Over the last few weeks, the COVID-19 coronavirus has forced organisations the world over to consider remote working as a way to ensure continuity of their day-to-day operations.
For many organisations, this is not an easy transition. Especially so if you are in a hurry, as most organisations are. I won’t go into detail as to why you should go remote, I’ll let the World Health Organisation, your government and your local law enforcement do the talking there. Suffice to say, you need to shift, and fast, and you don’t want your organisation to suffer significant downtime.
You likely have a lot of questions… and likely, even more concerns. “How do I maintain productivity? How do I communicate? How do we get our work done? How can I ensure my business keeps rolling on and minimise the pain of making this move, however short-lived it may be?”
And we have answers. Read on for a fast guide on how you can go remote, right now.
Why we can talk about this with authority
Award Force is a fully remote organisation, distributed across 18 countries, and we’ve been running remotely for more than 6 years. Everyone either works from home, a coffee shop or a shared workspace. We’ve tried just about every kind of collaboration tool, productivity software and communication system. We’ve explored a range of processes for team alignment, scheduling and synchronisation. We know the joys of working remote, and we’ve felt the pain too. We’ve been there and done that, and learnt some hard lessons. And, we’re still doing it today.
The truth is, moving to remote working is not easy. Some things do take time. This is not a quick fix guide, but it is a get-set-up-quickly guide, to help you make the switch fast.
Managing remote teams
A few quick things to note about keeping everyone on the same page and working together
You need to work off a trust system
First things first, you have to trust each other. If there is no trust, it won’t work. As a manager, you have to lay a solid foundation for trust, and build it through clear expectations. As an employee, you have to reward that trust through meeting those expectations.
Stop counting hours, start measuring outputs
Be realistic. People will be working from home, in their actual homes. And you can’t tell whether they are wearing pants or not. In the same vein, you can’t tell if people are working or not – so don’t try to. We are all adults; let’s be trusting and mature. The only thing you need to do is be clear on expectations and deadlines.
Communication frameworks and policies
You’ll need a good solid framework for how you’ll communicate with your team and vice versa. Diarise company meetings and one-on-ones with managers. Establish expectations regarding availability on instant messaging and email.
Off the back of that last point, documentation. You’d be surprised how much we convey in real-world settings – through a nod of the head that denotes understanding, a smile that says agreement. But in a remote world, that’s not always possible. Make sure there is always someone taking notes in every meeting (or record them) and ensure those notes (or recordings) are sent to everyone concerned after the meeting is completed and invite a response if something is unclear. When in doubt, over-communicate.
Software as a Service (SaaS)
If you’re not already familiar with SaaS, take the time to learn about their potential, and how these tools are the foundation for boosting your remote environment. There are a world of great business products available, all requiring only an internet connection, and they’re designed to be configured and used without needing IT team involvement.
Creating the right remote environment will look different for every team. Prepare your team for inevitable bumps while you experiment with what works best. Be open and encourage feedback, no matter how big or small. Before you know it, you’ll be smooth sailing and back to business as usual.
The tools you need
A few tips on equipment and software you’ll need for your new virtual team
Your staff needs a way to interface with each other. If your staff works from laptops, then it is simple, they just take them home. If on the other hand, your office works off PCs, that’s going to be a bit more difficult to do, but hey, monitors and PC boxes are still fairly easy to transport… but not ideal.
- If you don’t want to risk transporting PCs, consider hiring laptops on a short-term basis.
Good internet is non-negotiable
This may seem obvious but it’s worth mentioning. If you plan on having a remote workforce, it’s worth confirming everyone has fast and reliable internet, and if not, what you’ll do about it. It’s also good to understand what they’ll use the internet for. Slow speeds may be okay for simple communication tools, but throw video into the mix or request team members share large files and you are in for a tough time. For those without internet at home, investigate portable wifi devices. They work well as alternatives.
Sort out your phone system
At Award Force, we use Aircall to communicate with the outside world. It’s a software-as-a-service, which allows your team to call out from their PC/laptop like they are using a telephone system. You don’t have to use Aircall, there are plenty of other options, but that’s what works for us. These things can take as little as an hour to sort out.
- There is an app for most SaaS based phone tools that allows your team to use it on their mobile. Handy if your team doesn’t absolutely need to use a PC but must make calls.
- For best results, each team member needs a headset.
