Part 1: Working Remotely During COVID-19. Top Tips for Success!

Roddy Temperley 03 Apr 2020 8 min read
MT Evolution SDL
As COVID-19 has spread across the globe, there have been many articles circulating with tips and tricks for working more effectively at home. Here at SDL, having promoted agile working for many years now, we are no strangers to remote working. We know all the basics to get it right—set up a work space, get up and get dressed, get into a routine, and stay connected to colleagues…
Over the past month, almost all employees across our 60 global offices have transitioned en masse to working remotely—even those who have traditionally worked in an office environment. Thankfully, our business operations are at near-normal capacity and we have succeeded during these times by leveraging some tried and trusted best practices, but with an SDL spin. Here is how we did it.

Slow down to go fast

When we formed our COVID-19 Crisis Committee in early January, we learned a lot about transitioning office workers to their homes in our Asia Pacific Region. With a Herculean effort, our IT department worked to ensure we had limited productivity loss. Our biggest learnings were that fully-functioning technology was table stakes and that leaders played a pivotal role in making the transition as smooth as possible by staying in tune with their teams—appreciating the challenges this change would bring, and taking time to check in and recalibrate the way work was done.

“When the crisis first began here, I had to consciously slow down my pace and really take the time to listen to the concerns of my team. In the beginning, we met twice per day, and shifted the focus of our calls. I had to let go of my agenda for a time while people talked through how to get set up at home—some were working with extended family in a small space… After a week, we began meeting once per week, the focus shifted back to the work and we talked about how we could begin to work differently and still achieve our goals.”—Christy Ma, RVP, APAC Sales

Stay connected and in sync

Collaboration is essential to the way we operate and how work gets done at SDL. Now that we are having to rely exclusively on virtual forms of collaboration and communication, we know we need to be mindful of the inherent drawbacks to these approaches. Emails and chats have the potential to be misconstrued if we don’t read them with an open mindset, always assuming the other individual has good intent. We know we need to check-in, ideally voice-to-voice, to be sure we are all on the same page. But going further and adopting a “web-camera on” practice where possible has also been hugely helpful. After all—nothing beats being able to have that eye-to-eye contact. Taking a positive approach to communication and being intentional about taking time to ensure messages are clear is always important, particularly now.

We are finding other innovative ways to stay connected by putting some informal time on calendars. Leaders across SDL have set up virtual water-cooler chats. I set up “Tea, Biscuits and a Natter” for global HR where we come together and talk about anything but work. We discuss how we are feeling, how we’re exercising at home or we simply tell jokes. We’ve even had three sessions of singing Happy Birthday to colleagues who are celebrating their big day, and although we won’t be appearing on X Factor anytime soon—it does give us a good laugh. It’s all about just being with each other—much like we would in a normal office environment.

Bring your “whole self” to work—It’s not like we have a choice!

Another thing we learned when we made this sudden shift is that many of our employees felt that working at home needed to look and feel “exactly” like working in the office. They put tremendous pressure on themselves to ensure there were zero interruptions and that there was at least the façade that everything was normal. The truth is we really don’t want our employees facing any additional stress during these times—we want to help them manage it as best as possible. Helping our working parents figure out how to work with their children at home is important to us. And, supporting others who are struggling with being at home alone with limited interaction is equally important. That’s why we ran, with great participation and success, a series of virtual sessions with teams across the globe to share ideas and tips with each other.

Our practice, from the executive team and down, has been one of transparency and openness related to this new work reality. I posted pictures of my new “co-workers” on Yammer on day one of home working.


Other members of our executive team have demonstrated virtually how their musical talents are helping them combat mental fatigue, their interactions with their children, and adjustments they are making to their days to maintain their productivity in the face of these unique circumstances. One posted this on Yammer last week and I think it encapsulates our mindset of appreciating the various situations our colleagues are coping with these days:

“Shout out to all moms and dads trying to stay productive with your children around you. Just coming out of a 90 mins call where one of the participants had her 4 year old and his fire truck in full blown "nee naw nee naw" mode in the background. I can’t even begin to imagine how you manage to remain productive.”—Maria Schnell, SVP, Global Language Offices

Leading by example has had quite an impact on people across the globe as many employees are now sharing on Yammer their experiences, giving us a sense that we are all in this together.


The bottom line for us is that following best practices around the logistics related to how you set up your office and how you structure your day are important, yet pale in comparison to the way in which you engage with your colleagues. At the end of the day, it is how we supported each other through this crisis that will be what we remember most, and, ultimately what will continue to make Life at SDL a place where employees want to be and where they can be their best.

Watch out for part two in this series, where we will delve into some more tips to help you stay productive and motivated at work! And if you'd like to follow our Life at SDL social channels, click here for Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook

Roddy Temperley SDL Blog

Roddy Temperley

former Chief HR Officer
As Chief HR Office, Roddy is focused on developing the right environment, opportunities and culture that enables people to thrive, build their skills and feel recognized and rewarded.
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