We’ve been doing this for over 10 years now…
Preparing to lead your staff through transitioning into a remote workforce?
We’ve been working from home since 2009. Here are five things we’ve learned about building a strong, productive remote working team.
1. Communicate Clear Expectations
This is not a paid holiday. Let the team know that you still expect work to be done but be reasonable and flexible when it comes to working hours. This may be difficult for them to juggle and they may need to do some early mornings or late nights to make it work.
Create clear, simple, realistic processes around:
- Unexpected interruptions
- If team members need to take an unexpected break, just a quick message to the rest of the team works well here.
- Unwell family members
- Encourage team members to communicate clearly when things at home are making it difficult for them to get their work done. Make sure there’s always someone who is trained and can cover in unexpected situations.
- What kind of connection will they need? How much data? Who pays the bill?
- After hours job requests
- Explain to your team that just because they’re working from home, they’re still not expected to work outside of their normal office hours unless by choice. Encourage them not to check their emails if they can avoid this after office hours, to allow them to have some downtime. Boundaries are very important in work from home situations.
Boundaries are very important in work from home situations.
- Availability during office hours
- Explain to the team that you may need to get in touch with them at short notice at times and make sure you have their contact details on file, in case they’re away from their desk when you need them in an urgent situation.
- Communication options
- Always ensure clear communication channels. Team members need to have easy access to one another and to you. This can be done through a variety of platforms.
2. Remove Non-Essentials
Think of this as a golden opportunity to get rid of the unnecessary ‘fluff’. Hosting meetings, for example, is going to be a challenge. There are great software platforms to make it a bit easier, but it won’t be the same so are there meetings that can be cut out or streamlined?
Be careful not to cut out essentials – which may look non-essential. Never underestimate the mind-clearing power of having a quick chat at the coffee machine or 3-minute stretch in the sunshine. Empower your employees by acknowledging these needs and emphasising that these are a vital ingredient in the overall wellness of each team member.
Empower your team by acknowledging their need for self-care and overall wellness.
Ensure they have clear communication channels with colleagues and team leaders so they can pop in for a chat whenever needed. Consider adding a lunchroom to your virtual office, and even a quiet room, so team members can make it clear when they’re taking some time out or working on a deep dive project and to be left undisturbed.
3. Use Technology Wisely
Technology is an aid, not an answer. It should support your current business practices and be used to keep people accountable for tasks and projects, but it in no way replaces a real manager. Your employees still need to have a person to ask for help, a person to check up on them and a person who genuinely cares. Make it part of your workflow to check on your people, not just in terms of how they are doing with their work, but how they are going. In an office, you can usually see if someone is having a bad day, but it’s a lot harder when they can hide at home behind a screen.
Be deliberate about caring for your team members.
Make a buddy system or a list of who exactly each manager is responsible for. And remember – tone can be easily misinterpreted via written messages so make sure to use emojis whenever possible, to convey a friendly tone. Using technology to support a remote team means you need to take extra care of your employees. You are less likely to know what’s going on in their personal life so need to make a deliberate effort to stay in touch with them on a work level as well as a personal level. Ensure each team member is well connected with at least one senior level of staff.
4. Empower and Resource Your Team
There are myriad of tools we can use to support an online, remote team.
We use (and love!):
Sococo: This virtual office can be adjusted to suit the needs of any remote team. Be sure to have fun with the settings and consider changing up the room names sometimes as a fun surprise. One of our team members sneakily changed the room names to Monopoly locations and hid the grand prize in one of the rooms. It was a bit of fun and it changed things up for a few days.
Time for a team meeting? Call everyone into the ‘boardroom’ and get out that agenda! Once everyone’s microphone and video is turned on, it’s about as close to a real meeting as you’re gonna get, virtually speaking.
Trello: Invaluable for managing clients, projects and tasks. Create boards, lists and cards, set up reminders, collaborate with team members and keep all notes in one place. Every remote workforce needs Trello. We swear by it! The people at Trello have also created some fun templates which can be used to create fun at work and build team morale for free here.
Slack: Think of this as an alternative to calling out across the office. Hey Christie! What was the name of that person again? Put it on slack. Great for quick, time-sensitive messaging, we use this to ping messages to one another all the time. The great thing is that you control the notifications – so if you’re needing some quiet, just shut the notifications off for 30 minutes or a couple of hours.
WorkflowMAX: Logging hours can be really important when working from home. Because no one’s eye-balling anyone, it’s difficult to know who has worked and when. Workflowmax allows time to be logged per client, per project and per tasks. You can make it as basic or as complicated as you like and is managed by each person individually, lessening the load on HR. Win!
Zoom: Client meeting? Zoom is well known and trusted by more people than other programs. Their platform enables meetings of varying size and length and enables easy meeting bookings and invitations. Plus – they have fun background options. Anyone working from Tahiti?!
5. Have Fun!
Have ways for people to interact that is fun. Some people will love working from home, but for others, it will be a real struggle. Let them know that you still want this to be fun. Encourage non-work interaction on IM channels, emails and even institute some games, or encourage a virtual lunchtime where they hop on to just chat and have lunch together. It will cost you some time, but you’ll get it back because a happy employee is a productive one.
Fun and productivity go hand in hand
Never underestimate the importance of investing in your team members’ headspace, especially when they’re adjusting to changes in their work environment. Perhaps consider gifting each team member with a $30 Uber Eats voucher so they can each order in their lunch and eat together in the Sococo boardroom.
Encourage your team to call each other out on their wins by running a monthly ‘Celebrate It All’ campaign where each team member nominates one team member for something they appreciate about them that month. List the company’s values and invite them to highlight the values shown by the team member they’re nominating. The winner receives a $100 gift card in the mail. Happy days!
There are loads of great ideas here.
The important thing to remember when managing a remote team is that out of sight out of mind is not going to work. Engage with your team whenever you can. Be honest about how you’re doing and take each opportunity to encourage them and let them know that you notice their hard work.
Have grace and understanding for the different dynamics which come with remote teamwork
Have grace and understanding for the different dynamics which come with remote teamwork and when a team member is struggling, be sure to ask them what you might be able to improve, to help make the situation easier on them.
And finally, look after yourself! It’s vital that you get up from the screen, go for a walk and get some fresh air. Now that you’re working from home, the temptation may be to work from sunup to sundown. But you’ll find that this is only sustainable for a short time and it’s not healthy relationally, physically or mentally.
So go on, grab a bottle of water and go for a quick walk around the block. A healthy leader grows healthy teams.
Call us if you have any questions about managing your remote team.