As many newsrooms and offices move to remote work due to the coronavirus pandemic, we wanted to share some tips we’ve gathered over the years.
The American Press Institute staff is often traveling and not in the same place at the same time. We also have a distributed workforce that manages our analytics platform, Metrics for News. The Metrics for News team has staff in Chicago, Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia and has been a remote operation for more than 3 years.
The most immediate way we communicate is through Slack, which we use often, but other tips are below on how to manage working remotely for team meetings, group training, working with clients and feeling isolated at home.
On team meetings
As a remote team, we originally wanted to have a daily Metrics for News team meeting just to see each other to try and replace that in-office feeling of seeing our colleagues. This was not as effective as we thought. Over time, we became more intentional about our meetings.
We still “see” each other every day but we don’t meet just for the sake of meeting. Setting meeting agendas has improved the quality and efficiency of our meetings. (Even if you work independently, you could apply this concept to your virtual meetings.) Here’s how we do it:
Team meetings happen daily — usually 30 minutes each over Zoom. Each day has a particular theme or challenge we want to work through.
- Mondays: Team priorities for the week
- Tuesdays: Tech-focused call on product improvements or development. Sometimes this call is also focused around tools or efficiencies that could make our team more productive.
- Wednesdays: Attracting new customers and retaining existing ones.
- Thursdays: This day doesn’t have a designated theme but we usually have something we need to work out together as a team. If we don’t, we turn it into a flaring meeting on big-picture goals.
- Fridays: We report and celebrate our weekly wins and then every other week we conduct either a “Tech Retrospective” to review what’s changed in the application or we discuss the latest strategies in audience engagement.
1:1 meetings: As a remote team we have 1:1 meetings between manager and employee weekly over Zoom to discuss how the week is going and brainstorm around long-term goals. Our tech team has daily 1:1 meetings that are largely focused on the individual newsrooms we work with and immediate product needs.
On working with clients
Just as our own team meetings have become more productive by being intentional, the same is true for remote meetings with our customers. We used to have weekly meetings with all new customers. Now we do things a bit differently.
We provide each new client a document outlining our timeline for the entire year. Every meeting has a purpose, pre-requisites and action items with deadlines. The meeting agenda is determined in advance to ensure we both stay on track. We use a combination of our Google Calendar and an Airtable (like a spreadsheet on steroids) to record deadlines and track progress with each customer.
Nearly all of our Metrics for News training is done remotely. Here are some tips to fostering a good learning environment remotely:
- Discuss goals with newsroom leaders in advance.
- Create a draft of the training and discuss it with newsroom leaders.
- Don’t ignore the logistics. Create an agenda and share it in advance. Ensure audio quality is good (test in advance). If the training is long, make sure the newsroom has food or snacks and adequate breaks.
- Involve newsroom leaders in the training either by leading some of it and/or serving as an in-room facilitator (this is especially crucial for exercises that are interactive when you can’t be in the room to hear the side conversations or see when people need help).
- End the training with an exercise they must do on their own and a follow-up plan on how to go over that exercise (either with us or their newsroom leaders).
- Follow up the training with an email providing the necessary resources and next steps.
- Follow up by phone with the newsroom leaders.
- Survey the participants (if necessary).
On working in isolation
We’ve found it’s important for each individual working remotely to be thoughtful about managing their time and their mental health. Here are some of the practices we recommend.
- Don’t sit at your desk all day. Take breaks like you would in the office to make coffee, get lunch or walk around the block.
- Set your own routine for the day so it’s not 8 hours of unstructured “work time.”
- Find some Spotify playlists to help you focus or create that “in-office buzz.”
- Designate times on your calendar to complete tasks that fall outside of meetings.
- Some tasks may require help or support from others. If that’s the case don’t wait for the normal team meeting times to address that. Contact your manager when you need help and decide the best mode of communication to work through that challenge or need.
- When working on a deadline, eliminate distractions to foster productivity (close those tabs, close Slack, don’t check email, etc.) You can let your colleagues know when you will be unavailable through email responders or Slack emojis.
- Don’t forget to eat meals and drink water!
- Don’t forget to end your work day! Set a hard stop time.
If remote work is part of your routine already, we hope some of these tips help your daily workflow.
If remote work is new to you and your organization it may take some time to figure out the right methods for you and your colleagues.
The most important thing to do is communicate with your managers and coworkers daily. When in doubt, default to overcommunication. Be sure to share with each other how the transition to remote work is going, where you are struggling to focus and how to help each other along the way. Managing remote work often requires more planning than it might if you were in the office together. Make sure to assess needs, progress and successes on a regular basis, if not weekly. Please share with us any other strategies that work for you and your teams, as well. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are a few more resources we’ve seen recently about remote work, how news organizations are handling COVID-19 coverage and adapting previously planned in-person events:
- How local newsrooms in the U.S. are preparing for sustained coverage of the coronavirus
- Five ways to keep listening when you can’t do it in person
- IL Humanities made a video of what would have happened at their event, rather than postponing it or making another webinar for people to attend
- How to Actually Work…When You’re Working from Home (video)