Companies of all sizes have proven that remote work can be a success, so there’s definitely not a shortage of information on the subject.
But this guide is for those that had to make the change fast. A change beyond our control that forced us to rethink how we work and live.
It can be difficult to relate to companies that had their remote work policies all planned out ahead of time. Many of us didn’t have that luxury. Our employees are now forced to adapt to working from home. And managers are forced to devise a plan to keep their teams and business afloat.
Without a plan in place, your team has had to adjust in the fastest way possible. And the stakes are high. Mismanaging your remote work strategy comes at a hefty cost. The well being of your employees, satisfaction of your customers, and your business as a whole is on the line.
At Gmelius we’ve been able to make this transition successfully. So if you’re looking for an actionable guide on remote work - this is it.
Gmelius before and after remote work
Gmelius has always been a tool used by remote teams of all sizes, but ironically as a team we had zero remote workers.
Preferring to manage our operations in-office, we prided ourselves on having a team of individuals, together, dedicated to our mission. You can’t discount the value of having your entire team in one room with one common goal, and since our start this has been our model.
The across the desk conversations, impromptu meetings, and team members collaborating together in front of the same screen leads to productivity that can’t be quantified. Not to mention the bonds that are developed in the day-to-day interactions of growing a company.
So, why change what’s working so well? At least that was our thought.
Without this forced change brought on by the coronavirus, we’re not sure we ever would have.
But it’s been one month now since our team went from zero to 100% remote staff and we've learned some valuable lessons in the process.
Here are a few key takeaways that can act as a guide to successfully transition your team.
In some cases you may even find your team becomes happier and more productive than they were in the office.
Remote work built on company values
Your company’s values are the anchor that will keep your team’s connected.
The most successful teams are bound together by more than just work. Your company culture and team values are needed now more than ever before. During these periods when we’re separated by distance and under a common stress - culture will prevail.
Being forced to go fully remote may expose some opportunities to improve the policies that bind your team together. This may require you to redraft, or add-to, the values that define your mission.
It’s understandable when Founders and managers feel they don’t have the time, especially now, to put together a manifesto on values. But again simplicity should be your guide. Your revised set of values can be defined in a concise one-pager.
The main points are expression and inclusion. A sincerely written email can be more valuable than a multi-page document that sits idle on everyone’s computer. Get the thoughts down and distribute it to your teams.
Essentially, they need to hear that the leadership team has a plan, that the company will be okay, and that they will be okay…
With your company values in place your team has a solid foundation to succeed at remote work.
Technology is the key
Proceed with caution when choosing the tools to equip your remote team.
Effective remote work is based on choosing the right stack of tech tools.
A Google search will lead you to a countless list of tools, which does nothing to minimize your confusion.
How are you supposed to decide on the best tool, where in all cases your team will need more than one. Choosing them, learning how to use them, and onboarding your team to the point where they’re comfortable enough to use them is a daunting task.
Your company goals, and the makeup of how your team actually works should be your guide. Simplicity is key here.
Where possible managers and team leads should build off their current stack and add only where necessary. It’s easy to get caught up in all the newest and shiniest tools on offer, so proceeding with caution is advised.
Effective communication is the foundation of team collaboration - even more so when it comes to remote work.
How does your team receive external communications? And how does your team communicate internally? How are those communication streams translated into workflows?
At Gmelius we found this to be a gap we needed to fill. In terms of task-related communications Gmelius had us covered. Email notes combined with our Slack integration do a great job of keeping us focused and connected to the work at hand.
But to replicate our in-office, collaborative environment we had to add a few tools.
Choose a video conferencing tool that’s dependable, easy to use, and priced right.
Since Gmelius is based on the Google Suite of products we naturally went with Google Hangouts and Meet. Zoom is another well-known video conferencing tool that we use.
Again you won’t find a shortage of options here.
Do any of your current tools offer video or voice? Slack has the option to connect up to 15 people on voice and video, although it can get pricey. And if your team uses Gmail or G Suite, Hangouts is a great option, but even with Google, all the choices create confusion: Google Chat, Google Hangouts, Google Meet, and oh yeah Google Duo…?
