Everyone needs to take a break from time to time, especially if you’ve been collaborating closely for an hour or more. But when working together remotely, breaks have a way of stretching out longer than intended. Here’s one simple rule for avoiding the Endless Break.
It’s a common enough scenario: you work together with a coworker for an hour or so, and then you hit a stopping point and decide to take a 5-minute breather. Both of you go for a walk, maybe grab some water, and then head back to the desk and sit down again to get some more work done.
When collaborating remotely, it doesn’t always work out like that. You get back to your desk, and check your teammate’s IM status. It doesn’t say “away”, but she hasn’t posted anything on your presence app, and you don’t want to nag her, so you decide to check your email. A few minutes go by and she IMs you, but you’re busy writing an email reply and don’t see it immediately. When you finally reply to her, she’s busied herself with something else, and asks you to wait for a couple of minutes. Before long 20 minutes have gone by, and you’ve lost any momentum you had for the task at hand.
Sound familiar? I know I’ve had this happen to me quite a few times, and I know from my interviews with other remote workers that I’m not alone in this. So what to do? How do you keep your breaks short without nagging each other?
The key is simple: keep the video feed on. You are using video chat for your collaboration sessions, right? Maybe you’ve taken my advice and set up dedicated “Skype appliances” for your audio and video communications. Well, instead of shutting down your Skype session when you get up for a break, leave it on, and pointed at your empty seat. If you get back first, you’ll be able to see exactly when your coworker returns and pick up the conversation where you left off. And with the call still live and that camera pointed at your chair, you’ll be less tempted to dawdle on your break or to check Facebook before getting back to work.
After all, it’s not like you’re paying for every minute that the call is maintained. Use that bandwidth you’re paying for, and keep the call open during your breaks. You’ll never again have to worry about whether it’s too soon to give your coworker a virtual “poke”.
Title image by Carey Ciuro