By Paola Pascual on Mar 11, 2020 6:34:25 AM
With the outbreak of COVID-19, many companies are being forced to work remotely, and some employees are actively asking to work from home. Knowing what to do and how to react to such a global event is not easy, but we’re on this together, and information sharing is one of our most powerful tools at the moment.
WHO is offering free online courses to educate people on how to behave in these situations and stay safe, and CDC also recommends that companies “ensure that you have the information technology and infrastructure needed to support multiple employees who may be able to work from home.”
At Talaera, we’re not health experts, but we can help you with remote work and communication. Our team has been working remotely for a while now and we understand the challenges and what it takes to make an organization work without physically seeing each other every day. Here we want to give you some helpful insights on how to manage a thriving remote workforce.
No doubt that working from home has plenty of advantages (fewer interruptions, less stress without having to commute, better work-life balance, and it can save the company money, among others). However, if not managed correctly, there are many pitfalls that can make it fall flat.
So without further delay - if you conquer the following 5 steps, you and your team are off to an amazing start.
#1 Manage a remote team effectively
Managing teams is already a difficult enough task when you are all in the same building, but when everyone is working from home? Things get even a little more complicated. Here are the most important aspects you should focus on:
→ Set clear expectations
Establishing a timeframe and setting priorities are fundamental. It is very important that your employees know what they have to do, how they are supposed to do it, and how long it should take them. You can either show examples of what you expect to be done, share your calendar, and double-check that they have correctly understood.
Also set clear expectations around how often you should both check in and create a comfortable channel of giving feedback, both positive and negative.
→ Set boundaries
One of the main disadvantages that remote workers report is how difficult it is to unplug after work. When we work online, it is easy to get trapped in the tendency to reply straight away, even when we’re outside of our working hours (feel like Slack is taking over your life? Here’s how to take back control).
As a manager, it is on you to set the tone, educate your employees and draw the line. Clarify how flexible their schedule is and at what times they should be available, but also communicate that it’s OK to get back when appropriate.
→ Apply your best leadership skills
You will need to find the right balance between being present and available but also giving everyone enough space and freedom. Have one-on-ones with your remote workers, often check in with them, and make sure they are heard and feel included. It is important that they have the tools and the support they need, tell them they may struggle sometimes, and create an open channel where they can always reach out for help.
Power dynamics are also an interesting aspect when employees work from home. Building trust via email, chat or a video link is not the same as doing so with casual conversations and random encounters. You will need to work harder, communicate frequently, make time for small talk, and set clear team roles and responsibilities.
→ Choose the best tools for your team
Choose the remote project management tools that work best for you. Some of the most popular ones are Trello, monday.com, Asana, KanbanFlow, and Todoist. Some developers of Meistertask have described this app as “the most intuitive project and task management tool on the web" (you can test and let us know what you think).
If your team is located in different time zones, you’ve probably Googled “time in London”. Timezone.io will help you keep track of where and when your team is, and will make planning long-distance meetings and calls much easier for everyone.
→ Get feedback
Asking your employees directly about how they are feeling is always a good idea, but getting anonymous feedback can sometimes give you a more honest picture of how your team is doing. Tools like Chimp or Champ or Happy at Work will help you monitor employee well-being. Survicate is also a great and easy-to-use tool to create surveys and find out what your employees (and customers) think about your organization.
#2 Stay connected and coordinated with your remote team
Some of the main concerns for remote workers are communication issues, feeling isolated, and FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Here is how to palliate those difficulties:
→ Ensure frequent communication
Frequent communication is key to successful remote work. Set up regular remote meetings (daily check-ins, weekly team meetings, brainstorming sessions, etc.), and also set up easy communication channels where your team members can communicate both horizontally (among them) and vertically (with managers and leaders).
→ Encourage collaboration
Make spaces where they can all share what they’re working on, encourage brief demos and presentations, and celebrate your team’s successes. This will help them feel connected and part of the team.
→ Foster team bonding
Telecommunication isn’t seamless, and not having the casual conversation on the fly, on the elevator or during a quick break can have a damaging impact on your team's harmony. One way to make everyone feel less lonely and more involved is to communicate about more than just your work. Make sure you keep up with your employees’ birthdays and with what’s going on in their lives. A united team will work more efficiently toward shared goals.
→ Use video as much as possible
Research shows that more than half of what we say is nonverbal. When you work from home and you don’t see your colleagues at the office every day, it is difficult to judge their mood and gauge how they are feeling about the current state of things.
Turn on the video whenever possible. This will help you make up for being apart and will make it easier to build rapport and feel connected to others.
→ Pick the right tools
Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, and Zoom are some of the most popular tools for video and chat communication, but there are hundreds of other apps that will make your remote communication and collaboration easier.
For example, UberConference is the next best thing to having a real conversation. It allows you to call while mid-call, you can share documents, it has an analytics tool, and you do not need a PIN number for video calls.