We can save you some time and frustration here. After looking into the various options - Zoom comes out as the winner. Ease of use, dependability, and free for up to 100 people, make it the go-to video conferencing tool for most remote teams.
Video conferencing is the next best thing to being in-person. Our weekly All-hands meeting and 1:1 manager meetings have continued as normal without any issues.
Video allows your team to communicate effectively, and when you add the ability to have quick voice chats - you further close the gaps caused by remote work.
Sometimes you just want to have a quick conversation.
One of the things your team will miss when working remotely are those quick side conversations. The impromptu chats that keep your team connected and your projects moving forward.
How do you do that when your team is separated by distance? You can’t catch a person in the break-room or chat with them on the way to your desk.
When working remotely, you may not want to schedule a video call, and instant messaging doesn’t quite get your point across - and you definitely don’t want to send another email about it.
For these cases our team is using Discord. Think of it as a Slack but for voice conversations. Instead of channels you have rooms. Meet your colleagues in one of the rooms, turn your mic on, and get to talking.
The ‘my door is always open policy’ works with Discord. If you see someone active in the room you can literally talk your way into it.
Discord was originally created for gamers but it’s gaining traction with professional teams seeking an in-office experience.
Speaking of games, keep in mind that these communication tools should be used for more than just work. Voice and video are great ways to maintain the bonds between your colleagues.
At Gmelius we replaced our game nights in a virtual way and we have a great time doing it.
Remote work, even with the best of virtual tools, requires a conscious effort to create meaningful interactions.
One of the things I’ve done personally is to make it a point to reach out to my team members, individually and across departments, on a voice or video call for a non-work related connection. Checking in on each other in sincere way does a lot to maintain the mental health of your team, especially during these times when we can all feel isolated.
Re-defining policies for remote work
Working remotely require a shift in thinking.
Company values, effective communication, and trust are the pillars of productivity during remote work. These pillars are everyone’s responsibility and it takes a clearly defined policy to carry them.
Put simply, remote work is different work.
Leadership needs to step up to this challenge and create a supportive environment. And team members will need to re-think their work ethics and the role they play in the overall goals of the company.
Individuals must become ‘managers of one,’ meaning that beyond the scope of their direct responsibilities they must own their objectives. It’s nearly impossible to micro-manage a remote team and it’s the re-defined policies designed for remote work that structure this shift in thinking and working. That being said there are certain guardrails you can put in place to support this shift.
We used Gmelius boards to set up environments that drive commitment. Managers across departments created ‘daily diary boards’ that define tasks and goals in a flexible and agile way. The syncing of boards to shared inboxes and shared labels allows us to turn emails into task cards and integrate them into our daily actions.
Gmelius boards give you a visual representation of internal and external conversations and their connection to required tasks. Managers benefit by having clear internal visibility, and team members benefit by having clarified accountability.
In addition, we outlined a remote work policy that’s flexible in its approach. Measures of productivity are redefined to take into consideration the various challenges our team members are facing in balancing their professional and personal lives.
Understanding the challenges of working from home when families are also quarantined means that a broader view is required in structuring your guidelines.
Remote policies should outline in clear terms this new way of working. Points can include:
- Time spent online to ensure company-wide coverage
- Expected, internal and external, response times
- Best practices on the usage of technology
- Revised methods to report on actionables
- Security compliance and confidentiality
A clarified remote policy will eliminate guesswork and give your team the confidence that they are in-line with the company’s goals.
Is remote work the future?
There’s no doubt that this current experiment of remote work will cause most businesses to rethink their business models.
Founders and managers will ask if productivity can keep pace while benefiting from the reduced costs of going remote. Office space and its management continues to be the second biggest expense after salaries, so naturally minimizing these costs will lead to a better bottom-line.
The stats so far seem promising. Remote employees, in some respects, are proving to be more productive than when they were in-office:
- On average, remote employees work 1.4 more days per month.
- And reduce the distraction times during their work day.
- While having 8.5 more hours of free time per week.
- And saving more than $4,500 per year.
* Source: Airtasker survey
Things will get back to normal, and if all goes accordingly, companies will have to assess how they improve remote work versus returning to the status quo.
In conclusion and one thing for certain, we’ll all walk away from this experience with lessons learned.