to the typical project telcos:

  • Teamweekly: Here we talk about general news of the company and private topics. It is a weekly private regular table in the virtual room so that the team can socialize in a relaxed atmosphere. It goes 1h.
  • Team talk hour: Every week 30 min each team leader of a team is ready so that you can contact them with feedback and process requests.
  • 1 on 1: with each employee I have a 20 min weekly. Conversation about his well-being
  • My consultation:As head of department, I am available to every MA.

Excursion: Tips for the conference call

A TelCo is not easy and you should keep a few things in mind. In any case, I do not recommend using the micro of the laptop, but a headset such as the Apple headphones. The laptop’s microphone almost always makes you sound like a tin can even on expensive notebooks, as it takes the surroundings with you. Of course, you can also make it absolutely perfect and buy a capacitor microphone for 30-60 euros like me. They then have a clear sound almost like on the radio.

USB condenser microphone for clear sound – almost like radio presenter

Furthermore, it is important to remember the following: Do not forget “muten” (silence). You can hear the typing of keyboard, flow of water, toilet flush and coffee maker via the microphone. Watch out! Many professionals have already been very embarrassed here. Continue to call telco participants by name, you often don’t know exactly who you mean in the TelCo and pay attention to video conferencing: you can see what’s in the background. Even life partners should not walk through the background. Here, too, some embarrassing situations have arisen and please: Always wear trousers!

Since April 2020 I no longer use the USB microphone but a capacitor microphone with USB audio interface. While the USB microphone has a very good sound, switch to studio quality now. Thanks to the audio interface, the sound is recorded almost like a mixing console and the significantly better condenser microphone provides a clearer sound. By comparison, the set costs about 200 euros and the USB model only 40-60 euros.

My audio set for a studio quality in the video and conference call

A great alternative, which I only use for making calls, are Bluetooth headsets. I use the Jabra Evolve 75, which has an active noise reduction also for the caller. It is designed for very noisy open-plan offices. You can also walk around the apartment or tap on the keyboard without anyone noticing. It’s great that you can connect the headset to 2 devices (smartphone and PC) and can easily perform telcos and conferences.

The Jabra headset with mount has a battery life of almost 1 week and reduces annoying noise for the caller

Team control

This is not how it works virtually: to assign tasks to the employees face to face.

To work with these tools, you must first cleanly divide the existing work into small tasks. You must prepare the existing work so that it can be processed using methods such as Scrum and Kanban.

Think of it as eating a cake at a party. Nobody will want to bite directly into the cake because the pieces are too big. So you have to cut it into small pieces. Afterwards, guests can take small pieces and eat. As soon as they are hungry again, they eat the next piece. Eventually the cake is gone. The last pieces that no one wants, then actively distribute at the party.

This image has an empty Alt attribute. The file name is remote-work-min-1024x725.png
Virtual work is like distributing a cake

In business, this means that you divide ideas into projects that consist of different tasks. These are clearly described and can be processed by the employees. You can now visualize this using methods such as Scrum and Kanban. As a leader, you always see on one board:

  • What are the remaining tasks?
  • What do my employees do?
  • Where are we blocked?
  • What’s done?
This image has an empty Alt attribute. The file name is work-2-min-1024x422.png
Kanban board with different columns

Above, you can see an example. You can see on the board that there are currently three tasks free and your 4 employees are currently actively working on task 4-7. As a manager, you could take care of the decrease of tasks 10-12 or the blockers 8-9. As you can see, work is being done and no one is resting. With a short daily conference call, you should discuss the board with the team.

Combination of work with a time recording tool such as Kimai

Conclusion

The work from the home office is different from the office. It’s important not to approach it as if you were in the office. This takes a little rethinking in your head and it takes 6-12 months to get used to it. Furthermore, a technical equipment is necessary, which must function perfectly and which also represents the central point of contact. It is difficult and demands, especially at the beginning, increased self-organization but it is more than necessary, especially in times of Corona.

Image source: https://pixabay.com/de/photos/mikrofon-tastatur-tablet-podcast-2469297/

Gender note: I have used the male form for easier reading. If no explicit distinction is made, women, miscellaneous and men as well as people of any origin and nation are always meant. Read more.

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I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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