We’ve all had to improvise while having to work from home this year. We now know that operating an entirely online working environment comes with its share of difficulties: communication issues, differences in work ethic, a lack of clarity and direction, to name a few. COVID-19 made it so that 88% of organizations have encouraged their staff to work from home, but the effects of the pandemic on remote workers have made it even tougher. Let’s say you live with a loud family — or, you might not have the space to make your own home office space — situations like these make the already difficult online work even more problematic.
Let us introduce ourselves. Uncultured Schwein is an emerging digital comic and media company, operating all around the world — digitally! Our teams of creatives are working hard to make all of our webcomic dreams come true, by working together from all around the world.
So, how do we operate digitally? We have a virtual office space and work with a team from all over the world, through the help of one platform — Discord! Discord is a digital distribution and IM platform that is specifically designed with communities in mind — mostly popular amongst gamers, it specializes in making video and audio communication between its users as easy as ever. We’ve found Discord to be a much more efficient platform for remote working, and we’ll explain exactly why.
Without further ado, let us take you through our top tips for running your office digitally.
1. When Does it Make Sense to Use Discord?
If you have already tried other remote work platforms, but you find that you need a lot more than just a video call and one-on-one chat room to keep track of your tasks — or, if you think emails have never been more impersonal, then it’s time to consider a platform like Discord.
When we started off messaging on Telegram and holding our meetings over Skype, it seemed simple. However, the lines between the different teams under our company became blurred, and keeping track of each other’s availability became extremely difficult. Telegram and Skype did not allow us to communicate as freely as we had hoped for, even though one might think that they would. It began to feel impersonal, and planning meetings took longer than needed. We decided to switch over to the Discord platform to be able to build a simulation of the real-life environment of an office.
There are other platforms, like Slack, that offer a similar environment, but the voice channel option is really what makes the Discord platform so unique. Its most important feature is the ability to have multi-screen sharing in a call, without any major hiccups. In any meeting, our team members can share their screen and thus findings with us. This keeps our jobs easy and makes progress known to other peers.
2. Structure is Everything
It is estimated that 25% — 30% of workers will be working entirely remote from 2021, and with Discord, we can see a better future. Since it is such a fluid platform, creating structure is key.
Let us welcome you to our Uncultured Schwein server. What you’ll first see is that we have divided our chat rooms into the respective teams of our company: creatives, 3D design, web design, marketing, and editorial. This is where each team discusses ideas, keeps up to date with one-another, or notifies the rest of the team of any valuable information.
Then, we have our Voice Channels that allow us to hold meetings and communicate with each other. These are accompanied by specific chat rooms for note-taking during meetings, and all of these rooms are always available for a quick chat, an important meeting, or a brainstorming session.
Our advice is to be the architect of your own office. Since online work comes with many difficulties, you must set up a working space everyone understands, and that allows communication to flow easily — as we have with our respective rooms. A quick tour of the platform will make sure all of your coworkers will understand its uses.
3. Flexibility is Key
Feeling like you always have to be available to work is one of the aspects of online working that can leave people feeling burnt out. We require everyone to be present as Online (not Away, Invisible, or Busy — as the settings of Discord go), for the working hours of their contract That way, all team members are also aware of each other’s working time and can contact them when needed.
Sometimes, real-life happens, and when you’re working from home, you can be surrounded by several other factors you cannot ignore. That means sometimes your internet connection might be down while you’re screen-sharing your week’s work, or your surroundings no longer allow for your full concentration.
It’s in the way you deal with it that matters. Managers and peers alike should be prepared for scenarios where technology lets us down, and when personal issues can no longer be put on the backburner. What you can always do is reschedule a meeting, meet one-on-one for individual progress, or allow the team members to type their progress for the week in a chatroom when they have time.
4. Transparent Communication
The BBC has listed one of the biggest issues with online work to be communication and feeling out of the loop with the rest of your colleagues. Here’s one piece of advice right off the bat: communicate as much as possible. As timezones and personal lives sometimes get in the way of things, we must stay on top of our communication game.
