BONUS | Working Remotely? | Jordan Hirsch - Tips for Working Remotely from an Experienced Remote Worker

March 20, 2020 | 18 Minutes

Jordan Hirsch helps people and organizations say "yes, and" to change. He is the Director of Innovation at Phase2, a digital experience agency, where he works remotely from Brooklyn, NY. As a long-time improv actor and teacher with decades of experience in web development and digital strategy, Jordan uses improv tools and concepts to infuse digital transformation projects with playful and powerful experiences that help teams unleash their potential and get excited about their future. He's been working remotely for over a decade and is excited to share what he's learned in that time to help other people say "yes, and" to this moment. We are thankful Jordan joined us on Count Me In to share his perspective on remote work and provide some practical tips for our accounting and finance professionals to be more effective. Looking to improve your productivity while working from home? Download and listen to this episode now!

Jordan's Resources:

: (00:05)
Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host Mitch Roshong and knowing there is a lot more going on outside the accounting and finance world. We would like to align with Ima CEO Jeff Thompson's message and extend our heartfelt support to everyone facing the implications of the worldwide Coronavirus outbreak. Today we would like to share a timely bonus episode as IMA continues to support the profession with a variety of professional development resources. As many of our listeners are now faced with remote work and distant learning. My cohost Adam had a conversation with Jordan Hirsch to give our listeners some suggestions for working remotely. Jordan is the director of innovation at phase two a digital experience agency with a strong remote culture. He has over a decade of experience working from home and share some real practical tips for those who may not be as accustomed to working outside of the office. If you find yourself handling your business in what feels like a new, slightly uncomfortable work environment, listen to this conversation to help you adjust and get the most out of it. 
Adam: (01:15)
So Jordan, as we see with the recent events concerning the Corona virus, many people have been thrust into working from home suddenly. I know you've been a remote employee for a while now, so could you describe what it was like for you when you were first getting started? 
Jordan: (01:28)
Sure. I would say also that I feel for everybody who's getting thrust into it now because it is definitely really different from working in an office, especially if that's what you're used to. When I first started it was, it was kind of weird at first, my very first job out of college way back in 1999, I had an office job and I was allowed to work from home one day a week in that job. And that one day for a while I sort of saw it as my like get everything at home done day. I would, uh, you know, I'd vacuum the apartment, I would do a bunch of chores. I tried to get my work done ahead of time the rest of the week, so I didn't actually have to do much that day. And then over time, as I had other jobs and I started sort of do it more and more, it occurred to me, I started to realize that I actually needed that time to do work and I had to learn how to actually do my job at home. And I was working in tech at the time. So the mechanics of doing the work weren't that bad. I learned how to, you know, which files I would need to bring home from me, uh, to be able to work on my home machine, how to access all the network things that I needed from my job at home. How to sort of minimize the things I would need from the office. But probably the hardest part was learning how to apply some structure to myself to not see it as, you know, fun time or time when I could sort of get things done at home. But how to actually be at work at home was the biggest adjustment. So learning how to really have the discipline to sort of structure my time by myself and how to have that structure while I was, you know, literally all alone in the apartment was, was probably the steepest learning curve for me. 
Adam: (03:04)
So if there was one thing, there were a couple of things that you could have told yourself back then when you first started working at home, what would that be? 
