EU National Institutes for Culture - EUNIC

Work during #StayAtHome

As a team of seven based in Brussels, we have been working from home for ten days now. What are our five major takeaways? We’ll also talk about three tools that allow us to work more efficiently - and our team members give pro tips on how to cope during the corona epidemic.

1. Talk about the challenge of the change and give ourselves rules

We did a first test day of working from home altogether before it became mandatory. This allowed colleagues to ease into the new situation and grab some things from the office when it was still accessible. We quickly set up a reflecting meeting and designed the following rules: Meet once in the morning at 10 am as an entire team, and again at 3 pm. The morning meeting is more about planning the day and week, the afternoon one to give updates and get a bit more chatty. These social moments proved helpful. We actively check out if we go on a break or will be unavailable due to a meeting or errand run. Our work hours are roughly the same. We try to replicate our social behaviour with each other from how we did it before in the office. We had an external input with Joey-David Ovey who informed us about some learnings from team building science which proved very useful. (We recorded a webinar with his insights which is available here.)

2. As a team we stay in touch and take care of each other

With ease, the team arranged to meet in pairs or other sub-teams according to tasks. If anyone needs another team member’s input or help, we reach out to each other. To our benefit, we knew each other well before we were put into this current situation. Our new colleague had his first day in the job on the first day of the lockdown. Only three colleagues have met him in person and now we put effort into integrating Giacomo as best as we can.

Learning: It’s important to be open to communication throughout the day and about your availability to your colleagues when they need you. A WhatsApp message usually does the trick to ask a question quickest. It’s not quite the same as popping your head around the screen as you are used to, but since we are all in the same state of mind, it works. Always keep in mind to check if your colleague is available for a chat if your query requires some discussion. He or she might be in the middle of the focus zone – and that’s OK! ---- Robert, Project Manager European ‘Houses’ of Culture

3. We are communicating more than ever before

One of the worries of our director was how to continue to work efficiently without getting lost in our tasks while being isolated at home. The meetings twice a day are a good way to check in on everybody, ask how everyone’s doing, making sure that everyone is heard and has enough time to share their input, needs and questions. She also fixed one-on-one meetings with every single team member and meetings with sub-teams. It definitely feels like more time and energy is going into building contact and exchanging with each other than when we were all working in the same office.

Learning: Regular check-ins with each other are good for morale building and overall for the team's mental health. Isolating is lonely especially if living alone and as a largely international team who are not living in our home countries. ---- Stefanie, Administration Manager‍

4. Know your technology and use it

Luckily, as a team that travels a lot and serves as a focal point for a network with 36 members all over Europe and with 120 locations worldwide, we are used to working remotely. We have also set up our technical equipment in such a way that anyone could work from anywhere already. Not just having notebooks and mobile devices, but also using cloud services and other tools. We are now testing new services to improve our practice. (See below for technology we use.)

5. Take it easy

An important takeaway from our team session with Joey was to learn to accept distractions, and focus on personal physical and mental health. Our chairs at home are not laid out to sit on them for hours, and notebook screens are small and make stiff necks. Move your body regularly. Go for a walk or a run before sunset. Trying to organise oneself and get stuff done might feel different at home without the buzz of the office and a public life well in place, and with all the stress of following the news and checking in on family members. But it’s totally doable and if it gets too tough: Take it easy.

PRO TIP: Keep it varied. Staying in the same place (be it physical or digital) can bore you out. Don’t open the seventh Zoom meeting of the day, but whip out the old phone and call instead. To make things more interesting even, change location! Move to your couch and escape from the imminent edge of discomfort caused by your home office chair, which might not carry away the 100% approval rate by your national Law on Working Conditions ---- Robert, Project Manager European ‘Houses’ of Culture

Our top 3 tools for teams working at home during #StayAtHome:

  1. Video conferencing on Zoom. More sensitive to sound than other platforms, it sophisticatedly displays the image of the person speaking, drawing your attention as you would to when someone is speaking in a room. Easy to use and install – users can download the app or use it in a web browser. Prices vary from a free package up to tailored packages depending on the needs and size of an organisation. Good, accessible customer service teams willing to have a chat to discuss your needs and will guide on the best package for you. A free and easy to set up alternative for smaller meetings is Google Hangouts Meet (thanks to Kunstenpunt for this tip).
  2. Dropbox and Google Drive: We are sharing all our files within the team via Dropbox, and with the wider network mostly via Google Drive. Downside: Public bodies with strict security regulations, such as ministries, usually don’t have access to such services. But for us as a team working with external consultants, it works well. Google Docs lets you collaboratively work on texts - simultaneously. What would be a few of us huddling over a printed version of the next seminar programme or new strategy, is now an open Google document next to the Zoom interface ...
  3. WhatsApp – a team whatsapp group can help dispersed teams connect quickly and allows for quick responses. For business or for sharing the odd meme, WhatsApp is great for creating a community in an informal way. To ensure it is not overused or becomes a nuisance outside of office hours, colleagues can be encouraged to use it during work hours only.

We haven’t used these ones but are planning to give them a go soon:

  • House party app is becoming extremely popular during the coronavirus in connecting friends for socialising online. The face-to-face social network has a focus on video calls, games and fun quizzes to help bring people together online. Whilst the likes of Google Duo and Discord allow people to connect on video chat, Houseparty goes a step forward and offers games and fun activities, making it somewhat more appealing for groups of friends and families who are becoming tired with just sitting in front of a webcam. Can be used in a work environment too – the video chat works well for groups and from your mobile, is free to install and perhaps the games on offer could be used as a meeting ice breaker to warm up colleagues who haven’t met before.
  • Slack – a collaborative platform offering an alternative to formal email and the way we work as teams. Slack is part of a wave of technologies trying to change the way we communicate, enabling continuous, fluid, more natural conversations to replace restrictive and time-consuming emails. The numbers of users have increased by 30 per cent during the corona pandemic.
  • Slack teamed with Trello, a tool which helps managers oversee teams, can be a powerful duo to sustain productivity. On Trello tasks are visualised as “cards”, which can be grouped into “boards” and assigned to individuals, so you can see at a glance who’s working on what. Cards can be updated with comments, links, attachments and other relevant information and automatic notifications ensure you’re kept in the loop.

More tips
How to sustain a 60+ international group during a three-day intensive online meeting? Flemish art organisation Kunstenpunt's Dirk de Wit on how the RESHAPE team turned what was planned as physical conference in Zagreb into a remote working session. The RESHAPE project looks at new organisational models for a fair, sustainable, solidary and geographical balanced arts ecosystem in Europe and the Mediterranean region. EUNIC Global supports the project actively. A deeper look into the facilitation of one of the sessions is provided by Joris Janssen.

  • Covid-19

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