Working remotely well – how to pivot lessons from COVID to become an agile, digital organisation

You know the feeling. Sweaty palms. Quick heart rate. No wifi. Inbox flooding with angry messages. On top of that, you’ve been working from home for close to 2 months and you’re going a bit mad.

Welcome to the world of tech failure. At Startup Disrupt, we’re all about positive disruption. That involves taking a lot of risks, and we’re aware that this doesn’t come without some sleepless nights and things that go wrong.

The era of COVID has really pushed the market on this front; both in terms of individuals and companies. Suddenly, two quarters’ worth of events canceled. Budgets reassessed. New aims and KPIs.

Here at Startup Disrupt, we’ve looked at global trends, lessons to be learned, and potential pitfalls to look out for when adapting your business to the new times of COVID.

1. Unify your online tools

When you have extended human contact at the office, you end up doing a lot of things collaboratively and instinctively, without necessarily realizing how you’re doing them. While you may have some unified systems in your startup such as a CRM or a mailing tool, you may not have the processes laid out (who’s responsible for what part of the process, when certain things are done, and what deadlines you have for them). In the world of being able to just holler across the office, a lot of things get processed organically. Slack and similar chat tools are fantastic (and god knows we couldn’t survive without them), but they’re not always constructive for human interaction and can lead to misunderstandings and misrepresentation of what is actually being asked.

To prevent issues such as ‘Hey, I thought *you* were meant to be sending that email?’ or ‘Damn, I was on a call and only just seeing the Slack message’, make sure you have a single source of truth for your data, documents, communication, and that you also very clearly demarcate when you’re not available. If you have your grandmother visiting you in the evening, put yourself offline and perhaps go as far as blocking out an ‘unavailability’ window in the shared calendar. That way, people know when not to contact you which makes for more constructive work. It’s also useful to have a ‘no. 2’ backup in case you’re not available or can’t help in a given situation, so there is always a backup and a plan B.

It’s good to lay out a clear structure for your team; what tools are being used for what purpose, who’s responsible for what, and where progress can be monitored. That way, misunderstandings, late-night Slack messages, and unnecessary questions can be prevented and streamline your whole remote operation.

2. Centralize your passwords

Lastpass and similar tools are great for storing passwords securely for all your systems. There isn’t anything worse than trying to send out an email last minute or doing edits to the website, and realizing your password is outdated and the admin is locked in a 4-hour meeting and is the only one with access.

Securely sharing this information and having carefully laid out permission sets is key to be able to run a well-oiled machine of a company.

3. Remote working – how to survive it and steel your mind against stress

Everything can get a bit too much. Constantly plugged in, the constant buzzing of Slack messages, expectations of immediate responses even when you don’t have the solution. If you’ve got a smartwatch, you’re even more prone to constantly being in the spotlight and never really resting; not even mentioning what the blue light from our screens does to your sleep.

You can do a couple of things to make your digital life more constructive to your health. Installing apps such as f.lux ease the strain on your eyes and helps you deal with endless hours in front of the computer. However, there are a few ‘offline’ things for you to do in order to rest your mind and help you deal with stress better so that when there *is* a WiFi outage or your Zoom doesn’t connect, you can deal with the problem constructively.

Keeping a regular sleep schedule. Read a book rather than looking at memes before bed. Eat well. Go for regular walks. Force yourself to shut off from work. Learn to say ‘no’ to things if you need some space and alone time. Accept the fact that there will be times that you fail, and that’s ok – it’s all a learning process. Evolution doesn’t happen without a few things going wrong!

Keeping a healthy mind and attitude will help you deal with lockdown and what seems to be constant work. Breathe. It will be ok.

4. Just because everything is online, doesn’t mean it’s faster

Suddenly, there’s a sudden urge to do EVERYTHING AT ONCE. Just because we don’t have to waste time going to-from meetings and work and because we have everything at the touch of a button doesn’t mean things will necessarily happen faster.

There are likely to be bursts of productivity and you’re able to be on 10 Slack channels at once, but the human brain only has so much capacity. It’s like trying to run Witcher 3 on your old Nokia. It ain’t going to happen.

Now, we’re not saying that you shouldn’t grab the bull by the horns and use this transformative COVID period as an opportunity to digitalize your company, cut the fat of obscure and unnecessary meetings and processes, and work in a more agile, effective way. But at the same time (and this goes back to keeping a healthy mind), make sure that you don’t put too much on your plate since there are still only as many hours in the day, and burnout is a real thing. Also, sometimes technology can in fact slow things down. An impromptu chat around a watercooler may take 1 min to assemble, a Zoom meeting can take 15 minutes to set up if there are connectivity issues. Technology is great, but it’s only good if used reasonably and scalably – so bear that in mind and don’t expect miracles just because everything is online now; it will help you prevent burnout and disappointment.


Ah, the alpha and omega of all of this. The internet. The entire world right now is connected thanks to this phenomenal invention. But this phenomenal invention doesn’t always work as expected. Local outages, overloaded WiFi, your dog chewing through your wire, hotspot not working. Make sure you have one or two backups when you’re doing important things to ensure that the internet isn’t the issue that breaks your back. Have a pluggable cable. Have a person on speed dial who can present instead of you. Have a functioning hotspot.

However, sometimes, there are scenarios where an outage will happen whether you like it or not. during those times, that’s where a steeled mind, measured communication, and just owning up to it and not panicking works. We’re humans, and we’re flawed, and technology is flawed too. Understanding and compassion during times when everyone is sweating blood to try and get the economy back on track and trying to make a living is the core backbone of what is going to get us through this crisis.

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