The future of work has been, for many years, touted to be remote. And now, in the wake of the Covid19 situation, we’ve all been forced to embrace it without warning.
The current pandemic is keeping us indoors, lashing down with unimaginable wrath. That means even companies who’ve never really had employees working from home before are having to do so out of necessity.
Remote working brings about a whole new set of challenges. Employees may face a drop in productivity when they are taken out of a team setting. Collaboration becomes difficult when team members are not co-located. People are going to rely on technology more than ever to get work done, and it’s important that they have the right tools.
In this guide, we’ll discuss four key aspects of transitioning to remote work: Productivity, Culture, Tools, and Security.
Helping employees stay productive
While working from home might be great for certain people – especially individual contributors like writers and coders – it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. That’s because there are many downsides that come with it.
For starters, you’re prone to distractions, there’s a bit of loneliness and there’s lack of motivation. Let’s take a look at what can be done to make remote work fun and productive for teams – be it customer support, marketing, or a dedicated development team.
1. Overcommunicate (there’s no place for brevity)
Remote work can easily open up the doors to miscommunication. Here’s why: A lot of times, we tend to keep our messages brief on text when communicating with our team. You might believe you’ve conveyed your point – but your colleagues could be spending a lot of time and effort trying to interpret what you’re saying.
So, how do you make communication smoother and easier? For starters, be as clear and detailed as possible while communicating with your remote co-workers. Don’t assume they would be able to read between the lines. Ask yourself: would they understand the point I’m trying to make? Or, would this lead to more questions? If so, what are these questions and how can I be more clear?
It’s always best to overcommunicate as it helps reduce second-guessing and saves everyone a lot of time.
Say you’re managing customer support and just helped a customer troubleshoot a problem. Document every single step, attach a screenshot for each, and share it across your team so that everyone is on the same page. (Oh, you might like this short guide to delivering great support during a pandemic)
2. Don’t abuse follow-ups
The thing about remote working is that there are so many channels – email, text, phone, slack, and more – you can leverage to collaborate with co-workers. That can be a blessing as well as a curse.
In many teams, it can so happen that you have colleagues following up constantly on a task across multiple channels. This is nothing but a relentless abuse of the digital medium. It’s not uncommon to feel more stressed and distracted when someone is regularly pinging you asking for updates.
While technology has made it ever so easy to stay connected, it’s important to respect each other’s time and space. Decide on a timeline with the other person so that there’s a clear expectation on when they’d expect you to follow up. Make sure the channel you’re using to follow-up is something the receiver is comfortable with. Also, never send the same message across multiple channels.
3. Give the day some structure
Remote work has a big impact on your daily routine. You don’t have an office to go to, no colleagues to look forward to, and no reason to dress up smart.
You tend to wake up late, stay logged in throughout the day, and ultimately, end up stretching your work hours way past the norm. And, according to a survey by Buffer, the most common struggle with remote work is the inability to unplug. This is something that can have a serious impact on your health in the long run. Based on a United Nations report, 41% of remote workers reported high-stress levels, compared to just 25% of office workers.
So, how do you combat this disruption to your daily routine? It helps if you can tune your brain to thinking that you’re going to an actual office every day – wake up on time and get ready just like you’d go for work. And to strengthen this mindset – invest in a designated work area.
Bringing structure to your day is easy when you figure out when you’re most productive. For instance, if you’re a morning person, an 8-4 or 9-5 slot would be ideal, following which you could tend to your house chores. At the same time, if there are dependencies on other team members, ensure you establish common working hours so that it’s convenient for everybody.
4. Reducing distractions
Don’t be surprised if working from home feels extremely distracting. A recent survey said that 47% of the people who worked from home had difficulty managing at-home distractions.
The Amazon delivery guy knocking on your door, Instagram notifications popping up every 5 minutes, or your dog losing his shit when you don’t play with him for 15 minutes – the list is endless. Adding to all this, a common perception amongst people around you is that since you’re home you’re technically not ‘working’ – which doesn’t help the cause.