Since we have separate chat rooms for each team, it is a lot like having a real-life office: your teammates are there to help you if you need anything, and it allows for communication to be captured easily. Everything that is communicated within a team, or even outside of it, becomes easy to find and accessible to everyone. As people can decide what they see, it’s less of a corporate feel, allowing communication to flow better. Clarifying anything that could be a misunderstanding, or making sure you’re on the right track, is essential.
5. Give Feedback to Your Peers
Whether in an offline or online setting, you should always give feedback. Peers need to know whether or not what they are doing and communicating is working for the goals of the company/project as a whole.
We have our project manager to thank for not only introducing us to our digital office platform, Discord but also for composing weekly feedback announcements, where she goes through every team member’s progress. Having a project manager, or anyone else you trust in your team to keep track of this, is essential. That way, individuals are aware that what they are doing is on the right track. For us, since we are developing a digital comic, being aware of progress is always needed.
6. Set Up a Norm
Just because meetings take place online, does not mean they should be taken lightly or be ignored. If you’re a manager, try and communicate with your team how important it is that the members attend a particular meeting, and if you are a team member, then pay attention as you would in a real-life setting. It sounds simple, but we also know this can be hard when working digitally.
With the pandemic still going on, it can be hard to separate your work life from your home. Our advice — rework your day’s pattern. Our structure allows all coworkers to have set hours they work in — and so should yours. Of course, when your computer is on during dinner time, it can be hard to ignore the sound of a message chiming in, but it is more productive in the long-run to set your boundaries, goals for the day, and make that tomorrow’s task instead.
Quartz at Work recommends making a clear transition between clocking in and out of work — set a reminder, or light a candle you can blow out at the end of the day, so your mind can know when it’s time to spend time at home.
7. Boost Team Productivity and Morale
In an online working environment, you can’t poke your head through your coworker’s door to help them out, so the communication needs to flow constantly. One of our key findings is that as important as leadership directives are, treating everyone as a friend works better in a digital setting. People need to be easily approachable, and the environment of Discord makes it so that everyone is one chat away. That is not to say that the boundaries of work and play should be blurred, but a sense of comfort should always be established throughout management.
Our advice on how to boost team morale when it’s down is to get personal. Recently, we started hosting our office parties, workout boot camps, and events on our Uncultured Schwein server, to make us all feel more like a digital family that works together.
Since we don’t have the privilege of face-to-face contact, becoming familiar with each other comes into play. As much as being professional matters, team-building like this helps in letting your coworkers know you are real people — especially if you have only met behind a screen. Putting a moving face to the name, and listening to how other people function outside of work is essential in understanding what may or may not work when working virtually with them.
We highly recommend giving your coworkers and colleagues a way to unwind, even if that means sitting in front of your laptop drinking wine with a bunch of creative strangers while playing Among Us.
8. To Discord or Not to Discord
Here’s a recap of what having a virtual office with Discord can do for you:
- Create your structure and digital environment as it fits your company;
- Multi-screen share while having multiple screens active in a video call;
- Easy to find communication captured in various channels;
- Endless team-work possibilities;
- Create a sense of community.
Finally, here’s how to create your Discord server:
To set up Discord for your company, make sure everyone downloads the app and gets familiar with the platform first. You can ensure comfort and trust in the platform as you make simple instructions for your team members. If you follow our example, a team has three available ways of communicating in the app: a chat room, a meeting notes room and a voice channel. It’s simple and straightforward to design your Discord experience like this, so that information becomes easier to record and track.
As one of our members stated, Discord allows us to break “the country borders”.
“I have met so many beautiful and smart people that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet in a “normal” work environment”.
What we’ve learned from working digitally, is that it is not only possible but can also be highly effective. We would not have been able to receive so many innovative, distinct ideas without our global team, so we wouldn’t have it any other way.
If you now feel like pitching this idea to your company, remember where you got it from. Tag us on our social media, and may the online working odds be ever in your favor.