Our world has seen more changes in the last few weeks than most of us have seen during our whole lives. Staying in has become the new going out, social butterflies have become social distancers and, hand sanitizer has become the new must-have accessory.
As strange and unsettling as these things are, one of the most significant changes we’ve seen is the migration of millions of workers from the office to the home.
Taking the lead
With news just in that UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has been tested positive for Covid 19 and is now running his parliament from home, there are those who say that we won’t be returning to our normal workplaces anytime soon.
Although, for many, the current situation is still a bit of a novelty, the prospect of it continuing for several months means that working practices will need to be reviewed.
For the team leader or manager, this will, without a doubt, introduce a whole host of new challenges. It is absolutely inevitable that your role is going to evolve as everybody goes through a number of teething pains and, so, I’ve put together our guide to successfully – and sensitively – running your remote team during this crisis.
Virtual tea and sympathy
As this situation unfolds, there’s a good chance that members of your team are feeling anxious and insecure – which is completely understandable under the circumstances. Whilst your role is to get things up and running as quickly as possible, it’s also important to show empathy and sensitivity.
Employees do, of course, need to understand that this is not a holiday but, it’s a good idea to start with a fairly relaxed day or two while everybody adjusts to the new world order. You may also want to email team members individually to let them know that you’re available to them should they have any concerns.
The right tools for the job
It may be stating the bleeding obvious but, it’s imperative that you make sure that each and every team member has the right, adequate equipment for working from home. In most cases, this will be a simple case of each employee having access to a laptop and phone but, if you have staff with more complex needs, you’ll have to make sure that these are covered before you close up the office.
Sharing is caring
A huge number of workplaces in 2020 rely on shared documents to keep the wheels turning and this will be much more important once your team is spread to the four winds. If you haven’t already, task a team member with responsibility for the maintenance of the shared documents and insist on regular testing in order to avert any unnecessary delays.
Look who’s talking
Whether you’re a team trio or a twenty strong team, the key to your success is communication, says Craig Campbell, who has been managing his 200+ team remotely since 2014.
It is, quite literally, impossible to overstate the importance of introducing best practice when it comes to keeping your remote crew connected.
To begin with, decide on your mediums of communication – and don’t feel that you have to stick to just one. Many managers find it effective to introduce a system of communication for different actions. For example:
Messenger: Can be used for short and informal messages between team members, including group messages. Where possible, these should be used sparingly as they can cause distractions when employees are focussing on a task.
Secure Email: Having a secure email system is vital not only for the sending of communications which may have private or sensitive content but also for sending attachments between team members. Team members should be discouraged from using the business email system for jokes or personal correspondence.
Telephone: Getting back to basics, all team members must be reachable by telephone at all times in case of the need for urgent contact.
It’s a really good idea to set some rules in place right from the start in terms of communication; for example, if a team member is sick and unable to work they should be encouraged to communicate this by telephone, rather than through Messenger or text message.
Despite the fact that at Landingi we are familiar with the home office on a day-to-day basis, never before have we been in a situation where all of our staff have had to work this way. In these uncertain times, we are incredibly fortunate to be able to stay safe in our homes.
We consider remote work to be a privilege as well as a responsibility to communicate in the right way. It is of great importance, now more than ever, given the situation that we are in.
We consider remote work to be a privilege as well as a responsibility to communicate in the right way. It is of great importance, now more than ever, given the situation that we are in.
A meeting of minds
Whilst email, phone and Messenger are great for day to day contact, it is still incredibly important to have regular meetings with the whole team. Obviously it won’t be possible to have in-person meetings but you can go for the next best thing. In this brave new world of technology, video messaging is widely used where a real life meeting is impossible or impractical.
Not only is face to face meeting helpful in getting the team together in one virtual room for a discussion but, psychologically, it boosts morale by adding ‘the human touch’ that a call isn’t able to achieve. Depending on your business, you may want to arrange weekly in-depth video meetings or even daily ‘check in’ meetings to help your team stay engaged and connected.
Additionally, this is a good way of making sure that you have everybody’s attention as employees will be less prone to checking emails, reading the paper or surfing the net as they may during a phone call. It also means that they can’t attend the meeting from their bed but, we’ll get to that later!
Unless you have a huge amount to discuss, a daily catch up meeting can be great for keeping staff motivated as well as adding a little social interaction (especially important for those who live alone and so find themselves spending 23 hours a day at home).
If you’re opting for this kind of meeting then, you’ll find it works best if you keep it to around 15 minutes a time. Allow two or three minutes for chatter and then encourage each team member to speak in turn to cover the following:
What happened yesterday? A quick rundown of the previous day’s activity including achievements, important conversations, and anything that went wrong.
What’s happening today? A report on the activities which have been completed / are scheduled for that day.
Any issues? A heads up on any problems or potential problems that may impede a current task or project.
These daily catch ups can be really helpful in adding structure to the working day. Also, employees are more likely to focus on projects or tasks when they know that they will be required to make a daily report.
