5 Lean ways to improve telecommuting

Spring 2020 has introduced new circumstances that require adapting from everyone. For many this means chancing from normal workplace routines to telecommuting, i.e., working remotely. For a while there will be no running into co-workers in coffee room or seeing colleagues in the office.

However, just as in the office, you can enhance your remote work by adopting methods and principles from Lean philosophy. Following five ideas were given to us by our senior consultant, Jari Saali, who has years of experience in both lean management and telecommuting.

1. Make a daily schedule for the team and stick to it

It is important that the company’s internal teams have agreed on some ground rules. For example, it can be important to agree on when it’s time for individual work and when the team should be available to work together.

“Allocate your own time by dividing it to different tasks: a time slot for customer calls, team feedback, and moments for development or expert work. By doing this, the day will not be fragmented with disruptions and the team’s rules and schedule guide what is done and when”, Jari tells us.

2. Divide and schedule your work in a way that best suits you

For a morning person, the best moment to concentrate may be the moment of morning coffee time before the rest of the family wakes up. For another, an everyday luxury is getting up from bed to a team meeting right away, making the afternoon or even the evening a better time to do the most challenging and demanding tasks.

To succeed in this step, it is important to know yourself. Ask yourself: what is the best time for me to act? This can be adjusted to the team’s common schedules so that the group’s common times are agreed in the middle of the day. This way, everyone can build their personal schedule around the team rules, in a way that there is time and energy to complete work at once without being interrupted.

3. Put your emails and other messaging channels in order

The classification of messages is especially important when working for home. If there are messages that require an immediate response, you must reply directly. Other messages, however, require more thinking, so it is worth moving them back and returning to them over time so that they get processed at once.

Therefore, it is important to take advantage of e-mail folders and tags and only allow notifications from the main instant messaging channels. Few matters are really that important that you have to be aware of  them every second.

4. Don’t be on call all the time

It is a good idea to set aside separate time on the calendar for work that requires concentration and progresses better without interruptions. To assure this, you can from time to time silence your phone, email and other notification channels. Also, in teams where someone has to be available all the time, it is a good idea to periodize on-call times.

It is worth considering, for example, whether it is necessary for more than one person to be constantly responding to requests for technical assistance, or whether this could be done in shifts. This leaves some time to focus on completing larger entities.

5. Standardize your own way of working

“If you do everything in a slightly different way every time; by saving files in different places or handling matters differently, it creates variation. And variation is always a thing that slows us down. The more you keep the same basic principles and always do something in the same way, the more effective the routine becomes. This way, you don’t always have to consider the way you work, but you can focus on the work itself”, Jari explains.

Even complex work tasks that involve a lot of different things become routine when they are broken down into parts small enough.

How does all this relate to Lean management?

Unfortunately, the human mind does not act in a lean way by itself. It is easily disturbed by interruptions. Therefore, things must be systematically steered in that direction. Completing one thing at a time will ensure that unfinished tasks do not pile up. That way, your work does not get stuck waiting for the moment you have the time to get back to it. This is an idea that comes directly from Lean’s philosophy.

Starting tasks over and over again shifts to getting things done more efficiently and with less stress. The idea behind Jari’s tips shared in this blog is ​​breaking down bigger operations into smaller, manageable entities that actually get finished. This idea is also familiar from Lean thinking.

As we can see, Lean doesn’t always have to be a huge development project where organization’s processes are viewed as large entities. Lean is also about continuous improvement, that is, the development of operations such as telecommuting constantly in small pieces.