Or Discord, an all-in-one voice and text chat that allows you to talk to your coworkers in real time (fine, it’s an app for gamers, but hey, you can also use it for work!). And Screenflow is a multi-screen recording app that allows you to record meetings.
How about brainstorming online? The most common tools are Mural for brainstorming, Miro for whiteboarding, and Parabol for retrospectives. Of course, Google Docs is always an easy, simple, and reliable option.
Or you can always go low tech and draw on paper and hold it up to your camera. To each, their own! :-)
→ And, why not, use gifs and emoticons
Don’t forget to motivate and congratulate your team members. When you do so, a fun and representative gif here and there can turn a simple “good job” into an enthusiastic congratulation that will make them smile (you can use Slack’s Giphy integration).
#3 Maintain productivity working from home
With fewer interruptions at the office, your team’s productivity potential can grow exponentially. However, remote workers are often responsible for their own time management and prioritization of tasks, and that can lead to procrastination and decreased productivity. Educate your team members and help them do the following to make sure the organization’s efficiency is maintained:
→ Treat your home like your office
Have a designated work area, set boundaries of time and space, avoid working from your bed or in your pajamas (I know, it’s tempting, but you will probably be less productive). All in all, behave at home similarly to how you would behave at the office.
→ Stick to a schedule
Figure out a routine that works best for you and stick to it, plan your schedule, have structured eating times, and also take breaks to give your mind a rest.
→ Set priorities
It’s easy to get caught in administrative tasks and other less urgent activities. Have your priorities clear and set yourself up for success.
I’m a to-do-list kind of person, so it helps me to write a list with the week’s “must-finish” tasks and another one with my top priorities for the day, which I try to limit to three. They need to be realistic, achievable tasks, otherwise you will get frustrated and overwhelmed (which is something we do not want to happen).
To help you determine whether you should do something now, later or never, you can use the Eisenhower box (Decision Matrix below):
Schedule a certain amount of time to pay your bills, check your inbox, and clean up your working space, and try to always do it at the same time. This way, it will become part of your routine but you will reduce the risk of not having enough time for the important stuff.
→ Acknowledge procrastination and control it
We all procrastinate, we all waste time, and that’s fine. Developing self-discipline takes time and effort, but even when you do, wasting time sometimes is almost unavoidable. What you should do is acknowledge it, be aware of the moments when you are less productive, and try to control it. Ask yourself:
- What part of the day am I the most productive?
- What kind of tasks make me procrastinate?
- Why do I waste time doing a certain activity?
Once you have the answers to those questions, prepare for it. Get rid of distractions, time yourself, set deadlines, set achievable goals, use incentives, and equally important - take breaks.
There are some great time management and productivity apps that can help you fight procrastination: Beeminder, Toggl, Timecamp or PomoDoneApp are some of them but here's a list with other 25 anti-procrastination apps.
#4 Keep growing and developing your talent
Having a remote team doesn’t mean you can’t keep offering training and career development opportunities. It’s crucial that you remember their career paths and that you keep treating them like in-office team members. This will contribute to employee engagement and talent retention.
→ Move all the training to the online world
Lots of employees around the world have been forced to work from home and many companies want to give them some relief and online development options. From MOOCs to webinars to individual online sessions, online training is an excellent option to help your workforce grow and develop and still reconcile with the remote lifestyle. Some interesting platforms offering online training are LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, MIT, Yale, and Udemy.
Written communication and teleconferencing both require a different skill set than doing it face-to-face, and this can be very daunting especially for non-native speakers. If your international, multicultural employees need to communicate in English on Slack, via email or VTC (Video Teleconferencing), we can help them on their journey to feel confident and have the right tools to keep being efficient.
Because of the outbreak of COVID-19 and the imminent need to work and learn from home, Talaera is offering free business English sessions to companies that want to test our online courses for their teams.
#5 Make sure your team has the right equipment/working environment
→ Ensure a suitable working space
Some of your employees might not have enough space at home, the right equipment or a safe and comfortable working environment - noise, an uncomfortable chair or simply no desk available will hinder your staff’s productivity.
Invest in remote and help your teleworkers accommodate a nice work-from-home environment. The money that your organization can save on office expenses can then be invested in materials for your remote teams.
→ Confirm that you have the right software
Are you sure your VPN and current software can hold your whole team working remotely? Test it as soon as possible, and do it progressively so that you can start upgrading before going fully remote.
→ Compensate for extra costs
A lot of the benefits that attracted your talent in the first place might not be available for them now, like free coffee and food at the office or a nice coworking space. What you can do to make up for it is to provide an extra stipend a month so that they can cover those extra costs that come from working from home.
Remote work is a reality. It’s not a trend, and it’s here to stay. And the sooner your company is ready for it, the more competitive advantage you’ll get.
We hope that you found this post useful, and if you have any questions about remote work or want to explore the options of improving your remote team’s communication skills, get in touch!