Navigating a Massive Real-Time Work-From-Home Experiment

How we're handling it at The Media Kitchen

Like many organizations, The Media Kitchen has had to completely rethink its business processes in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Admittedly the entire process has been a learning experience. At the onset, we weren't sure if we were fully equipped to move our workforce from five collaborative work environments around the world to hundreds of individual locations. 

What we quickly uncovered were some helpful insights for bridging the challenges to working collaboratively in a remote environment. 

Expect things to slow down.

The Media Kitchen has an office in Shanghai, so we saw firsthand, before many of our counterparts, what happens to work during a quarantine. It becomes a lot slower and a lot harder. Our agency has historically relied heavily on proximity to drive collaboration, which allows communication to flow faster. Obviously, that kind of proximity is not optimal in a world of fast spreading viruses. 

Allow time to bring your team up to speed on remote work software.

Before there were any reported cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., The Media Kitchen started talking about whether we all knew how to use our video conferencing tools, like Google Hangouts, Ring Central and Zoom. We scheduled staff tutorials to make sure everyone who wasn't familiar with these tools had an opportunity to learn how everything works. 

Opt for video calls over conference calls.

Video calls are almost always better than conference calls, especially when you're trying to maintain strong, collaborative work relationships. It's not always easy to arrange multiperson video conferencing; a refresher course might be needed. 

Plan for secure file access.

We made sure our team could access all the client files they needed to work remotely in a protected and confidential environment. That proved much easier than expected, because of all the safeguards we already had in place. In some instances, however, not all employees have file access (or permissions), in which case our teams are developing plans to manage around these limitations. 

Practice makes perfect.

Before we're all forced to stay home (a day that will hopefully never come), we wanted to get in as much practice as possible. Since the dawn of laptops, all of us have gotten some experience working from planes, Starbucks and home. I was pleased to learn that every team has experience managing remote team members. But not every team had processes and schedules in place to maintain team relationships and workflow. We've since implemented those processes.

Limit in-person engagements.

As of today, all of The Media Kitchen's Lunch N' Learns have been canceled and non-urgent meetings have been moved to video calls. We're discouraging people who don't work at the agency from visiting our offices.

Avoid travel.

We're also discouraging our teams from business travel and reminding everyone to be smart about their decisions during this time. 

The bottom line.

Like any experiment, there's always room to further test and refine our process. We've had our first known exposure to the virus—a staffer's girlfriend works for someone who tested positive, so our staffer is now under 14-day quarantine. 

I'm sure that won't be our last interaction with COVID-19. In the meantime, however, we're all learning to work better remotely, which is going to be a watershed moment for how we work together more generally. We've never had this kind of large-scale work-from-home experiment in the U.S., but I'm certain it's going to be transformational. 

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