Depending on how long your team is required to work from home, you may find yourself in the position of needing to hold employee performance reviews. As with your daily or weekly meetings, these can be held by video and should be kept to the same format and level of formality as usual.
If a project or task has been delayed or cancelled due to the current crisis, speak to the employee before the review to assure him or her that this will not have a negative effect on their review.
It is, of course, possible that, under normal circumstances, an employee may reasonably expect a financial reward such as a pay rise or bonus as a result of a positive review. If this is not going to be possible at the current time, assure the employee that this will be reviewed again once our world returns to normal.
The team that plays together
Although it’s been less than two weeks since employees were urged to work from home, many report that they really miss the social aspect of going to work – both in the workplace and having after work drinks with colleagues.
This may not seem to be a big deal on the surface but, in reality, these after work bonding sessions can play a large part in the dynamic of a team.
At the moment, you can’t, of course, take your team to the pub but, you can still add a little end of day relief.
Why not try a five minute video call with the team at knocking off time or, maybe an interactive game that each member can join in with. At a time when your team will be feeling particularly fractured and disconnected, even a few minutes of fun can help to fill the gap.
Coming up to standards
When working from home, there’s often a natural tendency for employees to assume a more relaxed attitude. Although this is fine to an extent – for example, you won’t expect your team to be suited and booted when working from their living room – it is up to you to make it clear that working standards, guidelines and processes are still very much in place.
Some managers find it helpful to draft up revised guidelines for working from home in order to reinforce the fact that its business as usual, albeit in unusual circumstances. You can use this document to reiterate goals, objectives and company guidelines to keep the team on the right track through the transition period.
This is also a brilliant time to review working practices such as breaks, down time and working hours. During this period, your team will no longer be having to factor in travelling time and, so, some may prefer to start work earlier and enjoy an earlier finish time.
Additionally, it’s important to keep in mind the fact that some employees may need to juggle their workload with home schooling which may require a certain degree of flexibility. Meet (virtually, of course) with the whole team to discuss requirements and come up with timings which work for everybody where possible.
Similarly, it’s best to keep break times as structured as possible to ensure smooth communication – for example, try to avoid a situation where one person takes their break at 11am for home schooling and, another at 4pm for exercise. Although you want to be as flexible as you can, scattered lunch breaks can make communication disjointed and ineffective.
This can’t be stressed enough – you have to be understanding, empathetic, and flexible.
The situation we’re in isn’t just about working from home. Yes, your team is working remotely, but all the other things are different.
Homeschooling, caring for an ill child, sharing a studio apartment with a partner who’s also making conference calls – these are just three of many scenarios that are happening right now on our Marketing Team at GetResponse.
Times are stressful. If you want to inspire your team to work to their full potential, approach them with empathy, understanding, and flexibility.
More than meets the eye
We now come to the slightly awkward part of managing your remote team – namely, monitoring and people management. As I’ve mentioned, working from home has a tendency to feel much less formal than going to an office. Add in the fact that employees will tend to be wearing casual clothes and will be surrounded by distractions such as TV, family and hobbies which don’t exist in the usual workplace and, you may have a problem.
In an ideal world, your team would be at their desks at 9am and would not leave until 5.30 apart from their contracted lunch break. In reality, this is highly unlikely to be the case. We’ve all heard the phrase, ‘when the cat’s away, the mice will play’ and, even the most saintly of employees would be able to resist the temptation to break the rules a little.
For most employees, this will be no more serious than spending a few work-time minutes browsing Facebook or chatting with a friend while they’re on the clock. There may, however, be the odd person who chooses to bend the rules so far that they’re in danger of snapping.
The weakest link
As a manager or team leader, it’s up to you to make sure that each member of the team is pulling his or her weight. In the normal workplace, this is relatively easy – after all, when you’re in the same room, it’s not difficult to keep an eye on things.
With a remote team, this is a little more difficult and, you need to be able to monitor your staff without coming over all Big Brother. By its very nature, remote working demands a certain level of trust and, it can be frustrating when that trust is betrayed. Some of the problems you may encounter may include:
Lateness – employees not being logged on and ready to work at the allotted time.
Unscheduled absences – staff taking extra long breaks or being out of contact during working hours.
Lack of productivity – team members pursuing hobbies or time wasting during paid hours.
Without setting up webcams in your team’s homes (which would be just plain creepy), you don’t have any way of monitoring the team naturally as you would in the office. You do, of course, still need to make sure that everybody is where they are supposed to be and doing what they’re supposed to be doing and, for this, subtlety works best.
For the employee who enjoys an illicit lie-in
Email check in – you can make sure that your team is logged on and ready to go by asking for a 9am attendance email under the guise of checking that the system is working properly.
Telephone – try not to spring ‘check up’ calls on employees as they will tend to see through this (and also may get annoyed if disturbed during a complex task). Instead, send a text asking if they’re available for a call – the speed at which they reply should tell you whether they’re up and at their desk or not.
