Remote Work can concentrate better with fewer interruptions: Gren Gale

Remote Work Stories
13 January, 2022
Gren Gale

Hi, Can you please introduce yourself?

I'm a consultant, author and speaker in Remote Work and Project Management

What’s your profession, what do you do?

I'm a consultant, author and speaker. I've published 3 books on Project Management and Remote Working and can offer advice on how to run projects in your business and how to set yourself and your business up for effective remote working.

What company do you work for? Are you a freelancer or Digital Nomad?

PM Results, yes our company is named as one of 19 Key Opinion Leaders globally in Remote Work "Who's Who in Remote Work" by Onalytica.

How did you start with a remote work journey?

This goes back a long way for me!  In 2005, I ran a remote work pilot involving around 30 staff for a large UK insurer who were looking to reduce their office footprint.  The guys on the pilot worked 1 day per week at home.  At that time broadband was available but expensive, so most were on dial-up with of course no videoconferencing and no cloud based data or applications. Even so, the pilot was a big success with everyone involved loving a day free from commuting and feeling that their productivity had increased significantly.  

When we presented it to the company board, they had a number of concerns. They wanted to be able to monitor that people were working and were worried that managers would have difficulty tracking staff down and were generally concerned about a lack of control.  So they not only stopped the pilot but also used it as an excuse to totally ban home working!!  

Although I felt very disappointed at the time, as did the people on the pilot, you can see how in the intervening years that most of the concerns expressed by that company board have been resolved. Since then I've manged a whole lot of distributed projects culminating in one where I was managing people on all 4 continents from my study, which gave me inspiration to go into print with 'The Remote Project Manager'

What do you think are the main benefits of working remotely?

I think the number one benefit for most people is to escape from commuting, but I also find I can concentrate better with fewer interruptions and it's also good to be able to spend more family time and be very flexible about how I organise my week.  I'm fortunate that I work for myself, so I can go and watch a movie during the day and make up for it later in the day.

Do you think there are disadvantages or that you’re missing something by working remotely?

I don't really see a huge number of drawbacks.  I get enough social interaction outside of my work to keep me happy and I've also enjoyed being able to talk to people in numerous countries when I've reviewed the products they sell.  It's encouraging to talk to really nice and very competent people on video calls all over the world.

From what cities or countries have you worked since you have become remote? What are your favourite countries or cities to work from?

I'm not a nomad, I've worked from my home but met people on all 5 continents virtually.  My favourite city is Paris but although obviously it's a lot smaller, I love Reykjavík too.

From what type of places do you prefer to work? Home, co-working spaces, coffee shops, or others?

From home although I've had a few face-to-face meetings in coffee shops!

What places would you like to travel to while working remotely?

As I've said before I'm not a nomad so not desperate to travel the world to work remotely, but I have always hankered after working in France.  My french is pretty decent and after a few months in France would become fluent.

What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them? Share your remote productivity, communication, management, etc. tips based on your experience!

Meeting overload can be an issue.  I ran a project where most of my team members were in North and South America.  This meant that once I got past lunchtime in the UK, my diary just filled with back-to-back meetings and by evening I'd have a headache with head feeling very hot from wearing a headset for hours. It was exhausting.  I'd highly recommend that companies promote asynchronous communication - messaging, short video, e-mails etc as a better way of resolving issues than hours of meetings - this won't be an overnight change, people need weaning off the meeting culture.  

Also have a look at Remeet which is an application that takes the concept of a meeting and strips it down to it's essentials with the aim of reducing meeting overload.   To remain productive it's important to maintain a to-do list - it's even easier working from home to become knocked off course by an issue and never quite find your way back to what you were intending to do.  Consider reserving quiet periods to concentrate on finishing one piece of work.  You don't need to be permanently glancing at those messages popping up on your screen.  Close down email and messaging for an hour or two to get something finished.  As for management, micro managers are in for a disappointment, it just doesn't work remotely.  

Remote managers need empathy not aggression, need to be able to trust their team members and above all need to listen to them.  Weekly 1:1s should be set in stone - make these non cancellable!  I recommend employers train their managers for remote work not just let them get on with it - managers need support too and remote management is different!

What tools do you use to improve productivity and manage work efficiently?

I've already mentioned Remeet - if you're serious about resolving the meeting overload issue, then give it a try.  For Hybrid work take a look at CentralF - its an AI based application and far and away the best tool I've seen for managing hybrid work.  I'm a big proponent of employee engagement tools, not only do they provide a solid framework for assuring that staff whether remote or hybrid are listened to, but they provide reassurance to senior management.  

Most have extensive MI to allow management teams to see that the right things are happening plus provides a finger on the pulse of how positive or negative people in the company are feeling.  15Five is my favourite employee engagement package.  Finally, a knowledgebase - no single piece of software is totally guaranteed to increase productivity!  

With a knowledgebase you can annotate, organise and make accessible all of the stuff that new employees want to know and the really useful knowledge that's usually locked away in the heads of the experts in your company.  We like KBee as a really fast way to get a knowledgebase up and running particularly if you already have lots of stuff already stored on Google Drive.

How do you manage your business and taxes as a remote working professional?

I employ an accountant! I also play him on occasions in a tennis league, however he's not so grateful for my business that he's prepared to let me beat him!

What advice would you give to people looking to work remotely?

First is to make sure it's right for you.  If you can, try before you buy.  A lot of people have issues with not being so close to their colleagues and can find it frustrating to get hold of the people they need to. If you're thinking of accepting a remote job ask about their support for remote workers and if they have an established onboarding process.  Teamwork and belonging are so important if you’re going to work remotely.  Ask how your prospective employer encourages each.  

Some employers will provide all you need for a remote office, some have a policy of reduced pay for remote workers.  Try to find out which will apply.  Ask questions about how they're organised.  As a final step ask if you can talk to someone who has joined in the last 6 months to find out their experiences.

Would you like to share any interesting stories while you worked remotely? Please share if you can.

Don’t be afraid to apologise.  You'll make mistakes, you will make gaffes and you may well upset people.  Make it very clear that you’re apologising.  In a remote team it’s easy to think the moment has gone when you’re mulling over something you said in a meeting.  If you think you made a gaffe or upset someone then it’s worth following it up with an instant message, e-mail or call after the meeting.  I have one particularly embarrassing incident in mind where I’d managed to twice exclude a senior manager from an e-mail circulation list.  

This manager was in a country where deference to your manager was a very strong cultural norm. I made a brief apology in a meeting but thinking it over afterwards, it hadn’t been sufficient.  I should have written at that point to further apologise.  I didn’t and relations between us were never quite the same after that.  I really had lost the moment.

Gren's Gale Website:
Gren's Gale Facebook: @pmresultsuk
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Gren's Gale Twitter: @PM_Results

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