Jordan: (03:11)
Probably just because you can do all your household stuff in the middle of the day and then do all your work at night. It doesn't always mean it's really a good idea. That worked. Okay. Sometimes when I was doing development work and I was a bit more working on my own. But if you're working with part of a team that can be really disruptive. So I wish that I had known at the beginning to start practicing giving myself some structure so that work time is for work and home time is for home. So kind of resisting that urge to get things done. You know on the, on the household front during the day. Now that so many household chores are online, you can do them in the office too. And so it's not that big of a difference. But you know, if I do decide like I've been at my desk too long, I have a break between meetings, I'm going to go, you know, go for a walk, go for a bike ride, vacuum the apartment, go do something else. Also having the discipline to make that time up later cause eventually it will catch up with you. Something else I would say I would have liked to know then is the idea of over communicating with everybody else at work, especially if you're new to it and if your team is new to it, it can take awhile to build up trust. Over-communicating helps people know where to find you, when to find you, how to find you, what you're doing. If you're busy, all the things that they could probably tell just by poking ahead and you know, at your desk or at your cubicle. But they can't do that now. So if someone reaches out to you and they don't hear back, they don't know. If you haven't set things up correctly, they don't know, you know, are you in a meeting? Are you going for a walk? Are you watching the Simpsons on your couch? You know, what's going on? Why can't I find Jordan? And those things can start to eat away at trust a little bit. So I'd say probably the thing that I would've liked to know also in addition to structuring my time is how to engage in those trust-building behaviors. 
Adam: (05:00)
So speaking of like trust-building behaviors, you know, there's probably a lot of team leaders who are suddenly the leaders of virtual teams. You know, can we keep talking on that? Where we'd like on keeping the culture and the teamwork alive, even though everybody's in different locations? Like, what advice would you give to them? 
Jordan: (05:17)
Oh, absolutely. The first thing I would say is if your team is moving to video calls, turn your cameras on. That's a really seemingly simple thing and it's also something that people get really uncomfortable with. We don't mind sitting at a table, you know, in a conference room full of our coworkers where everybody can see us. But turning on a camera feels like a really different step. There's definitely a mental barrier there to being on camera that people just aren't used to. When you turn your cameras on, it humanizes you for everybody and it humanizes everybody else on the call too so that you can all still look each other in the eyes, quote unquote. It's not exactly the same, but at least you are able to see each other and that goes a long way towards kind of remembering that like we're all together, we're all at work, we're all on the same team. These are the people I work with every day. I'd say also to make sure that you're making time for your culture. It's something now that you're going to have to schedule culture used to be able to happen, you know, in the break room and the kitchen stopping by someone's desk to say hi, just seeing someone in the hallway on the way to the bathroom and having that, that little conversation, those moments are going to be gone for awhile. So there's some things that I'd like to recommend, some things I think you can do to kind of build that stuff in, but the point behind all of them is just getting a little more intentional about designing these cultural moments. I mean there's some things you can do, like have a, have a running zoom or running Google hangout that's just always on that people kind of join or leave as needed. Call it the break room. It's going to feel really weird at first. It's okay to acknowledge that, but just to give people a place where they can sort of stop in and see each other outside of actual work outside of a meeting. If your team used to do happy hours after work host and at home happy hour, right? Let everybody, you know, okay, it's five o'clock everybody grab a beverage of your choice, everybody hop on the zoom link and we're all just going to toast each other and talk and hang out for a little while after work and nobody has to go anywhere. These things take a little more planning. They definitely take some getting used to, but I think they go a long way towards keeping that cultural hive. Something else I'd like to do is I do this with people and I encourage people on my team to schedule one on one time with other people even if it's not for a work thing. All right. I have some standing meetings every week where I meet with someone for a half hour every week or every other week mostly just to catch up. Work stuff comes up, but it's not people that I necessarily work directly with on projects. Some of them are people I used to manage or who used to manage me or just friends at work that I want to say hi to and I'm not really going to get another chance to do it. So things like that I think can be really valuable in terms of keeping that culture alive. 
Adam: (08:00)
You know, I think that's some great advice. Just yesterday I had realized I hadn't really spoken with one of my colleagues. And so I said, Hey, let's do a video call. And we just spoke for 15 minutes and we ended up not really talking about work, but it was great to have that connection point. So, since, you know, we're all working from home now and it's going to be longer than we expected and it's like, what are we supposed to do? And doing that touch point was like, Oh, I now feel connected to you again. 
Jordan: (08:25)
Yeah, absolutely. And keeping that sense of connection alive I think is really valuable, especially as people are adjusting to this time because otherwise it's pretty easy to feel isolated or sort of overwhelmed with things on the home front. And you know, in a normal work meeting we don't necessarily have time to talk about that stuff. So building in time to sort of acknowledge what's going on and to talk about how weird things feel at first and talk about how we're all getting used to this and just to kind of keep those human connections going I think is valuable, not just for culture and just kind of for your own sanity too. 
Adam: (08:58)
Definitely. So you've mentioned zoom, so what are some of your Go-To technologies and tools that you use every day? 
Jordan: (09:05)
I love zoom. We're on a zoom right now, a little peek behind the curtain. At our company at phase two, we are a digital experience agency. We are, we use the Google suite. So everyday I spend most of my day in either a Google meet, which was formerly known as Google Hangouts. We use Google docs for collaboration and we use Slack. We also spend a lot of time in a tool called mural, which is an online whiteboard, which is really good. I've found for online meetings, for giving people a place to kind of post. It's basically think of it as a place where you can just post up sticky notes together at its most simplistic. It can do a lot more than that, but it's really good to have a tool like that for those moments when you wish you could just get up and like go to the whiteboard and you know, this conversation, we're not really getting there with words. Let's, let's draw something together. Let's go up to the whiteboard and see if we can figure this out with some sticky notes and move some things around. So those were, that's primarily the tech stack that we use. So of course Gmail as well. Good old email hasn't gone anywhere. It's probably more valuable now than it used to be. Personally I find having two monitors on my desk is a really big help. I often will keep my video call on one monitor, my notes doc and the other one I know not everybody has that. It's really challenging to do some of this stuff from a small laptop screen, especially when your whole screen now is taken up by that video call, but it's worth the time to be able to see each other. It's worth the screen real estate I'd say to keep that video call open. You know, even if you shrink it down to half size just so you can see other people's faces. Having a headset is also a really, really big help. I have a nice one with a little built in microphone. A good over the ear sound so the sound doesn't leak out. Usually does a decent job filtering out background noise, which is nice, especially if you find that your whole family is now home to along with you, which is probably a new thing for some people. I would say on the topic of Slack, Slack can take some getting used to if your team isn't already used to it. Probably the most important thing to do beyond having a conversation with your team about here's how we're going to use this tool is learning to manage your notifications and your statuses. Setting your status in something like Slack can be really valuable. Again, in terms of that sort of over-communicating and the building trust we were talking about in terms of letting people know like, Hey, this is a time what I'm going to be able to respond quickly to something or I'm gonna, I'm recording a podcast right now and I won't be able to talk to you. You're not going to hear back from me immediately. Otherwise without, without those statuses, you can send a message to someone and then you just sort of sitting there waiting and if you're used to just being able to like pop your head into their office or stop by their cubicle and ask them something. This is sort of the equivalent of like, well I left a note on your desk but I never heard back what happened. Are you there know? Whereas a setting your status lets people know like, Hey, I'm actually not at my desk right now. Right. This is, you know, or I'm in another meeting and I'm trying to give that my attention. So that's, that's one of those sort of trust-building behaviors. I think that could be really valuable as you get used to work more remotely beyond that. My favorite tools are a my water bottle on my coffee cup to get me through the day. 
Adam: (12:18)
Definitely. So I wanted to go back a little bit and you, you kept mentioning that you learning to apply some structure to your day. So what does that structure look like for somebody who is like just getting started? Like I don't know, what did you say? Structure. What do you mean by structure? What does that mean? 
Jordan: (12:35)
Probably the simplest form of structure is just to say at these hours I'm at work and at these hours I'm not at work. Now it's not probably going to be as simple as, well, I'm at work from nine to five and then I'm not at work for nine to five. I mean it hasn't been that simple for a lot of people. You know, I think for awhile, but if you're used to being at an office during those hours and now you've got your kids around and your family is around and there's a lot of craziness going on, you might need to figure out, okay, so like for example, my wife and I sat down and we said, okay, our daughter is going to school online now, but she's only seven. Someone still needs to sit with her and make sure that the zoom is working and make sure that she can log in to this and that. So my wife is with her from eight to one. I'm typically with her then from one to five. And so I've had to talk to my boss and my coworkers about like, Hey, from one to five I'm going to set my Slack status. I'm going to be, I might see your message, I might not be able to respond to you until afterwards. If it's urgent, here's that escalate, you know, text me, call me, here's, here's sort of escalation procedures. But then I know also then from like five to seven I'm going to sit down with my laptop and respond to emails, respond to those Slack messages that came in. So it's going to be, it's going to look different for everybody, but the, the idea of the structure I think is important so that you're not just sort of figuring it out moment to moment cause otherwise everything can start to feel like a little bit of a crisis, you know like Oh no I'm on a call and my wife's also on a call and the zoom link isn't working for the, you know, for my daughter to go to school and suddenly everybody is like, everybody's going crazy. But it's taking the time to sort of sit down and divvy up the day together has so far been paying off really, really well. So at least we know who was the first person to respond if something happens on the home front, if that makes sense. 
Adam: (14:19)
No, definitely. I think that's some good advice. Is planning ahead seems to be a good thing. Even when it comes down to things like meals or just when am I going to do some little bit of exercise or going for a walk is planning those things out cause it's not, it's so similar to being at home. 
Jordan: (14:35)
What am I going to eat lunch? You know, this is actually a real question I had to ask myself the other day. 
Adam: (14:41)
So you know, in light of everything that's been happening, I think we've given some great examples to people, you know, I just, you know, forward thinking. What do you think the future of working from home will look like post this pandemic crisis I should say? 
Jordan: (14:53)
That's a great question. I like the optimism. I hope there is a post this pandemic crisis. I'm sure there will be. My real hope is that a lot of organizations will get a little bit looser with their working from home policies. It's, it's sort of shocking to me. Even the, you know, and in March of 2020 how many places still have never really had a work from home policy other than to say, no, you can't do it. So my hope is that a lot of places get a little more relaxed about that. There, there are security concerns. I know for some places and there are also plenty of tools and pieces of security software, you know, VPNs, et cetera, that can really help with that stuff. So I don't think that's the barrier that it used to be. I hope that people in general, so we'll get a little more used to being on a camera. I always come back to the camera cause for me when you when you have these video calls and you don't have your camera on and nobody has their cameras on, I feel like you really lose a lot of that interpersonal connection and you, it's easy to get a little bit untethered, I think from your work reality. So I hope that more people will feel comfortable turning their camera on and just kind of getting used to operating in that sort of online conferencing space because it really opens you up for a lot of things, not just for working from home, but also something else we do at my company is we do a monthly, a horror movie night for those of us who are big fans of horror movies. Yeah. We started a horror movie Slack channel a while back and it's grown into this thing where, you know, anywhere from three to 10 of us will hop onto a call and this is people across multiple time zones all across the US we'll get together and we'll watch a movie together and we'll have our cameras on and we'll be able to talk to each other and talk over it and, you know, share a drink, share a laugh. And we're able to do that so easily because we're already used to using all these tools and used to being on camera from our work day. So I feel like it opens up a lot of possibilities that maybe weren't open to people before that people didn't realize were available to them. I'm sure some people will definitely miss an OS in a office environment. That's okay. I hope they're happy going back to the office. I haven't been an office person for a while now. So for me, when I go into the office, I've got to have the opposite problem of how everyone is right now. I'm like, Oh, how do I focus with all these people around it so different. But I think that there will be people who earned that they really like working from home and that with a little bit of effort, they can actually really make it work and get a lot of value out of it. So that's my hope for the future. 
Adam: (17:17)
Definitely. Ihope that too. And Jordan, I really appreciate you coming on today and just sharing your insights and your experiences. It was, it was really great chatting. 
Jordan: (17:25)
Adam thank you so much for having me. This was a great conversation. 
Announcer: (17:30)
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