As the COVID-19 pandemic intensifies around the world, more and more companies are asking their employees to work remotely to slow the spread of the virus. While the Coronavirus is causing events to be cancelled and stock markets to decline there is an opportunity here for companies to trial remote work and actually come out the other end better off.
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If you’re an employer who’s now wondering how to manage a remote team, or an employee looking to make remote work a permanent part of your companies routine, then I have some advice that may help…
The benefits of remote work
Technology has made it easier than ever for teams to work remotely. Companies like Buffer and Slack have been remote from day 1 and it’s always been part of their culture. But this may be the first time your team is working remotely and you might be wondering how this transition is going to play out.
Working remotely has a few key benefits worth mentioning:
- Increased freedom » The freedom to work when and how you want is very appealing and is usually the #1 reason employees are looking for remote work options. We all have different preferences when it comes to how we like to work. Giving people more freedom around working hours and conditions means employees are going to be happier and more productive when they do sit down to work.
- Lower overheads » If your team works remotely long-term this may mean you don’t have to lease office space or at the very least may not need a much. When everyone’s at home, you can save on printing, tea and coffee, office supplies and everything else you need to run a physical workspace. It may mean giving people an allowance for supplies but this is likely to be a lot less than leasing a large office space.
- Fewer distractions and more autonomy » When people don't work in the same physical space, they can’t walk over to each other's desks to ask questions or waste time with idle chit-chat. This means fewer distractions throughout the day and people are more likely to try and find an answer to a question on their own before picking up the phone to bother someone else.
This is just the tip of the iceberg and working remote has many benefits besides what I’ve discussed here. It can have a big impact on the culture of the company and it’s not without its challenges. With that in mind, here are some tips on how to make remote teams more productive:
Tips for remote teams to be more productive
When going remote for the first time, you need to define the “rules” around how your team is going to operate now that they’re not in the same physical space. Without these rules, you’ll find that everyone will do their own thing and things like communication can get very chaotic.
1. Decide how communication will be managed
Firstly, decide how your team is going to communicate and when to use different channels:
- When will people use email vs. instant messaging tools like Slack?
- How will you keep instant messaging organised? Group chat tools like Slack can get overwhelming if channels and threads aren’t used appropriately.
- Decide which video conferencing tool you’re going to use. If you don’t commit to one, you’ll find everyone will use what they prefer and things can get pretty confusing. I highly recommend Zoom.
- How will you decide when to move a conversation from email or instant messaging to a video meeting?
This won’t take long, but establishing a few basic rules around communication will really help to keep conversations efficient and on track.
2. Define expectation around work hours
You’ll also need to communicate expectations to the team around working hours and availability. Naturally this may vary a little depending on job role. For example, customer service staff, may need to be online and available during certain hours. Other members of the team may be given more freedom and can start work later or earlier if possible.
3. Decide how to track output and performance
Because you can’t see when people are at work, you’ll need to decide how to track output and performance. This is where having individual or team targets is very useful.
For a sales team, using a CRM like Pipedrive (affiliate link) gives you the option to set up revenue targets and goals. Task management tools like Asana can be used to track individual workload and contributions to different projects. With tools like these in place, your culture may shift to have less emphasis on working hours and more of a focus on the actual work and delivering results.
4. Make sure everyone has the tools they need
If remote work is going to become a long-term or permanent work arrangement, you need to make sure everyone has the tools they need to do their work efficiently.
This may mean giving staff a budget to buy a monitor, printer, webcam or other office supplies. It may also mean helping to pay for their internet connection and paying for higher broadband speeds.
It could also mean paying for a few extra pieces of software to help keep the team connected. We’ve already discussed Slack and Zoom. You may also need to invest into a cloud storage provider, phone system or time tracking tools.
A lot of people are worried about the COVID-19 pandemic (as they should be). The best thing we can all do is to try and stay calm, focus on the things we can control and the positives that can come out of this situation. If your team has considered going remote, this could be a great opportunity to give it a test run. And who knows it could be a great thing for your team and business.