For organisations that use computers to get stuff done, the Internet means you can spread bits of your organisation out geographically (over a map) and temporally (over time).

Spreading a workforce geographically is usually called remote working or distributed working. That’s when workers aren’t necessarily close to the location of the main office, they live and work elsewhere. There’s also hybrid working, which is when people are expected to come into an office some times but can work from wherever they like the rest of the time.

Spreading a workforce temporally is usually called flexible working or asynchronous working. That’s when workers aren’t always required to be working at the same time as each other. Although more often than not, there’s usually some ‘core hours’ workers have to be present and available.

For various reasons, some groups of people have experimented with the opportunity the Internet has provided. It has allowed them to find new ways of doing things or new ways of living. And, for another variety of reasons, some people haven’t bothered.

Then, in March, that all changed. Anyone who could work online, usually from a computer, was forced to try this stuff out. If their company hadn’t tried out these new ways of working, they became a guinea pig overnight. A mouse in a maze, without a scientist overseeing the experiment.

That sucks because, as an organisation, you don’t know what works and what doesn’t. Your workers have been forced to try new things and will have reached their own conclusions. Some might like it, others might not be so keen. There will likely be some people for whom the experience has been traumatic, and those people are going to need our help.

So, ignoring whoever’s job it is to do this stuff, I think it’s time for people working on computers to look sideways (metaphorically) and help each other out. If you manage a team or you’re part of a team, it’s time to build your own New Normal.

Here’s some notes I’ve been making on free-range working1. And you might like to read about this experiment we tried with meetings and emails.

Notes on free-range working

  1. We’re trying to create more serendipity for innovation, and make collaboration easier when we’re not in the same place. Show & Tells don’t have to be polished. Share progress, ideas and half-finished thoughts; invite people to comment on your work before it’s completed. This helps replicate putting work up on the wall and giving people a chance to comment on things, especially if they’re not on your team.

  2. Check in on your colleagues’ home-working setup. Do they have space? Do they have a desk? Is it well-lit and comfortable? People with better working environments have a new kind of privilege, and so we should be equitable in our approach to free-range working.

  3. When everyone you work with is on a screen, everyone is more equal – it’s harder for people to dominate the room. Also, we tend to stop talking over each other and let people finish what they were saying. Cultivate that atmosphere, creating the space for diverse or unheard voices to come to the fore.

  4. Spontaneous socialising is a joy. Create a tea break channel and head in there when you’re going to make a cup of tea or coffee. Start a voice chat, either using your work laptop or some headphones connected to a phone.

  5. A person’s role and types of workflow influence their ability to complete tasks when working remotely. For example, developers often need to get their head down on a problem, whereas managers move between smaller tasks and communicate with more people.

  6. The quality of personal or professional community that people have access to, and the support they receive from those, influences their ability to cope with change. Revitalise your communities of practice by setting aside time for community-building and running workshops.

  7. Don’t let new team members fall between the cracks. Buddy with them during their first week and hang out with them often during their first month. This is true in offices as well as when working from home.

  8. Most people want to draw a line between work life and home life, but that’s increasingly hard when you work more flexibly or share childcare with a partner. Move to work in a different room (if you’re lucky enough to have one) or take a walk in nature to reset.

  9. Manage your energy not our time by scheduling regular breaks to stand up and stretch between tasks or meetings. Have a small snack or a drink every 90 minutes or so. Set work schedules each morning, and have dedicated slots to answer emails and Slack messages.

  10. Be present in meetings. Disable distracting notifications, minimise other windows, and actively listen to your team-mates. Writing in docs or checking your phone detracts from the atmosphere of shared purpose, making others feel disconnection.

  1. This term comes from Convivio, it’s all about having complete freedom of location, time, and responsibility. Steve Parks wrote an introduction to free-range work