- Don’t forget to change your telephone numbers on your website and in social media land.
Email, shared documents
We use G Suite for everything, including email. This provides the breadth of services you’ll need to keep your information secure. If your company uses Outlook or some other email client installed on your machines, you can normally access your mail through a browser too.
Nothing beats instant messages for quick comms. It’s also great for building that community vibe that offices get organically. We use Slack, it’s by far the most suitable tool we’ve come across, but it may not be for everyone, you could also try Skype, Hangouts or Microsoft teams. Don’t be afraid to have non-work related conversations here, it’s good to keep personal relationships going, especially considering everyone is now working far away from each other and can’t make chit chat around the water-cooler.
- You can also try tools like Whatsapp and Facebook messenger for a quick (and generally free) start. They also have desktop versions available.
- If you do use Slack (recommended) create “channels” for each department. That way, you can keep conversations within teams specific and directed to the right people. Not everyone needs to know that Jane from XYZ company didn’t pay their invoice yet.
Video is great for company meetups, conference calls and one-on-ones. It’s a big deal for morale. Especially if you’ve been communicating with avatars all week. At Award Force, we use Zoom and it’s perfect for our needs. We can talk with team members, hold larger forums, run events and chat with our clients.
- If you choose to use a system like Slack or G Suite, both have video calling capabilities.
The human element of working from home
Tips on dealing with being remote for the first time
Dedicated work areas
If planning to work remotely on a more permanent basis, it’s important to make sure you are comfortable. If you’ve got a spare room at home, great, head in there and start sprucing the place up a bit. If not, you need to find a way to cordon off an area in your house and make it a no-go zone to friends and family. Some people use room dividers, others, curtains.
However you do it, you need to acknowledge the value of a dedicated workspace and set up some rules for entering. In your workspace, you want a good quality chair (you’ll be in this for at least 8 hours a day) a desk large enough for your laptop/PC, which is set at an appropriate height. For best results, your monitor should be at eye level so consider investing in a stand for your monitor to sit on (or just engineer something with a couple of books for a temporary solution).
You might want to also consider the space “ambiance”. You will be in this space for 8 hours a day, so make it work for you. Grab a small plant, put up some posters, anything to make you feel more comfortable. Lots of little things make a huge difference.
Keep a regular schedule
Ever notice how your routine goes all sideways on a weekend compared to a workday? Yeah, that’s what happens when you work remote for the first time. It’s all very new and for some, it can be quite an overwhelming experience. The important part here is creating a routine. Stay true to it. Do all the things you normally would, then, instead of climbing into a car or catching a bus, amble over to your workspace and get into work mode. You’ll love the commute. 😉
Keep a regular schedule, and don’t fall into the trap of working longer (or shorter) hours. Do what you used to do. And do it every day.
Don’t get distracted
While working, try not to let the comforts of home life get to you. You couldn’t watch TV at work – don’t do it at home. Stay engaged with your co-workers. And stay busy with your work.
Own your outcomes
Owning outcomes is critical to your success as a remote employee. As someone who is now no longer shadowed by a manager or surrounded by colleagues, you are responsible for motivating yourself every day, for taking responsibility for your to-do list and for diligently clearing it. Your output means something. However small you think it is, it has value. That’s why you have a job. Your success and failure is yours and it’s the best thing to realise early on – your outcomes are your responsibility.
Realise you might feel a bit lonely
It happens to most remote workers. Loneliness. One minute, you are surrounded by your colleagues, lots of office banter, trips home surrounded by people and then after about a week of working from home, nothing, no one, crickets… And it can be incredibly difficult to deal with sometimes. Just know, it’s normal. It’s ok. It happens to us all.
Just make sure you get plenty of facetime with your loved ones and reach out to your colleagues at work. Video is surprisingly good at bridging the divide and breaking the loneliness. But it’ll never replace physical presence. Make time for your friends after work and arrange small meetups with your colleagues to dust off your social skills every now and then.
Reach out if you need anything
There you have it – our crash course to going remote. We hope it has been helpful to you. If you are an awards program and need some additional advice, we have an ebook called “How to run an awards program without physical events” available for free download.
We’ve collated a list of some other great sources we think might be useful to you below. Good luck with your journey to becoming remote, even if it is just for a short while. If you have any questions at all, feel free to ask. We’ll be more than happy to help.
More good blogs on going remote: