Working remotely is top-of-mind for many Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. As Appalachian State University asked students to learn remotely and staff members to telework in March 2020, Business Career Services Director Michelle Boisclair turned to one of her contacts, App State alumnus Chase Warrington '08 — a work-from-home expert by profession — to learn more about best practices to share with her colleagues. Warrington videoconferenced Boisclair from Spain, where he works and lives, under a nation-wide quarantine at the time. The advice he offered is applicable to not only staff in the Walker College of Business, but also those in a variety of administrative professions, as they, too, self isolate to help curtail the spread of the novel coronavirus.
At Appalachian, Warrington was president of Gamma Iota Sigma, an academic fraternity housed in the college's Brantley Risk and Insurance Center that works to provide insurance students interactions with industry. He was also selected as a Holland Fellow, and worked alongside 11 other Appalachian students and 12 students from Fudan University in Shanghai on an applied business project, which included reciprocal travel experiences. While in China, Warrington stayed on to complete an internship in Beijing, and he also studied abroad in Austria, taking full advantage of the Walker College's international program offerings.
Warrington is pictured at the Great Wall, back row, third from right, with his fellow Appalachian Holland Fellows in 2007.
Travel was foundational in Warrington's career. After earning his undergraduate degree in risk management with a minor in international business from Appalachian, Warrington began work at Johnson & Johnson, where he was one of few staff members who worked remotely. Later in his career, Warrington became one more than 70+ teammates from 25+ countries to work remotely when he joined Doist, a software company that aims to inspire the future of the workplace by creating tools to promote a more balanced way to work and live. Warrington now serves as the head of business development at Doist, teaching courses on remote working and suggesting the best tools to fit client needs. "Long story short, we're a remote team making products for remote teams and trying to help others navigate the 'remote world,'" said Warrington.
Warrington shared with Boisclair several suggestions on how to keep her high-functioning, now-remote team successful.
Advice for Employees
- Take time to create a great home work environment by setting up your work area — preferably not in the main areas where the others in the house may congregate. And resist the urge to work on the couch or from the bed, Warrington warns, "it won't work!"
- While it's easy to work well past the traditional 5:00 p.m. close of business, Warrington said it's necessary for remote workers to mimic a real work day by scheduling the types of breaks they would normally take. "Schedule a lunch break," added Warrington. "Try not to eat at your desk." He said that getting dressed in the morning, and finding a way to divide work from personal time at the end of the day is key. "Try scheduling a non-work commitment at 6:00 p.m., for instance, to help divide work from personal time," Warrington suggested.
- Warrington said to be sure those who are now staying isolated in the same house realize that work must continue; therefore, set guidelines with your housemates, children or partner. "It's easy for the lines of work and home life to become blurred now," said Warrington. "We each must find ways to adapt to our new normal. Just because you're home doesn't mean you're available," he said.
- For employers and managers, Warrington says to trust your employees. "Trust that you have hired the right person for the job who can effectively manage their work remotely," he said. "Don't assume employees will waste time while working remotely, this will lead to unnecessary worry and wasted time for the employer."
Walker College of Business Scholarships Coordinator Kathy Mann, who is one of Boisclair's teammates, echoes the sentiment. "The work I am currently doing can be done perhaps more efficiently from home without all the interruptions of daily life in the office," she said.
Advice for Managers
- Warrington added that managers should continue to focus on outputs such as production and results instead of the inputs like hours in office, emails sent and calls made. Often, in-office interruptions distract from the actual work, suggesting that, for some employees, tasks may be even better suited to telework. "Ideally managers should already be focused on outputs," said Warrington. "In that case, they should continue to do so now that the environment has changed."
- Warrington said to resist the urge to recreate office processes like the expectation of synchronous communication (i.e. face-to-face meetings, and instant-response to chat). "Empower teammates to move on without having a meeting, and don't default to needing a call or videoconference to move forward on projects." Warrington suggests a forum-style communication practice that encourages transparency and allows for response time.
In a time of uncertainty, Warrington's suggestions may help you maintain professional productivity. As far as personal connectedness goes, however, Mann said she misses her colleagues.
"I miss the office interruptions and knowing what is going on with others and what others are working on or dealing with," she said.
Staying Engaged, Personally
Warrington advises Mann and Boisclair to use a chat or webconference tool to connect with others on a personal level. "Create a recurring team 'hangout' where everyone can pop in for 30 minutes to say hello and talk about non-work stuff," he suggested. "It's important to recreate this, but not lean too heavily on completely replicating the office, because that will be counter productive."
Warrington has received countless inquiries for work-from-home advice; find some best practices from doist below.
Additional Resources from Doist
A consolidated list of some of the company's best resources for remote work at Doist.com.
- Remote team communication tools: An explanation of the best tools to use for communication and collaborating with remote teams.
- Remote work guides: a series we published recently in collaboration with other remote teams, a more in depth look at remote work and how to make it work.
- 8 lessons from successful remote teams: case studies on some of the most successful remote teams.
March 26, 2020
By Kim Bock