5 Lessons on working remotely from Speexx China & Italy

7 lessons when working from home

Working remotely offers many benefits, but comes with many challenges. Read on about the 5 lessons on working remotely to hear how our colleagues in China and Italy mastered the art of remote work.

The benefits of working remotely

Working remotely can be somewhat refreshing, at first. It offers plenty of benefits: Flexibility, more facetime with family, and time usually spent commuting redirected to other, more pleasurable pursuits – fitness, reading, even an extra hour of sleep.

For many of us around the world, orders to stay home (and work from home) began anywhere between one to two weeks ago. In parts of China, though, restrictions around lockdowns have just begun to lift, after the most ambitious quarantine to date in all modern history: More than 760 million people were confined to their homes for 45 days.

Working remotely in China

It’s safe to say that our Speexx colleagues based in China are now experts at remote working, after more than a month of experience. Read on for some tips from Speexx China on how to maintain productivity, connection and – this is crucial – positivity while working from home.

It is our hope these tips provide guidance and serve as a glimmer of hope – hearing directly from those who have successfully made it to “the other side” of mandated lockdowns and substantial remote working, especially as much of the world has only just begun the self-isolation experience.

Maintain effective communication

Lesson 1: Maintain effective communication when working remotely

Speexx Italy has also been under lockdown for quite some time – more than 24 days, in most places – and continues to stay and conduct business indoors. That said, our colleagues in Italy have kept spirits high; Speexx Italy’s Head of Digital and Content Giulia Mendoliera pointed out that to be successful in remote working and learning, we must all remember that everything boils down to effective communication.

“A Copernican revolution in communication was necessary, from editorial plans to the internal communication line,” she said, of going fully remote with her team. “The message must be as reassuring as possible to ensure that the recipients remain positive and oriented.”

Giulia stressed that the real change from office work to “WFH” is less about adapting to a new physical space, but instead adjusting to different behavior – adopting a different way of interacting with people.

Lesson 2: Be flexible with communication when working remotely

As an international organization, Speexx relies on online communication. We use tools like Microsoft Teams, Outlook and Yammer to stay connected, and software like Wrike and Jira for collaboration and project management.

When working from home becomes the norm, worldwide, it’s crucial to take a closer, more critical look at the tools and technology your organization is using when it comes to communication. Question yourself often: Is this the most effective way for us to communicate across borders?

China is in a unique situation with the ‘Great Firewall’ – a strict set of censorship protocols that have banned many global social media providers. This means that when working with businesses or colleagues in China, you might run into network technology problems when using some international communication platforms. For this reason, our non-Chinese offices at Speexx have also adopted some Chinese home-grown social networks and tools like China’s WeChat to be able to communicate internally with our Shanghai-based colleagues. Email, of course, is still a valid way of communicating, but WeChat allows slightly more casual, instantaneous, intimate interactions.

In short: Be prepared to adopt new tools and habits to ensure strong communication, and prep your workforce to do the same. You might even find that you prefer another culture’s messaging apps to those you’re already used to!

Lesson 3: Maintain humanity when working remotely

While working from home seems unbelievably luxurious in the first one or two weeks, many of our colleagues expressed understandable feelings of isolation, loneliness and a sense of “missing out” – professionally and personally. Due to uncertain external events and needing to quickly adapt to a new lifestyle, there’s an inevitable sense of loss, which countries following China’s lockdown lead are only now starting to experience.

That’s why, in a time of high anxiety and physical isolation, our Chinese colleagues remind us that it’s important to maintain as much communication as possible, in ways that most closely mimic real-life interactions. The simplest way to do this is to turn on your camera when doing virtual conferencing and encourage your colleagues to do the same. This is not only to help your meetings run more smoothly (visual cues, like seeing a coworker lean into the frame make an announcement, prevent interruptions and awkward silences) but to establish a human connection. It’s also been proven that seeing familiar faces, even on a screen, can have a calming effect.

In these uncertain times, Giulia asked us to all keep in mind that “every day, we must aspire to be the best version of ourselves. For us and for others.”

Be inclusive when working remotely

Lesson 4: Be inclusive when working remotely

For managers especially, it’s important to be transparent and keep employees informed. People in your organization might be confused, and afraid to ask about things like sick leave or holiday when working remotely. Communicate expectations for work performance, deadlines, corporate policies and company goals as often as you can, so everyone begins their work with a clear understanding and trusts in the organization. (More tips specific managing remote teams can be found here.)

“Original appointments and plans ended up being delayed,” said Lifan Xu, one of our marketing managers, when talking the effects of lockdowns on business in China. “In the state of relative stagnation of work and development, [employees] may be anxious and have a certain sense of loss.” She recommended that managers really strengthen encouragement and positive reinforcement during uncertain remote working times like these, to keep people motivated and positive.

Even more meetings squeezed into your workday might not sound ideal, but Giulia from Italy reported that because her team increased their number of meetings per day, coworkers claimed to feel more involved and motivated. The uptick in team interaction, especially with videoconferencing turned on and faces displayed, allowed everyone to feel connected to each other.

“Human connection is the essential ingredient for any recipe for corporate growth,” Giulia added. “And the ‘bright side’ of the whole situation is that [my] team has now become less afraid of confrontation…like our overall Speexx goal, we are empowering communication skills across borders, especially because we are all on the same proverbial boat.”

Lesson 5: Keep learning when working remotely

Another mindset we really admired from our Chinese colleagues: Their shift from focusing on ongoing projects and priorities (“business as usual”) to simultaneously improving their own skill sets.

Lifan spoke about the uptick in use of our internal “Speexx Academy” in which we offer self-created how-to’s on hundreds of topics: Foreign language learning, of course, but also public speaking tips and tricks, guidance on how to use various Internet tools, checklists on how to plan and execute events, advice for new colleagues, and so on.

Indeed, between February and March, Speexx Academy activity increased by 1340 percent in China.

Lifan argued that if work is slowing down considerably, now is the time for organizations to step up and try online learning, to keep individual skills sharp.

After all, even times of uncertainty have their end; as Lifan said, quoting a well-known Chinese saying, “Winter will eventually pass, and spring is sure to come.”

And when it does, what new skills will you have to show for it?