Today’s blog was written by Tiffany Wright, Director of Education at Microsoft Australia.
Most of us are now working from home to keep one another and our communities safe. These are difficult times – and working from home brings its own particular challenges.
I have two school-aged children and another in day-care, and all three are spending a much greater portion of each day with my husband – who is also working from home – and me. Many of you will also have your school aged or university student offspring with you, or perhaps your flatmates who are also working from home.
We all want to stay productive, we all want to stay safe – so I just wanted to share some tips that might help.
Care and share
Hopefully you all have access to somewhere at home where you can be comfortable while you work. We don’t all have dedicated home offices, but find a good supportive chair and a well-lit corner to call your home-office. Make it clear to family members and flatmates that for the next little while there are going to be some different rules in place and that when you are working they need to be patient and not interrupt you (I loved the Twitter pic I saw of someone wearing a sparkly tiara to signal they can’t be interrupted – I’m thinking of borrowing one from the kids’ dress up box). It’s also really important to find a way to switch off at the end of the day – set yourself goals each day and when you’ve achieved them have a little ritual to signal the working day is over – a walk around the garden, a cup of tea on the balcony, a call to an elderly neighbour.
One of the challenges many of us are experiencing is the extra load on communications networks. Australia’s communications companies are working hard to support the extra load on the networks – but there are still hiccups and we need to be mindful of that – particularly when we’re scheduling online meetings. If the kids are streaming movies and accessing an online uni lecture while you’re in an important teleconference the chances are the quality won’t be good for any of you. Schedule time for everyone in the house to have some dedicated time on the internet, and also schedule time when each person needs to find something else to do. Remember that if a colleague – or you – can’t participate in a Microsoft Teams meeting live, you can still access the recording later.
If you have your children with you at home all the time, consider creating a schedule at the start of each week. Tag-team so that you and your partner can help them with their online lessons, or go for a walk around the block, while the other gets some uninterrupted work time. This may mean foregoing usual work hours – but you might find your colleagues in a similar situation would be happy to schedule some meetings early in the morning or late in the evening, when bandwidth might be easier and interruptions less likely. You can use the status message setting in Teams to let colleagues know when you are and aren’t available – but stay patient with one another, especially with co-workers wrangling very young children who simply don’t understand that mum or dad can’t be with them right at that moment.
Connection is key
Have a look at the contract you have with your home internet service provider – you may be able to upgrade to a faster connection. Make sure your WiFi modem isn’t stuck behind a concrete pillar or a mirror that can reduce the signal strength. If you are reliant on network access via 4G/5G modems or hot-spotting through mobile phones you might find calls drop out or you can’t connect over the IP network but try out different locations in your house or apartment – sometimes moving a couple of metres can really improve things.
If you’re in a Teams meeting with several other people, consider making it an audio-only call – this frees up bandwidth so that if someone needs to share their screen they can. We’ve also found that turning off incoming video on a Teams conference call can immediately improve the experience if bandwidth’s still a bother.
Consider your client
We’re lucky that most of the work we do with one another at Microsoft uses our cloud. But if you’re working with a client who is also working from home stay mindful about their potential technology limitations. Perhaps you don’t really need to send them that enormous report or video file to download – and if you do, perhaps you could upload it overnight when demand on the network eases off? And don’t forget the power of a simple phone call – sometimes it’s easier and quicker to just pick up the phone, talk something through and then send a follow up email or note on Teams that confirms what you discussed.
Make sure that you continue to follow best practice with regard to cyber security and data protection. Think before you print confidential documents or download data to a home machine that may be shared by other family members. Remind family members who may be using their own machines to ensure they have up to date security software on their machines and to be on the lookout for suspicious emails – there’s been a spike in COVID-19 related phishing attacks.
We all appreciate how Teams Chat helps to keep our connection with one another real. We need to stay productive, we need to support our customers, and be ready to hit the ground running when the current crisis abates – but we also need to keep our Microsoft culture strong – so make time to connect with colleagues – especially those who live alone and may be feeling particularly isolated.
Feedback for the future
One opportunity we shouldn’t overlook is to learn from this. Keep notes on what works well when you’re working from home, what could be improved in the future, how we might be able to enhance our technology for the future.
Across Microsoft, across the world we have rapidly scaled up our technology, we are working with our clients, with critical industries to keep them operating through this difficult time. It’s fantastic to see how our people are stepping up to support customers and one another – stay strong, stay safe.