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Tips for working remotely during the COVID-19 outbreak and beyond

  • Dawn Milne
  • |
  • Mar 26, 2020
Tips for working remotely during the COVID-19 outbreak and beyond

Visit the official Western COVID-19 website for the latest campus updates.

The COVID-19 crisis has forced companies around the world to pivot to remote work, and it might even become the new normal. And while this requires some changes in how you operate and interact, you can still be productive and stay connected. Ivey faculty and staff share some tips for making the transition.

1. Derrick Neufeld’s tip – Practise your on-camera direct gaze

Derrick Neufeld, PhD ’97, is an associate professor of Information Systems and Entrepreneurship

The key to good video conference interactions is to mimic as much as possible what you would do face to face. Neufeld advises you to look directly into the camera lens rather than focusing all your attention on the images on your screen. Doing so will give you a direct gaze, which is important for establishing trust, particularly between people who do not already know each other.

“Looking into the camera lens feels a bit unnatural at first because we’re used to watching the other person’s face in order to gauge reactions — but it’s a critical skill to develop,” he said.

2. Tima Bansal’s tip – Make time for virtual meetings, but pace yourself

Tima Bansal is a professor of General Management, Sustainability and Strategy, and Director of Ivey’s Centre for Building Sustainable Value.

Although virtual meetings can bridge the gap when you can’t meet face to face, they take some getting used to. Bansal said they can sometimes be more draining than in-person meetings so she limits herself to no more than three hours of meetings in a row.

“Be willing/ready to meet with colleagues for even a few minutes. Not all interactions need to be turned into meetings that appear on your calendar,” she said.

3. J.D. Clarke’s tip – Meet virtually

J.D. Clarke, EMBA ’10, is Executive Director of Ivey’s Masters Programs Recruitment and Admissions

It’s normal for workers who are used to face-to-face interactions to feel isolated or forgotten about. That’s why Clarke recommends you use videoconferencing apps to conduct online video meetings. This way, you’ll see each other’s faces to reinforce social bonds and you can convey subverbal cues relevant to the discussion. 

Clarke also suggests you consider virtual coffee chats or virtual lunches with colleagues to allow you to provide personal updates and have the kind of small talk you might have in an in-person meeting.

“It is important when working remotely to connect the way you would in person,” he said.

4. Gerard Seijts’ tip – Be accountable for outcomes on virtual teams

Gerard Seijts is a professor of Organizational Behaviour and Executive Director of Ivey’s Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership.

A well-known psychological phenomenon is the bystander effect, where individuals are less likely to offer help or input when other people are present. Seijts said the bystander effect may become even more apparent in virtual teams because of the lack of face-to-face interaction. The result: less input, exploration of ideas, and debate.

He encourages virtual team members to step up and take ownership of the challenging issues the group faces.

“For learning to truly occur, people need to be accountable for outcomes,” he said.

5. Adele Huffman’s tip – Get organized and extend trust

Adele Huffman is Executive Director of Ivey’s Marketing and Communications department

Working remotely requires organization and trust. Priorities and routines need to be established. Huffman recommends team leaders clarify roles and goals so everyone knows what needs to get done, when, and by whom. Creating smaller work teams of subject matter experts can help to this end.

She said it’s also important to create a cadence of formal and informal connection points, and to establish a plan for creativity and brainstorming. And all team members should be encouraged to set up a dedicated space and a daily routine to help them focus and collaborate. But once you get organized, give people some space and assume the best.

“The most important aspect of remote work is to give trust and consciously work to build it with others. This is going to be a trying time for many, and an adjustment period – assume the best intentions of your team and colleagues,” she said.