Receivable/Accounts - Information for Credit and Collection Issues

Monday, April 6, 2020

Working From Home & Company Culture

So, here we are, in the middle of our pandemic lockdown, and everyone is working remotely – the technical requirements have been met, the VPNs are set up, phone access has been granted, and now we can take a deep breath and work. 

But what’s the right way to work?  How do we handle company culture, how do we keep a sense of teamwork?  How do we keep a positive outlook when we might feel isolated and physically shut off from everyone else?

Some of these answers are specific to our current pandemic, and our company in specific, but some of this is important to the world we are going to be in a couple months from now – working from home is going to become more normalized for many people, and it’s important for those who can work happily and productively.

We Are A Team

It’s important that we all feel supported in our work – that means coordinating our efforts.  There has to be a some structure in place – we don’t want calls from co-workers on a Sunday (unless it’s really important), we need to be able to reach each other during business hours, expect to reach others when it’s working hours, and it needs to be as seamless as walking over to a desk next to you.

One of the most important things we did years ago to facilitate work and culture between our branches was establish an internal messaging (IM) system.  We experimented with a couple different software packages, but some were clunky or hard to manage, and we eventually settled on Slack (  It had a wealth of plugins to integrate with our staff mailing lists, create new features, and is very customizable.  In a collection agency, people are often on the phone, so being able to send an IM to someone asking them to call when they are available, or sending brief messages can eliminate conference calls, meetings, or email inbox avalanches.  I’d say we use it for a few hundred messages a day, between co-workers and in general discussion groups.

Some of you might want face to face communication while we are all working remotely – sure, we could use a video tool like WebEx, but the challenge with that is the same you have with conference calls and board room meetings – a lot of time is spent getting people online, managing a meeting, getting engagement from the members, and honestly, for day-to-day affairs, we prefer to use an IM over video, but we could always use a video conference for a momentous meeting if needed.

We also want to be able to work as a group, and get feedback from more than one person at a time – Slack, or similar programs have chat rooms or channels – we set up branch-specific groups (#gatineau, #cambridge), project specific groups (#legalteam), or staff-wide groups (#staff).  That way one person can share a note with a wide range of staff instantaneously.  However, it’s important to not drown people in messages, so it’s important to have people use the right channels, share pertinent information, and indicate when they are away from work at unexpected times, taking the day off, working late, or what have you.

One point we should make is about using an IM is information security – yes, having an IM platform is incredibly useful, but because it is hosted by another company, no confidential information should be transmitted in any form.

Now, as we sit in our home offices, we are missing the culture part of the equation -- just like in a real-person environment, people need more than just an exchange of facts, they’re human beings – we need support, encouragement, a friendly face, the ability to talk about non-work things.  That’s harder to do with a remote team – but you can recognize it and everybody can make an effort.  Posting your profile picture in Slack so when they get it, it’s got a face attached, making an effort to talk on the phone about issues that are complex, or require a real voice for inflection and context.  Call co-workers and ask them if they are doing okay (now more than ever).  We’re all human, and human interaction is important to create that feeling of connection.

Remember, because we aren’t face to face, it’s important to consider tone and language.  A brief IM might be misconstrued, or seem abrupt – it’s important that everyone put effort into communicating, more than normal, so people feel attached to the team, appreciated by their co-workers, and applauded for their work.

Now, work can be a 4-letter word, and ultimately our companies have to deliver results, serve clients, and mesh all these remote staff together.  So we all need to be pointed in the same direction.  However, remote work cannot be micro-managed, we need to have a great deal of trust in each other to get the job done, and give them the freedom to do it.  That means not checking in with team members 8-12 times a day, questioning when they step away from the computer for a coffee or to just stretch their legs.  Give people goals, give them time to make their goals, and support them if they are struggling rather than virtually thumping your fist on their desk.  It also means courtesy and common sense – if you are going to take an early lunch, or be unavailable because you are burying your head in a project, put out a brief note so folks know you can’t be reached.

It’s also incredibly important we share big picture goals and accomplishments!  If a new client has just signed a service agreement, share it with the team!  The company met it’s monthly goal?  Share that!  If you get a positive email from a client, feel free to copy and paste it and share it.  It’s important that everyone knows that what they do is important, feels like they’ve been kept in the loop, and the direction and growth of the company takes is part of their efforts.  And when you see the thumbs-up emojis tacked on the message, it’s a sign of a positive culture.

It’s Not All Just Work, Work, Work

Remember, we are people, we joke in the office, we try to make our fellow co-workers smile, we have things at our desk that brighten our day.  Remote work needs to have that too.

When we use an IM program, we’re created an area for fun – we use a channel called #random for goofiness, memes, selfies, food drives, news articles that might only tangentally touch on work, and so on.  There’s a lot of traffic there, and every time there’s a joking interchange, that’s reinforcing teamwork.

Use emojis!  Nothing like someone posting something, and a thumbs up or smiley icon next to it, whether it’s serious or fun, to show we saw their post, we appreciated it, or thought it was helpful.  It also cuts down on messages while still indicating support, or someone read your message.

Make sure everything you do has a personal touch, even when it’s work related.  A message saying ‘met goal today’ isn’t as well received as ‘Hey folks, met our goal for the day at 2pm, and now we’re 1.5 days ahead of target – nice work!’

On a more serious note, working from home can be challenging with distractions and shared work areas.  Right now, none of us expected to be working from home full time, and have to juggle workspace, the other people we live with, children, dogs, internet, and more.  However, on the flip-side of that challenge, it’s also a subtle trap for us to jump on the computer early because we didn’t have to commute, or miss lunch because our co-workers aren’t headed down the street, or work late because no one is telling us to go home – don’t overwork yourself, and don’t take our co-workers for granted.  What we’ve done at our company is have a flex schedule where any extra time people work is logged to take off later – and we should support that kind of flexibility.  If we work till 7pm twice in a week, and want to step away from the computer at 1pm on a Friday, there’s nothing wrong with that at all.  We need to not burn out or over-extend ourselves.  


Right now, this is not normal remote work – with COVID-19, everyone is working remotely, whether they envisioned that or not.  We’ve cobbled together home offices, we are learning to use VPN or softphone technology, home internet services and company networks may be straining beyond expected capacities, and everyone is a little stressed right now.  It’s important we are as accommodating as we can of our co-workers, and we put extra care into making sure company culture is still there, and people feel like part of a team.

Here are a couple of articles I’d like to share that touch on remote work and culture, that I have certainly appreciated reading:

We’re all learning our ‘new normal’ and are in this together, so if anyone has any tips or suggestions about how to foster culture in remote work, I’d certainly be interested in hearing what you are doing with your workplace.

Thanks kindly!

Blair DeMarco-Wettlaufer
KINGSTON Data & Credit
Cambridge, ON

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