That being said, with a few tweaks, you can actually combat most of them, and channel your focus completely on the task at hand.
For example, keep a Do Not Disturb sign outside your room, turn off social media notifications while working, or use noise-canceling headphones if you’re in a noisy neighborhood/environment.
Most importantly, ensure your work area is optimized to improve productivity. Sufficient lighting is a must. Make sure the laptop/desktop screen is at one arm’s length to avoid stressing your eyes. Every 15-20 minutes, get up from your chair, walk around a bit, and commit to doing basic stretches.
5. Issue guidelines for email use
Remote workers are likely to write and receive more internal emails than co-located workers. And unnecessary emails are always a huge distraction. It would help for companies to issue guidelines for the use of email while working remotely.
A good start would be to list the situations when an internal email is the best way to communicate. Here are things that are best achieved over email:
- Communicating the quarterly plan to the team
- Asking a question that does not need an immediate response
If a message is too complex to be discussed on email, it would be better to handle it over a conference call. Here are a few examples:
- How to calculate the ROI of a potential customer and arrive at a reasonable discount they can be offered.
- Resolve conflicts among team members. It is hard to get the emotional quotient right in email and misunderstandings can creep in easily.
If a situation needs urgent input from someone, promote the use of live chat or phone calls. Discourage employees from sending emails when they expect a fast response.
Remote workers might have a tendency to discuss ideas over email, especially if team members are in different timezones. This is a practice that should be discouraged. Here’s a cue: If an email ends with “Your thoughts?”, it’s probably not a great idea.
A distraction-free and comfortable environment is key to making your work from home days productive.
The tools to make remote working easy
It’s time to adapt – with a guiding hand from technology. Given the upsurge in the number of collaboration tools over the past few years, teamwork doesn’t have to take a hit in a remote setup.
Be it wanting to know what your team’s workload looks like, or brainstorming an idea with your colleague, everything can now be done virtually. Here, let’s take a look at some tools that can come in handy during these times.
1. The best alternative to face-to-face meetings
With most of us working from home, I think we can agree that the closest thing that can replace face-to-face meetups or team huddles is video meetings. It helps maintain a certain amount of team camaraderie, while livening up spirits, especially during a period of self-isolation.
But, that’s not all. Given the travel restrictions in place, more people might have to take to video conferencing to get work done. Flying to meet a prospect for a demo or even catching up with a customer in another city are things you can’t probably do at the moment. The workaround lies in video.
So, if you’re looking out for video conferencing tools, I’d suggest you try out Zoom. It is extremely easy to set up, intuitive, and rich in features. Zoom offers video and audio calling in HD. At any point, you can accommodate up to 1000 participants and include as many as 49 videos on a single screen, There’s also an option to save your meetings either locally or on the cloud. Even if you don’t have internet access, you can join a meeting by telephone call-in.
If you’ve got a smaller team or let’s say, a team that works out of G Suite, Hangouts might be a better option. It’s quite handy and simple to use. When you access Hangouts on your browser, it’s pretty self-explanatory with options to Video Call, Phone Call, and Message. Any and all chats are synced automatically across all devices your team uses – iOS, Android, and web.
2. Managing projects with a lot less stress
With remote work coming into full effect, team collaboration will be impacted and managing multiple projects can be daunting. Managers might have to follow up to know the status of a project; team members might not have clarity on what exactly they need to do; and the worse, deadlines could be missed.
This is where project management tools can bring order to chaos — providing managers with a bird’s eye view of what’s happening and ensuring everyone is on the same page.
We, at Hiver, use Asana for this because our teams find it really comfortable. You get to create tasks in various formats – either as a “list” or a “board”. There’s also a visual tracker with real-time updates on status and timelines. Most importantly, the team managers have a live dashboard where they can keep track of what’s happening across the team and stay on top of projects.
Another handy project management tool is Trello. Remote teams can create “discussion boards” for weekly meetings, daily standups, or brainstorming. And under each board, you can add cards – which are basically the individual tasks or ideas. It is a great tool for keeping remote workers on the same page.
