We’re launching this blog in the midst of a massive change to how many of us do business because of COVID-19. A year ago, many of us in the performing arts would not have imagined most of our staff working remotely, let alone creating and performing remotely. While only you can decide whether your art can be translated into a virtual format, the team here at Benvenuti Arts can absolutely help you manage your team remotely.
There are so many benefits to maintaining a fully or partially remote team beyond the needs of the moment. In a field where salaries are often lower than we’d like, giving your staff the ability to work remotely and flexibly is a huge benefit. With the right support in place, your staff can be just as or more productive when they don’t have a commute and office distractions in the way. In addition, in cities like New York where space comes at a premium, you can save on rent, allowing you to invest more in your staff and artists.
The team at Benvenuti Arts has always worked remotely, and some of us have been working in the digital nomad space for years, where remote teams are the norm. So this month, I’ve asked the team to give you tips about different aspects of working remotely and managing a remote team. I hope you’ll let us know, in the comments, what has worked for you and what challenges you have faced in these recent months.
Remote Tools to Manage your Team
– advice from Sarah
These days, there are a ton of tools out there to help you manage projects and remote teams. For us, there are five general kinds of tools I would recommend. I will give you some example of those that we use, but it’s incredibly important to find tools that make sense to you, and to try to find tools that integrate with each other. Take those free trial weeks for a bunch of tools and find the ones that speak to you!
Project Management Software
This is the central repository for all of our work. We use Asana, which connects to all of our other tools. We can keep all tasks in this system, separated by client and project. As the team leader, I can easily see if we are on track with each client while each of us can manage our own daily tasks. We can connect documents to tasks, start out time sheets through each task, and more. When it comes to this software, while we love Asana, there are plenty of options out there like Basecamp, Monday, and more. Find one with an interface that makes the most sense to you!
Gone are the days of having to buy Microsoft Office for your entire team. While many prefer to use Office, and then use something like Dropbox as a shared server, we find the Google Suite is the best solution to both shared documents and servers. For us and our clients, working from documents in Google Drive ensures we are always working from the current documents. Google saves your drafts and changes, so you can always see what has been done instead of searching multiple documents. Nonprofits get a FREE suite account, which come with a large amount of storage, email through the Gmail interface, access to Google Adwords grants, and more. While there are other options, for us, Google Suite is absolutely the best.
While many tools, including those above, have commenting and other communications built in, we find that Slack is really the best way to communicate quickly and efficiently. Our team has staff meetings just once a month, so in the interim, we use slack to check in on tasks, update each other on client needs, and just have fun. In the midst of the initial COVID lockdowns, getting fun messages – like this seductive carrot from Adriana – helped us all keep our spirits up. If using Slack, try creating different channels for different projects, including one for enticing vegetable pics.
Unless your team is all full-time, you’ll likely need something to track their hours. As noted above, it’s best to pick software that integrates with whatever project management software you choose. We use Harvest, but there is also Toggl, Timely, and many more.
Is that all?
Of course not! You can go down a rabbit hole of tools to help your business. Airtable for souped-up spreadsheets. Evernote for organization. Hubspot for customer management. But I suggest you start small and take plenty of time to integrate new tools into everyone’s workflow. And if you run into trouble – reach out to us for help!
Working From Home with Kids
– advice from Julie
Parenting can be hard.
Work can be hard.
Parenting *while* working during a Pandemic is…well, have we come to consensus on what the word is for this? I mean a word that’s appropriate to use in this blog entry? Let’s just go with IMPOSSIBLE.
Ok, let me dial it back. Not impossible; but it certainly feels that way a lot of the time, doesn’t it? I myself, am the parent of an energetic, music-loving, if-a-bouncy-ball-came-to-life 3 year old kiddo. Attempting to simultaneously work and nurture my bouncy ball over the past six months has been an exercise in patience, flexibility, and a metric ton of coffee.
There have been a million articles written about this subject already, so I am not going to reinvent the wheel with any novel, life-changing suggestions on how to do it better/have it all/polish off that perfect budget while your kid perches on your head.
What I will do is provide a short list of actual things that I’m doing that help make this very real challenge slightly more manageable and perhaps a couple of them might work for you, too.
