Working remotely has tested every company's adaptation skills, and DMC is proud of how well we transitioned to working from home (WFH). Our productivity is consistent and we’ve continued to offer expert solutions to our clients across the country. Now that the dust has settled and working remotely is the new normal, we noticed some areas of WFH to improve. DMC management gathered feedback from our employees on how they were feeling about their WFH setup. After some analysis, we put together DMC's top tips for improving your work from home experience.
1. Balance Flexibility and Availability
We received lots of great feedback from our employees. We learned that employees really appreciate the flexibility that working from home allows them. Whether it’s going for a run to clear your mind or cooking a good meal in the middle of the day, DMC employees have a lot of freedom. However, with this freedom comes a few drawbacks. We received feedback that it's difficult to complete projects when teammates are unexpectedly offline in the middle of the day.
The flexibility of WFH has been great for improving focus and efficiency but is frustrating when team members are unexpectedly unreachable. So, what can do we do? Communicate. Since all communication is currently digital, it’s more important than ever to maintain clear channels of communication within a team. This means that not only should your team know if you’ll be unavailable, but when and for how long. The better we can communicate, the more flexible we can be as a company.
Short-term unavailability: update your calendar and Slack status
To quote our wonderful DMC Houston Director, Jason Mayes, "If you're going for a run, heading to the store, or feeding your cows, make sure your teams know that you’re going to be unavailable and when you’ll be back." With virtual learning and other unexpected distractions happening around you at home, communicating to your team is essential. If you're going to take some time off during the day and work in the evening, make sure your team is aware by updating your calendar availability and Slack status DMC wants to continue to allow our employees the freedom to take care of everyday life and balance their workload, but we want to make sure everyone has access to necessary information in a timely manner.
Long-term unavailability: communicate early
Occasionally, things come up that take you away from your home office for longer periods of time—our employees who are parents or have pets can attest to this. Our policy is that if you're going to be unavailable for longer than an hour or two, give your team a heads-up sooner rather than later so they can set their expectations accordingly. Nothing is worse than being ready to hand off a project, only to discover that your coworker decided to take a vacation day.
Traveling with fluctuating availability: double-check and communicate expectations
DMC has moved to a “suggested WFH” status until well into 2021. This means that some employees have migrated to better climates or left the city for a more rural setting. The WFH policy was well received by our employees, but it does require extra preparation to ensure we fully support our local customers. Our solution is that if someone plans to work from a different location than their local area, they must first discuss this with their Direct Personnel Manager. They must ensure that it will not have a negative impact on their coworkers or clients, and they may be required to return to their office if necessary. This way, all parties are aware from the outset and nobody is blindsided.
2. Be Aware and Respectful of Time Zones
DMC has offices in four different time zones. Our core business hours are 9 am - 5 pm, but with people working on projects across different time zones, issues sometimes occur. We do our best to staff regionally, but occasionally we need a Seattle engineer's expertise on a Boston project. We're very fortunate to have the breadth of expertise to do so; but there are sometimes complications with working in different time zones. Our advice to others facing this issue is to work with your project team to establish core project hours. This allows us to respect our team's time and maintain consistent project timelines.
3. Schedule Collaboration and Personal Focus Hours
We're a company that thrives on sharing information—it's even one of our Core Values. Every employee can reach out when they have questions and usually receive a response within a few minutes. However, learning how to balance this collaboration time and your personal focus time is not easy.
What happens when you really need to focus on one task and can’t be distracted? In the office, it’s easy to sit in a quiet room for personal focus time. Working from home, however, is not quite as simple. How can we be both responsive and available to collaborate while still finding time to get our own work done?
Block off time to focus on individual work
Imagine having 30-60 minutes to dive into a project without any distractions or interruptions of notifications, phones ringing, and emails flying in. For many people, this sounds like a fantasy. Our senior engineers and internal operation teams are constantly advising other team members. For many of them, it can feel like there’s never time enough to get anything done. To help with this, we encourage scheduling personal focus time. Snooze the notifications, close your email, and set your Slack status as away for a little while—just make sure your team knows. This way, you can get your own tasks done while still staying in the loop. We're hoping to make this a regular practice among all of our employees.
Respect each other's time
As stated earlier, one of DMC’s Core Values is Share Information. This means that not only are we completely transparent with our customers, but with each other. Therefore, everyone at DMC can see each other’s calendars. When scheduling a meeting, we ask our employees to check the other person’s calendar and if they have conflicting personal focus time. If the meeting must be during that time, reach out beforehand, explain why, and figure out a compromise together.
We never want an onsite engineer to be stranded without support. It's important for each team to set up their own hierarchy of communication methods so when someone really needs something, their team is always there to help.
4. Choose Your Communication Medium Based on the Situation
DMC is trying to avoid becoming an ASAP culture—having a constant barrage of notifications and the expectation that all of them are urgent is exhausting and stressful. Immediate responses should not be the expectation for all communication methods. We encourage all employees to be mindful of how they communicate. But what are some good methods for efficient, respectful communication?
Create email groups and special Slack channels for crowdsourcing
When we were in the office and someone needed to ship a package, they could stop by the lobby to talk to the admin team. Whichever admin had availability would stop what they were doing to help. For any questions related to accounting, even if you weren't sure who the best person to talk to was, you could simply walk over and ask. When the right person answered your question, you would go back to your desk with the answer and a baked good. Oh, how I miss office cookies and brownies.