3. Making up for the communication gap
Remote work presents an important challenge for collaboration: When teammates are not working together physically, keeping them aligned is never easy.
If your company uses Gmail or G Suite, Hiver would come in extremely handy for collaboration among remote workers. It keeps team members who manage shared inboxes like [email protected] or [email protected] — on the same page about who is working on what. Team members get to see how many emails need their attention, and how many are already resolved. It eliminates the need to ask around for the status of emails and gives every team member complete visibility into team workflow, even if they are time zones apart.
If your company is made up of Outlook power users, Microsoft Teams would make more sense. Team leads can invite employees to the tool and start collaborating using group chats. MS Teams is also equipped with Skype’s video conferencing functionalities — for video meetings with your team. Team members can also get actual work done on MS teams as it allows you to access and edit OneDrive files without having to leave the app.
4. Working together on files in real-time
We’re no strangers to file sharing solutions. But, with all team collaboration happening digitally, there’s a pressing need to leverage online file sharing.
You might have to share more spreadsheets containing important numbers, work with colleagues on presentations, or get those ad copies reviewed by your boss.
The first solution that comes to my mind in this category is Dropbox. It helps teams store files – PPTs, Docs, Excel sheets and even Trello Boards – in one centralized place. I’ve also noticed how you can set highly detailed permission levels for files and folders – for instance, you can make a file public (anyone with a link can access it) or password-protect it with an expiration date.
While Dropbox is more heavy duty, a lighter file-sharing solution would be Quip. The first thing you’d notice about Quip is how it brings together real-time and collaborative document creation, document editing and live chat. There’s a team chat window built into every file that helps speed up collaboration. And one of the reasons this tool stands out for me is because of its integration with Salesforce. This allows you to include live Salesforce data to spreadsheets and also edit documents directly on Salesforce.
5. Organizing the daily routine better
While working from home, there’s always a tendency to stretch work hours. You tend to attend meetings at odd hours and have regular back and forth conversations with colleagues, losing focus on the tasks at hand.
To stay on top of your schedule when you’re working from home, you might need something more than a simple todo list. Here’s where time management solutions can help.
One such tool is Calendly, which helps you manage your meetings throughout the day. It’s a really handy tool if you have to constantly catch up with your team. At any given point in time, you get to know the availability of all your team members. This drastically cuts down on the back and forth messages and helps fix on a time that works for everyone. Not just that, Calendly syncs with your calendar and so you have a very clear idea of the meetings you have lined up throughout the day.
And, if simply having meetings added to your calendar is not enough, 10to8 could be a great alternative, as it sends out automated SMS and/or email reminders prior to the appointment, so you can rest assured that everybody will turn up to the meeting. Apart from the 2-way calendar sync and automated reminders, 10to8 also offers native integration with Zoom, which means that your team will be able to jump on video calls straight from their 10to8 account or notifications. This software also handles team members spread across time zones well, so missing a meeting due to different time zones will no longer be an issue
For managing your overall daily routine, I’d recommend Todoist. It not just keeps track of your daily tasks but also allows you to set a due date, turn individual tasks into recurring ones, or even add a priority level. You also have the option to delegate a task to a team member. Apart from helping you bring order to your daily routine, Todoist arms you with insights into how productive you are.
Fostering a healthy remote work culture
Companies transitioning to remote work need to strategize how to communicate and collaborate effectively across teams to protect company culture and meet the larger company goals.
This demands a conscious effort from leadership and managers who need to ensure that there are protocols and communication channels that are in place for employees to connect, stay social, and stay productive.
1. Creating a sense of togetherness
Teams must connect, and connect often, almost as much as they’d do back in the office. Having frequent check-ins via phone calls or chat, having regular meetings via video conferencing, and sharing updates in real-time can help retain that feeling of togetherness and ensure that the team is always on the same page.
Frequent 1:1s with managers can help team members stay motivated and productive, and build healthy relationships. Creating a public workboard for team members to share their work pipelines and deadlines can improve transparency and accountability.