While it’s ideal to do daily, sometimes that just isn’t a reality. But if/when possible, even walking outside for 10 minutes has helped me feel refreshed. I have even roped my husband into doing an online barre workout with me a few times which is not only beneficial to our health, but hilarious for me (endorphins from both – win!)
This goes for the kids too – we fashioned a mini water park on our deck (read: a plastic slide propped into a kiddie pool) and that thing has been a source of fun and energy-burn all summer long for the little guy!
Find a small thing that helps make your daily routine slightly special.
For me, this was buying a milk frother to help make my coffee a little more fancy in the mornings (and let’s face it, the afternoons.) Since I can’t go to my usual coffee shop and work like I used to in “the before times”, it’s a way to make an existing ritual just a little happier.
More screen time is okay.
This is one I personally had to come to peace with as I’m sure many of you have. They will be okay. Letting them watch another 20 minutes of Daniel the Tiger so you can finish that grant edit will not harm either one of you.
Give yourself some grace.
This is hard for everybody. We are all doing the very best we can under unprecedented circumstances. Just know that no matter how frustrating a day you may have in either the parenting column or the work column (or both), you are doing a GREAT JOB. And your own little bouncy balls are lucky to have you.
The Transition to Working from Home
– advice from Adriana
Learning to Work Remotely
As a lifelong theatre maker and artist, transitioning to working remotely entirely has been a process of self discovery and self discipline. Since I was a teen, I have trained to be a theatre artist: this has meant long daily hours working on voice and speech, circles of energy and the work on presence, the collaborative energy you bring in the room, the “give and take” and “yes and…” rules of improvisation, and all the wonderful practices that make theatre a living breathing experience.
So when I joined the Benvenuti Arts team and transitioned to an entirely remote environment, I had a lot to learn. Fortunately enough, I work along a compassionate team that was eager to help me out during this phase.
Work didn’t feel like a full body warm up anymore, or the sharing of ideas out loud, or the performance of a piece of text or a dance.Adriana Rossetto
In the beginning I remember being amazed by the efficiency of the digital systems that the Benvenuti Arts team had set up. Through Asana, Slack, Google docs and Zoom, I have full access to what I need to carry on my tasks successfully, and can independently manage my work schedule as freely as I want (as long as I respect our internal deadlines!).
This, of course, is very different from having to be in a rehearsal space or theatre at a certain time to work with a group of people right there and then, so the sense of what I considered “doing work” felt very different on my skin. I remember sitting in front of the computer and seeing hours going by and feeling like I had accomplished very little – not because I was being “unproductive” but because the physical sensation that I associated with productivity in the theatre was no longer there.
Work didn’t feel like a full body warm up anymore, or the sharing of ideas out loud, or the performance of a piece of text or a dance; work felt like the more introspective act of writing and communicating effectively, and the building of a coherent story that would inspire people. Although a shift, it was still deeply fascinating to me and motivated me to stick with the new method.
So I guess the takeaway here is: working remotely will feel foreign for a while but, as with all new things, you have to allow the time for it to become you, and once it is part of you, you’ll wonder how you went without it for so long.
Finding Purpose in Remote Work
Working remotely is still deeply collaborative, in fact, I’d dare to say that what I had learnt in the theatre about collaboration applies even more here: to be communicative, punctual, to have a sense of the big picture and yet obsess over attention to detail. All of that is amplified in this type of team work because the passages from a to b to c are pretty linear and the run to the endline feels like a relay race.
I obsess over doing my part of the race as best as I can, the same way I obsess in the theatre with the delivery of a line, or the building of a character: these are parallel examples that answer to the same question – am I telling my part of the story as best as I can?
This type of framing helps me stay engaged and “leaning forward” towards my responsibilities within the team – which can be hard sometimes because it is easy to feel like you’re doing your work in isolation when you spend so much time in front of a screen. But when I sense that I’m dragging my feet over something I have to do, I take some time to reflect on the big picture and connect to our collective mission: we’re helping artists thrive – and that feels right and good and it is usually enough to replenish my soul.
