For most of us, working out of a home office is a new thing.
For me, it’s been a long ride. I moved to a home office back in November of 2000 prior to the first internet bubble. At that point, DSL was the thing and online meetings consisted of the brand-spanking-new WebEx application or conference lines. This fall, I will be coming up on twenty years working out of the house and I think I’ve learned a couple things regarding both staying sane, and the management of a remote team.
As the stay at home orders continue to relax in some places and others are opening more slowly, many organizations are making the decision to keep specific teams remote permanently.
Corporations like Facebook, Shopify, Box and Twitter have announced they will keep workers at home and are making moves to reduce the size of their brick and mortar office spaces. Even if your organization has plans to return to the cubicle eventually, an estimated 50% of the workforce is currently telecommuting in some shape or form. Adding to the push, somewhere upwards of 90% of employees say they would like to work remotely at least part-time going forward according to a poll from Global Workplace Analytics. In short, all of us should expect that working remotely will be part of the landscape in the post COVID-19 pandemic world. A trend that was rendering the traditional office building obsolete has rapidly become the new norm for many of us, and aspects of remote work are surely here to stay.
While the thought of permanently working from home makes some managers worry about staff productivity and success, there are obvious benefits to getting rid of office spaces. For one, it works really well, and it saves companies lots of money on leases, utilities, and all kinds of other expenses. More importantly, it keeps employees happy, and happy employees are productive ones. Many managers are new to remotely handling their staff, so some guidance is necessary as we transition to this new way of doing things. You may feel like it’s hard to monitor productivity at first, or developing a level of trust may be challenging. You may be wondering if people will take advantage of the situation. Here are a few best practices, and pieces of advice that can help you and your team steer clear of many major obstacles.
Provide the Tools for Communication: This seems like second nature but absolutely deploy remote communication applications like Zoom, GoToMeeting, or Google Chat, and provide training on how to use them. Make sure everyone has a reliable device and internet access, and that they are reimbursed for these costs appropriately. Invest in tools and then set up clear procedures about how to use them within a home office space.
Everyone Gets a Secure Backstage Pass: Your team needs access to all work files, databases, and other systems remotely. If they can’t access files easily, then they will be unable to do their work efficiently. This may be as simple as using Google Drive or Microsoft Office 360. You’ll likely need to set up a virtual private network (VPN) as well. Even small organizations are at risk of fraud, so don’t treat security lightly. The days of everyone having access to a particular drive on your network are over.
Yes We Are Remote, But Not on an Island: I speak to direct reports at least weekly and sometimes daily. Schedule recurring face-to-face meetings. Yes, turn your camera on and show up! No cancelling. It’s really important to see the people you’re managing and be able to discuss work deliverables. For some people you manage, this sense of community is very important. Make sure to connect, use good eye contact, and listen. The success of managing a remote team largely depends on having a solid communication strategy, and one size does not fit all. Find out the needs and working styles of your employees. Some like constant monitoring, while others prefer to have less frequent updates. Use a variety of channels for communication.
Set Clear Task and Project Goals: This seems like second nature but all projects need a set scope, date, and plan for deliverables to be completed. It is not enough to say that something should be done “soon” as everyone has a different definition. Give clear examples of the quality and work to be done. Write-up or refer them to standard-operating procedures. Use tools like calendar sharing and task management software to help achieve collaboration and transparency. We are all on the same team, and all need clear and concise directives for success. Clear goals means less talking and more doing. A quiet home office without water cooler chatter makes your organization more productive.
Set Clear Expectations: Have openness and hold discussions with your team on times they should be at their desk, or available via cell. Everyone needs clearly defined agreements and expectations. Yes, sometimes people put in a load of wash at 11 AM, but no one should be MIA all afternoon. Set up work-from-home guidelines such as, “emails must be responded to within 24 hours” and “use text for urgent matters.” On the flip side, define “no-calls” and “block” times to prevent employees from working around the clock or so they can get their jobs completed.
For me personally, I’m more relaxed and productive out of my home office. I’ve set clear goals for myself and clear goals for the team that are reviewed weekly. You can cut down your physical space budgets immensely if you provide this type of structure for your teams. My team has been off the road for three months now and we’re just beginning to travel a bit. We will most likely have a face-to-face team meeting sometime in 2020, but if we don’t, we’ll continue to be well-connected online and as always, very productive.