For the employee who likes to take it easy
You’re already holding daily video calls with reporting from employees but, you may want to ask for more detailed reports from employees you suspect may be skiving.
For the employee who likes to go AWOL during the day
A simple text or email asking ‘Do you have a minute right now for a video call’ will usually tell you everything you need to know when it comes to employees treating themselves to time out.
Although some of these may seem trivial, they can chip away at the integrity and morality of the team. For a first time offence, you may feel its best to let it slide. For repeat offenders, start with asking if they have any issues they would like to discuss with you before resorting to official disciplinary procedures.
We’re not going to lie, this is a strange and difficult time for all of us but, you can keep your team productive and working together by keeping things as normal as possible and, by understanding your employee’s fears and frustrations.
Here’s what others say
Daily 10-minute ‘standing meetings’ for your SEO agency i.e with no set agenda are excellent means of pushing forward accountability and making sure that things get done. We as a company jump between whereby/google meet depending whose on the call. And then setting tasks for the next call is an excellent means of making sure that even remotely – you remain on top of things
Deepak Shukla, MD, Pearl Lemon
Here at Linkody, an SEO tool for backlink tracking, we’ve been all remote from day one. Even the hiring process is conducted remotely. So the outbreak hasn’t changed our way of working.
We’re communicating mostly via Slack, using the tool very intensively by creating specific channels for every topic. We’re making conf calls when we need to think together, like brainstorming new ideas. Then we write down a summary in Slack to keep a history of what has been decided.
Managing your team remotely is likely to mean a lot of changes – and a lot of challenges. When you’re used to everybody working in the same place, managing a remote team can seem overwhelming at first. We’ve taken you through some of the ways you can structure your home-working team and, our best advice is to make sure that you put rules and guidelines in place straight away and stick to them to let your team know that you mean business, even when it’s from a distance.
François Mommens, CEO, Linkody
“Around 50% of our staff at Crowd Content already worked remotely, but after Covid-19 emerged, our entire team quickly shifted to working remotely. This was a big shift for our office staff and we were fortunate to have many team members experienced in remote working to help guide us. This has led to us building solid communication and sharing processes and our work has carried out without interruption. We’re very active on Slack and have dedicated channels for our different teams and projects. Each team has a daily standup to regroup and plan for the day ahead. We’ve also organized company-wide Google Hangout sessions where we can socialize a bit to keep camaraderie high, as well as discuss wins and challenges that we can help each other with. One little thing that we’ve found to be really important is that webcams must be on – it’s so much more effective than voice calling alone.
The shift to remote work does pose some challenges, but if you’re proactive and forward thinking in embracing it, you can actually end up being more productive.”
Eric Hoppe, CrowdContent
„As Future Processing we are IT partners that provide companies with high-quality technical expertise and software solutions perfectly tailored to their needs. As we are from the tech branch we have always had an opportunity of working remotely available for our employees. It is why we already had IT services related to it working and well known to our people. On the other hand, on an everyday basis there are no more than 200 of us at home office and we knew we had to modify the existing infrastructure so it can withstand the load of 800 people working remotely at the same time.
We were able to move the whole company to remote work at once in literally one day. We just did it as we knew it was exactly what we had to do in this situation. Digital cannot replace human contact in a hundred percent. As a company we try not to forget about the human factor while adjusting to the new reality in relations with FP employees and business partners. We adjusted once, but we do not stop keeping an eye on to make sure we can adjust once more, if needed.”
Jacek Żmudziński, Marketing Manager, Future Processing
Thankfully, we have been completely remote at Flow SEO since the company was founded. We have team members all across the globe, working together on projects and tasks via Asana and Slack. With any remote environment, communication is the key to success, and staying innovative will keep your team inspired, motivated and in a constant state of creativity.
It’s a must for us to host regular Zoom meetings, where we can discuss client work and brainstorm new ideas. Right now, it’s important that we demonstrate that SEO matters, especially during this current environment. So, it’s nothing unusual for a simple Slack message to turn into 30 minutes’ worth of new ideas that we begin to implement immediately.
Even though we are accustomed to working remotely, this is a time when we all have to stay on our toes and deliver the best quality work to our clients. After all, when we come out on the other side, we have to be prepared to pivot and move forward.
Viola Eva, Founder and SEO Specialist, Flow SEO
Here, at Tidio, we’ve managed to move fully online all our operations and communication quite smoothly. To stay on track with progress, all teams hold daily 20mins sync meetings where everyone shares their tasks for the given day. Additionally, we’ve organized weekly Zoom presentations/webinars for the whole team which are meant to inform everyone about what’s going on with the product and to keep everyone up-to-date about new releases and plans.
Lastly, as a company offering a tool used for customer service, we’ve decided to automate our customer service using chatbots as much as possible. In this way our own customer support team can focus on interacting with customers needing one-on-one support rather than answering all emails and questions that a chatbot can handle on its own.
Pawel Lawrowski, Head of Growth at Tidio Live Chat