This article intends to share and offer key insights and resources to help a small company organize remote work upon short notice.
To keep this guide as short and actionable as possible, it is divided into three sections: Organization, Culture, Tools.
If you don’t already have some form of remote/flexible work policy, the first thing to do is to draft one. I suggest a temporary work from home policy that can be terminated or amended once the situation is over. There are a few templates, e.g., HubSpot one, but given time constraints I would simply recommend to send an email to all employees and ensure it includes these elements:
A clear purpose: state why the company has to go remote. Given the circumstances, it makes sense to focus on the organisation’s and employees’ economic security while allowing the business to continue to function. Put differently, explain that the move is more importantly one of health and safety not just for employees and customers, but for their families and communities as well.
Eligibility: due to the nature of your business, not every role may be suited to work from home. Define to which departments or business units this policy applies. For employees ineligible to work from home, you may need to review your existing sick leave policy.
Equipment: your employees may need to purchase additional equipment to work effectively from home (e.g., headphones, laptops) so determine a maximum budget allowance per employee for these purchases. Ensure to make clear how employees may request additional equipment due to any special requirements.
Policies: remind employees that your current company’s policies still apply, e.g., cybersecurity, work schedule and hours, etc.
Operations: briefly describe how you wish to organize the next 24 to 48 hours. Here, it’s key to keep the disruption as minimal as possible. For instance, team meetings should still take place but be replaced by video-powered ones.
Once this first draft is out, the next natural step is to set guidelines that will ensure your company runs as smoothly as it can in these new (unexpected) conditions. The main recommendation here is to pull your managers aside and offer simple rules that they’ll then be able to share globally across the company. These are three basic rules:
Get your work done. Every manager should set clear and defined expectations, regardless of where people work: tasks, timelines, goals, deliverables, etc. One way to do so is via (Agile Scrum) 1-week sprints where each manager sets missions or tasks to be completed by every employee for the coming week. Ultimately everyone in your team should be evaluated by what she or he does. As in any non-remote setting, “busy” doesn’t guarantee productivity and “present” doesn’t guarantee engagement.
Be available. It’s everyone’s responsibility to be available during office hours. Remote employees should always let others know when they won’t be available and why, and how they can still be contacted in the event of an emergency. Working remotely is a tradeoff: You get more freedom, but you must recognize that with that freedom comes the responsibility of hyper-availability.
Over-communicate. Casual conversations don’t happen when employees work from home. They can’t run into people at lunch. They can’t stumble into an impromptu meeting with someone from another team. They can’t sense shifts in priorities, or potential problems, or trends. It’s your responsibility and the one of your managers to show the example and communicate as much as possible. For example, share your daily agenda and status updates, write down all your key processes and guidelines, ask questions, do your best to instigate conversations and keep the communication channel as open and transparent as possible.
Internal communication leads naturally to a second important dimension in any work environment: the culture of your company.
One of the hardest parts about working remotely is the fact that everyone loses the company’s shared habits and rituals. In order to help your teammates stay connected to your culture and to one another, it’s important you reinforce your company’s existing rituals.
One simple way to achieve that is by keeping regular meetings via (video) calls. A typical week in a new remote-only setting could look like this:
Monday morning: all-hands meeting led by the CEO to summarize last week’s performance and present main items and priorities for the coming week.
Monday to Tuesday: department meetings led by every head of department
Regular 1:1 calls between team members working on a specific projects.
Friday afternoon: weekly recap calls led by every head of department
These efforts should be complemented by the creation of a virtual room where all your employees have a space to discuss about random topics, e.g., share their Spotify playlists, talk about the latest Netflix series, discuss their (new) daily routines, etc.
Finally, encourage the sharing of positive emotions by using emojis, GIFs, and celebrate all wins even small ones.
Humans are naturally resistant to change — particularly change that is forced during times of uncertainty or crisis. In these new working circumstances, do not change or impose too many new tools to your team. The risk here is that you’ll disperse your communication, and lose efficiency in your daily operations. While functioning remotely, strip the tool stack down to a minimum.
Working well remotely requires writing things down. For companies who do not have an existing culture of documentation, this will prove to be the most difficult shift. Aim to funnel communication into as few places as possible to reduce data silos. If you’re a G Suite customer, use Google Docs.
If you wish to keep everything easy to find in the long-run, more scalable options that you could introduce over time to document your company’s processes are Notion, Taskade or Slite.
Meetings and Calls
Another key tool you need to organize your remote company is a solution to communicate synchronously with your team(s), e.g., meetings. In 2020, your best bets are Zoom or Slack.
If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, other great options you should try out are Tandem and Discord.
The last but not least tool required to run your company in a new remote environment is a platform that makes possible to monitor and manage in real-time all your different company’s processes, e.g., interactions with your clients, Agile sprints of your teams, etc.
If your company uses Gmail or G Suite, Gmelius offers the most complete and easiest solution by seamlessly integrating within the inboxes of your teammates. Thanks to shared inboxes and Gmail shared labels, you’ll be able to view all the interactions your different teammates have with your customers. Gmelius Kanban boards will help you create, organize and monitor all the weekly sprints of your different departments.
Finally and particularly for companies with a strong “in-office experience” it is vital to recognize that the remote transition is a process, not a binary switch to be flipped. Leaders are responsible for embracing iteration, being open about what is and is not working, and messaging this to all employees.
For this very reason, we just opened a community where everyone can join, ask questions and share insights or practices regarding their organization as a remote company: Join the discussion here!
At the end, managing a remote company is much like managing any company. It comes down to trust, communication, and company-wide support of shared goals. Good luck!