Communicating Your Full Self Virtually
Another aspect I remember struggling with or worrying about was coming across as my “full” self, not only with my team members but also with our clients. All of our contacts happen over emails, messages, or video calls, so it is hard to “read the room” when there is no room. This is, I think, the most important step I had to bridge – sometimes in the theatre you work with people that just fill the space by simply being there, and that type of energy not only is charismatic but also highly addictive.
Part of that addiction, for me, is that that sort of people have the ability of bringing the best out of you – maybe because you want to rise to their energy level or because you want to impress them in the same way they impress you, or for any other reason. I find that collaborative energy so potent, so when I started to work remotely I craved other ways that would compensate for that “filling the room”.
I still don’t have a proper way of framing this journey nor do I know how/when the switch happened, but eventually I think I accepted that just doing the work was enough, in the best way. That if you take care of what you do and you put that extra love into it, that that speaks itself for who you are, as an extension of and testimony to your personality. I see this, in a way, that you have to fill the room for yourself – which is a wonderful thought of self realization, and one that comes from a self empowering attitude.
All of this to say: adapting to work remotely takes time and patience, especially with yourself. So give yourself an extra credit because doing what you usually do in a new way requires you to step out of your comfort and be, yet again, “in the making”, and that always costs energy. But the key is knowing that you are not alone in this journey so, as always in the theatre, look around you and breathe deeply: we have your back.
My Best Work from Home Tips
– advice from Tayler
Organization is my jam! But working from home can be tough for anyone, even seasoned pros like the BA team! As someone who has exclusively worked online while also traveling the world for the last few years, here are my 4 best tips for staying productive while working from home.
And if you want all the work home tips be sure to check out my personal blog post on How to Successfully Work from Home.
Get Dressed Every Day
The temptation when working from home (and especially during quarantine) is to stay in your comfy pajamas all day. It doesn’t mean you can’t dress more comfortably or relaxed than if you were headed to the office or theatre, but you should definitely change clothes.
The daily transition, in this case with your clothes, signals your brain that there is a shift happening. Changing clothes tells your mind that you’re entering work mode and it will help you stay more productive. For me, this looks like putting on shoes every day. My clothes matter less than having shoes on for my brain to know we’re serious about the day.
Maybe for you this looks like putting on real pants or some makeup for the day. Whatever it is, resist the temptation to go from bed, to desk to couch without ever changing outfits.
Have a dedicated workspace that is not your couch or bed
Speaking of the couch….. you shouldn’t work from your couch or bed, ever. Easier said than done I know. We’re all guilty of checking email while watching TV, but if you can, you should have a dedicated work space separate from your “lounge” space.
In the Harvard Business Review’s Guide to Being more Productive, they say, “Unless you are careful to maintain boundaries, you may start to feel like you’re always at work and losing a place to come home to.”
When you’re not physically “coming home from work” it’s important to maintain those boundaries within the space you do have. So if you don’t have a desk, or room to add one, working from the kitchen table or bar is a good option. This way when the work day is done your couch is still a place of relaxation and separate from work.
Set Regular Working Hours
If you haven’t already set up regular working hours while working from home, you’ll want to make sure you do that. Having a general idea in your head is good, but communicating those hours to people you work with is even better.
Just like setting boundaries in your home space, you need to set boundaries with your working time. Especially when you work from home it can be tempting to check your email or finish up that last little thing, but setting and sticking to your hours will allow you stay refreshed each day and more productive during the times you do work.
Make a Priority List
Know what needs to get done each day and focus on those tasks. Sounds easy right? Until that text comes through or email asking you to do something else. And then the dog needs walking and that small quick task actually took you an hour to do and then the day is halfway over and you haven’t even started on what matters!
A good way to think about this is to identify what your overarching goal is. This could be for the quarter, month or even just that week. Then break down the tasks that will help you achieve that goal. Those are the tasks that you should focus on prioritizing each week and day.
I like to make my list for the week on Sundays so I can get a picture of what all needs to be accomplished. Then I adjust at the end of each work day for the following day based on what has been accomplished already or is still pending. I use Trello for my personal task management, but any tool or planner will do.
We hope you found our honest & real perspectives on the challenges of working from home valuable to your and your teams. Each one of us has managed to work through the ups and downs together and with a lot of encouragement and support from one another. You’re not alone!
Feel free to leave a comment with any questions, insights or your best work from home productivity tips!