Now that we're all at our own homes, it’s a lot more difficult to ask the "whole team." Sometimes, you direct messages to the wrong person and they are directed somewhere else. Other times, you don’t even know whom to ask in the first place. Our solution? DMC created group email accounts and Slack channels like #ask-Chicago-admin and #ask-accounting—creating an almost virtual “quad.” Now, your question gets in front of the right people and lets the team answer when they are available, instead of playing a game of cat and mouse. Unfortunately, we haven't figured out how to get virtual brownies to taste as good as office brownies.
Establish your team's communication medium
There should never be a question of where or how to communicate with your team. At DMC, our Tech Leads and Project Managers set expectations of where project communication should take place. They decide whether to use Slack, Teams, email, or other tools to talk with their team and keep it consistent throughout the duration of the project. If issues arise and a team needs to switch platforms, make sure all team members are aware. It's important to remember that employees can only ask questions and get answers if they know where to go, so maintaining this communication is very important.
Clearly communicate expectations
Ambiguity can kill productivity. Without clear expectations, things can be misinterpreted and cause confusion. Be clear about what you’re asking, whom you’re asking, and when you need a response. This way, everyone knows what’s expected and when it needs to be completed.
5. Take Care of Yourself
When we first transitioned to working from home, we had no idea how long we would be out of the office. Employees could bring home any necessities from the office like monitors, comfortable desk chairs, etc., but there was still a feeling of making the home office just "good enough" to get the day-to-day work done. Now that we know we're going to be working from home for a while, it's become DMC’s priority to make the home-work environment as comfortable and productive as possible.
DMC found that giving monitors and keyboards to each employee was not very helpful if the employee didn’t have a proper desk to put them on. Therefore, DMC recently announced that every employee would be allotted funds to invest in their home office. Some employees purchased noise-canceling headphones and boom mics to block out distractions and increase communication quality. Others decided to replace empty shoeboxes with actual laptop stands. One employee needed to move their "office" into their child's bedroom, so they purchased a lofted bed for their son so they could set up the workspace underneath. Whatever it is, DMC is happy to help create a more productive space.
Unplug from work
Working from home, it’s sometimes difficult to differentiate your work time from your leisure time. It can feel like you can never get your mind off work because your office is only 30 steps away from your kitchen. DMC makes a point to create a culture that says unplugging from work is okay and necessary. Turning off your notifications outside core working hours is acceptable. Occasionally, special cases arise so urgent cell phone calls are sometimes necessary. If it isn't urgent, however, use other methods of communication when outside of core hours so they can get back to you when they are available.
We also learned that some people decided they're comfortable working longer or earlier hours than others—it's all up to personal preferences. To accommodate, we recommend setting delays on emails and messages so they are received during working hours. Personal and family time is incredibly important to one’s well-being, so we are working to help our employees to be happy and healthy.
6. Stay in Touch Outside of Project Work!
As Jason Mayes of DMC Houston said in our last Monthly Company Meeting, "The people have always been and always will be the best part of DMC." Pre-pandemic, DMC's company culture won awards for being so strong, fun, and close-knit. We had daily ping pong games, weekly happy hours in our fully stocked DMC kitchen, and we often went out to dinner or saw a show together. Transitioning to only virtual interactions seemed like it would be hard to stay close, but we think we’ve done a pretty good job at keeping DMC culture as strong as ever.
Turn on your cameras
It’s so much nicer to see someone's video feed than a profile picture of them at their cousin's wedding last year. It might seem a bit invasive to allow your coworkers into your home via webcam, but Zoom and Teams have extensive virtual background settings. Personally, I like Teams’ setting to blur the background, but you can also make it look like you’re relaxing on the beach. So, let's all agree to brush our hair, put on a clean shirt, and keep the sweatpants.
Small talk is important
While working from home, it’s a lot more difficult to have “watercooler chats.” Encouraging a little small talk at the beginning or end of meetings can make a big difference in team morale. Some of our teams have even incorporated these moments into their meeting agendas. "Controversial Question of the Week" is a segment for a few teams where they absurdly debate various topics. If you’re curious, "What is your favorite pork?" and "Would you rather fight a duck-sized bear or a bear-sized duck?" have been some of the controversial topics so far.
Check in with your coworkers
It gets lonely working from home. Some people have roommates or families to spend time with, but others are on their own. Feeling like you're on an island by yourself is never healthy, so we make a point to encourage our employees to reach out to other team members or HR if they are feeling disconnected. Additionally, DMC is reinvigorating our mentor program so people feel comfortable scheduling a 30-minute lunch or coffee with someone outside of their team. Making a connection and getting another's perspective on something can make all the difference in your day.
Plan virtual activities and events
DMC has a monthly budget called an Activity Fund, which is set aside specifically for team-bonding. When we moved to WFH, our events may have changed format, but they are certainly just as fun. We have additional tips for planning virtual events like pumpkin carving or even secret gift-giving. These events don’t need to be complicated; you could even offer to fund some takeout and play virtual games together. Having something to look forward to is the best medicine to cure a monotonous workweek.
Nobody knows what the future holds, but we at DMC are focused on providing effective and productive work environments for our employees—no matter the circumstances. This blog is full of our most effective, practical tips for working from home. Our last piece of advice? There's nothing like adorable animals to boost your mood. Please enjoy some of our DMC pets and we hope you have a great and productive day!
Learn more about DMC's Culture.