Melissa Van Der Hecht
May 26, 2020
It’s approaching June and many of us have been adjusting to remote working for the best part of two months. For a lot of us, this is very new and are finding it difficult to navigate time management, productivity and mental wellbeing. We held a Culture Open Mic Night to learn from other professionals adapting to the new normal, where they could share experiences, advice and tips to inspire and motivate us all.
In these sessions, we focus on the power of storytelling and share of voice to create a support system around different themes, this time being ‘Just Out of Reach’. This article focuses on Melissa Van Der Hecht’s remote working story as a Product Manager at Kong, a cloud connectivity company with the most-widely adopted open source API gateway.
Kong has been operating with a remote working model way before COVID-19. Their 200 employees are spread across 27 countries, with their only office being based in San Francisco – so 60% of their staff work from home full time.
The company maintains great work from home culture by showing that they care; not just how to keep the team productive but also about the maintenance of employee happiness and culture. For example, a few times a year, each employee must work remotely for a couple of weeks to empathise with those that do it full time.
Before Kong, Melissa had worked for companies with the regular 9-5 office structure and the social culture that comes with that, so switching to remote work was a huge change. At first, she saw her productivity suffer and was surprised at the loneliness that came through not being physically connected. There were changes she had to make, not only to her home equipment setup but also to her mentality, to adapt to her new remote working lifestyle.
With time, Melissa evolved her routine and approach to find a routine, schedule and actions that made working from home as efficient and rewarding as being in the office. She explains this came from a combination of taking ownership, enabling peer to peer support and seeing leadership leading by example.
To escape anxiety and boost productivity at work, you need to feel trusted. This trust needs to come from every corner of management within a company. At Kong, their leadership team sent a direct notification to every employee encouraging them to take ownership of their schedules. To decide whatever environment makes them most productive, whether that’s working from home or working from coffee shops.
Whilst this is great to hear loud and clear from the top, it’s not always enough, cultural buy in should be felt company wide. Knowing that your peers are also embracing remote life and its challenges can really help you to take ownership of your own routine and preferences. This could simply come in the form of sharing pictures of your workplace for the day.
To master productivity whilst working from home, you must first learn your own habits – you don’t have to follow the same standards as everyone else.
Success comes from a mixture of being disciplined and putting in a smart structure that makes sense for you. Putting a routine like this in place teaches you to hold yourself accountable without having the physical reminder or presence.
Melissa explains, “I know that I’m a last minute person, so for long term initiatives I set up lots of team meetings which act as several deadlines and checkpoints for me to work to.”
Another challenge that Melissa found initially were conversation stumbling blocks; being remote, you can’t just walk up to someone’s desk for a five minute chat to solve a problem.
At Kong they found it helpful to have each person define the best ways to connect with each other. For example, their product teams are more technical so Slack is the best channel to reach out on but for others in Sales and Marketing, WhatsApp or text might work better.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned from working from home is the importance of taking initiative and making sure you make an effort to connect with others”, Melissa tells us.
Simple tools like Donut on Slack, that randomly assign you a ‘coffee’ chat with a colleague work wonders in sparking connection. These meetings are all about building relationships, finding out things you have in common, taking a silly picture with each other. Finding ways to stay connected when you’re just out of reach.
With this in mind, it takes time to adjust to working from home and naturally we turn to advice from others and right now there is more advice than ever across the web. The number of best practice, how to and top tips articles are rising every day and not only is this overwhelming to digest it’s impractical. You’re unique and so is your work style so now is the time to explore what works for you and put it into practice until you feel positive change.
Have an open mind and the confidence to know that the most important thing you can do is to learn what works best for you. It’s essential to understand your routine and needs as well the needs of your peers to best support them through this unfamiliar time.