Does your team manage an inbox like [email protected] or [email protected] remotely? Hiver helps you communicate with your team faster and more efficiently. Learn how to collaborate seamlessly over email
The bottom line, however, for IT leaders is to understand that a successful transition to remote work can take time. It is important to set realistic expectations, communicate often, acknowledge mistakes, be open to feedback from your workforce and maintain a culture of trust and accountability.
2. Finding ways for people to voice their opinion
When there’s so much written communication floating around within your team, unlike when you work in an actual office, it gets hard to convey intent and emotion.
Shooting a slack message to your colleague – I don’t think this design idea would work. Let’s try something else – could easily come across as showing stern dissent even if you didn’t mean it that way. Also, many employees might not openly voice their opinion for fear of being misunderstood.
So, how do you encourage your team to speak out when working remotely? What can you do to dispel the fear of being misunderstood? Interestingly, the product management team at Zapier came up with a great idea. They agreed on a ‘safe word’ on Slack to indicate whenever they had a bad feeling about a project. And that was a pomegranate emoji.
It’s random but light-hearted and does the job. No one feels anxious if their point-of-view has been incorrectly interpreted. Similarly, you could think of fun ways to encourage your team members to speak up.
3. Celebrating team wins
Working remotely involves quite a lot of emails, catching up on status updates over Slack, and following up on a deadline over phone. So much so that we miss out on a crucial aspect of team-building: employee recognition and employee morale.
But, why is this important? According to a Canadian workplace study, when employees were asked what their managers could do to improve engagement, 58% said ‘giving recognition’.
It’s always easier to acknowledge and reward someone’s effort when you’re co-located. Have a quick get together at the office and sing the praises. Or you could even have 1:1 face-to-face meetings to reward employees.
But, when working remotely, as much as the onus is on clear communication, creating a space for acknowledging employees is a must. Have regular virtual meetups where you can talk about everyone’s achievements. You could do virtual birthday celebrations. You can also hand out e-certificates to employees or give shout-outs in internal newsletters. As far as monetary rewards are concerned, gift cards are a great idea – but double-check if it’s something the receiver would actually use.
Educating employees about security measures
When employees are going remote, managers must step in and educate them about basic digital hygiene. Here are a few areas to focus on:
1. Watching out for phishing emails
It is very easy for remote employees to fall into a phishing trap — emails that look like they have come from the company and trick people into downloading malware. Hackers can send fraudulent invoices that appear to come from legitimate vendors, with changed wire instructions to send money to their account.
Make it mandatory for employees to enable multi-factor authentication. Encourage them to contact the sender if an internal email appears strange in any way. Employees should be extra careful before wiring money or following changed payment instructions.
2. Using only secure wifi
It is important that employees only use secure, password-protected internet connections. They must not access confidential information on public wifi.
Hackers can trick people by mimicking the name of a secure network — employees must always verify before joining that the network is legitimate.
3. No personal laptops, please
Ask employees to only use company-issued laptops. Using personal laptops creates problems around document preservation. Another risk is that the software powering home equipment could be out of date.
4. Using a password manager, always
When teams work across locations, they would always need to communicate passwords when someone needs access to a tool. Each time someone shares a password in plain text, they’re making it a little bit easier for hackers to find it. Using a password manager is a must.
There is still a risk — if the password manager gets compromised — but by confining passwords to one tool, the number of places data can get out of comes down to a minimum. All employees on a team can have access to the password manager account.
Conclusion: The way ahead
Transitioning to remote work can get overwhelming quickly, especially when it’s a reaction to an external situation, and not a deliberate move. The agility of managers and team leaders will play a crucial role at this time.
There will be many challenges along the way. Remote workers might see a dip in productivity. Teamwork can suffer. Processes risk becoming sluggish.
The key here is leveraging technology that can make remote working easy. Adopting the right tools, that ensure team members work productively, and keep them on the same page, is key to remote working success.
Would you like to see how Hiver makes email collaboration a breeze for remote workers? You can always request a demo