In the span of a few unprecedented and chaotic weeks, millions of workers around the globe found themselves having to work from home. While their organizations and IT providers scrambled to quickly set up remote connectivity, these users were trying to adapt to new distractions, being isolated and not having immediate access to all the resources they were used to. Organizations are just now starting to fully grasp that this could be the new normal for at least the foreseeable future.
Having a remote workforce provides new challenges and requires adaptation in operational and management methods in order to maintain a productive and efficient workforce. Fortunately, there are numerous organizations that have operated this way for years and we can learn important and helpful lessons from them. My own company, an IT services firm, has had 75% of our employees working from home for the past several years and we’ve learned some effective ways to manage our remote team.
Daily Huddles – Every morning at 8:12 am, every member of our team calls into a conference bridge (this could be either video or audio) and each person shares their top priority for that day. The facilitator then asks if there are any company-wide updates and any “stucks” where someone might need help from someone else. These calls typically take 15 minutes maximum and are an excellent way of keeping everyone connected and updated. If your company is larger than 15 to 20 employees than hold these huddles by department or sub-groups.
Communication Tools – Having an effective communication tool is essential for your team members. The good news is that these tools are plentiful, intuitive, inexpensive and provide multiple methods of communication. Microsoft Teams, Slack and Jive are just a few of the many communication platforms designed to help remote workforces collaborate, communicate and not feel isolated. They offer voice, video, chat and integration with email, document sharing and other major office productivity tools. Some of these tools are free and there are plenty of online resources that train users on how to effectively use them.
Weekly or Bi-Weekly 1 on 1’s – The manager of each department or team should have weekly or bi-weekly audio or video conference check-ins with each employee. In these meetings, it’s important to not only check-in but to set weekly goals along with monthly and quarterly goals. It’s an opportunity to get feedback, answer questions and ensure consistent communication and accountability are happening. This meeting shouldn’t be all about business either, it’s an opportunity to talk about things outside of work like family, hobbies, etc. The manager should take notes during these on 1-on-1 meetings and have a meeting template that is shared between the manager and employee. This document helps with accountability and goal tracking.
Visibility – It’s important to have tools and processes in place to ensure that the work being done is visible at any time to the organization. For example, in our company we use a software tool that tracks every incoming service ticket and its status. We can see in real-time how many tickets our service desk technicians are working on, have resolved, etc. We also have the ability to see when someone logs in to their computer for the day and when they log out, how many calls they’ve been on, the average amount of time to close out tickets, etc. Having clearly defined operational processes in place and the visibility into work and goals getting done are essential for productivity and accountability.
Add Fun to the Day – My company formed a “culture committee” several years ago which is a team of three employees who enjoy coming up with fun and social ideas and activities for our team. This has fostered community, friendly competition and a way to feel more connected even though we are all remote. Some ideas that have been successful are taking photos of the most creative lunches, coffee of the month club, steps challenges (encouraging everyone to get out and walk every day), fantasy sports competitions, etc. It doesn’t take much effort to do this and it results in a happier workforce!
Working remotely can be highly productive and offers many benefits for the employees and the organization. By taking deliberate steps to foster a strong remote culture and develop new processes, organizations will recognize that working from home can be a viable short term and potentially permanent way to work.