As the lines between work and home blur during a worldwide pandemic, the wider professional world has had to grapple with a wide range of issues that accompany that transition. But working from home has always been the norm for our teams—for years, we have said that companies should use remote work from the start. We spoke to team members from Superior Medical Experts (SME), our partners in knowledge dissemination, who have been remotely working since 2015, to share their tips for maximizing productivity and team motivation.
Having a structured timetable and good working habits is key, says Dr. Ashley Mooneyham, Director of Grants. “Once you develop a habit, you don’t even think about being in work mode,” she says. Dr. Amber Davis, Manager of Medical Writing, agrees. Dr. Davis follows a precise routine to kickstarting her workday that includes getting fully dressed, just like one would before stepping out to work, and creating a structured workspace. “It sets your mind to be able to focus,” she says. For Dr. Jillienne Touchette, Chief Executive Officer of SME, this routine includes having her mornings to herself with a good breakfast and taking a daily walk. “It helps me to get out of the office and clear my mind periodically so that I can regain focus,” she says. Minimizing distractions is also critical for her. For instance, she says she does not have a television on the level of her home where she works and doesn’t go near it until the workday ends.
While highly motivated leaders can plan and work through the day, the aspect of virtually managing entire teams and projects across various time zones is a fusion of many other skills and managerial styles. Dr. Davis emphasizes on the need to sound positive on emails to establish a good rapport with colleagues and to “overcommunicate” for clarity. “When I write a project scope, I sketch out all the information involved, way above and beyond what is required for a regular workspace, but you have to provide that extra communication because there are going to be gaps, no matter how hard you try,” she says. “It’s important to know what’s going on in an employee’s life before scheduling projects.”
Dr. Mooneyham says it is important to check in often, but also trust employees to be independent. Efficient management to her is all about letting the employees handle finer details, but being able to look one level up with the end goals in sight. She loves her project checklists, which enable her to view details without micromanaging, which she says is important to avoid in a growing team. Her other tip is to make small, bite-sized goals for each big goal. “It’s way more effective to have small, intentional, effective goals to move things forward smoothly and avoid last-minute work for both client and employee. Take care of long lead items first, though they are not the most tempting to do, so that our efforts are maximized,” she says.
The three leaders also have some favorite organizational tools. Dr. Touchette prefers keeping track of projects with weekly check ins and a weekly review of the company’s time-management tool ClickUp. She mentions that the lack of social interaction can make people feel really isolated, and talking on phone or video conferences can help. “Sometimes people don’t want to email you about minor issues, but once you get on the phone, they bring it up,” she says. Her favorite app is Google Keep, which shows her to-do list right next to her email and syncs between her computer and phone. She also keeps track of project statuses with Excel spreadsheets. Dr. Mooneyham prefers regular handwritten planners that are color-coded for tasks and a centralized shared Google calendar for her team to see upcoming internal deadlines. Crossing things off the list makes progress feel more tangible, she says. “When you see that you are making progress, then that is very motivating as well.” Dr. Davis prefers the Google taskbar with a priority list that has to be emptied each day. She also emphasizes on the need for flexibility, especially while setting up new projects with writers. “It is important to take those 15 minutes to hop on a call, because there’s so much clarity and understanding by being on the same page.”
All of them agree that working from home under social isolation, during a pandemic, is tougher. “Mostly, to find the motivation to work from home is to find your purpose: to know why you are doing what you are doing,” Dr. Mooneyham says. “We all know that our jobs aren’t one hundred percent fun. You may not be passionate about each individual task, but remember it will help the bigger picture that you are passionate about. That frame of reference can help you power through all the menial things and ace the bigger tasks, the more interesting and engaging aspects of working for a company like SME.”