The sudden outbreak of the Covid-19 virus has changed our daily lives more than anyone has ever expected. Businesses in nearly every industry were affected by the global pandemic and the economic consequences it dragged along. Some were forced to shut down their companies, while others sent their employees to work from home. Remote work used to be a dream for 9-to-5 workers around the world but it has quickly become a reality in the past couple of months. The only problem is that this kind of shift to working from home was not as easy as everyone thought it would be.
No one had expected that social distancing would put an end to shared office spaces and the traditional working culture. However, governments around the world placed strict rules and regulations that prohibited working, meeting, or doing just about anything in groups. This has led to a forced shift to remote working where businesses and their employees had to adapt to an entirely different working culture. With that said, we have designed this guide to help businesses establish successful remote work habits and get the most out of this uncertain period.
The Benefits of Working Remotely
Before we dive into the remote work guidelines, we must first observe the advantages and disadvantages of this situation. There is no doubt that working remotely can bring a lot of benefits both to the employees and the business owner. On the employee side, working remotely allows people to save time and money on commuting, organize their schedule to enable more life and work balance, as well as spend more time in an environment of their choice. Employees are more likely to stay loyal to a company if they are given remote work opportunities from time to time.
As for the business owners, remote work systems open up many doors and opportunities. If executed correctly, remote work management can boost employee satisfaction and increase talent retention. Businesses that adapt to a remote work culture can save money on office spaces and management, as most of their workforce will be operating from their own locations. Moreover, the remote work culture allows the company to broaden their horizons and hire new talents regardless of their geographical location. This makes hiring easier, as you won’t have to limit your options to local candidates.
The Inevitable Challenges of a Remote Work Culture
On the other hand, remote work can be one of the most difficult challenges a company has to face. First and foremost, it poses challenges to the employees, especially the ones who have no remote experience whatsoever. These challenges include maintaining focus and productivity in a non-work environment, dividing time between life and work activities, dealing with countless distractions at home, as well as lack of social interaction with coworkers. All of these challenges can take a toll on the employee’s performance and focus, which will negatively affect the business.
Transitioning to remote work is going to make things more difficult for business owners and managers as well, since it will no longer be possible to keep an eye on all employees at a single location. Management systems will have to be adapted to the remote work culture. Moreover, team leaders will have to find new ways to track the productivity and efficiency of their workforce. Another major concern when it comes to shifting to remote work is security. In a traditional work setting, a company would have an IT department that takes care of all technical and cybersecurity related issues.
However, the IT department cannot keep track of every single device remote workers use to access confidential sites and resources. Besides, remote IT and security interaction with employee’s devices would require the IT team to gain access to those computers, which could be considered a privacy breach. It would be extremely difficult to stay on top of all security procedures without issuing business devices to every single employee. Even if you have the budget to do so, it would still bring a lot of risk to your company’s shoulders.
Making the Remote Work Transition
While the road to a successful remote work transition can be full of obstacles, it’s not an impossible path to cross. It will take months, if not even years for companies to get all their boats in order and establish a working remote mechanism. However, with proper action steps and guidelines, it is possible to move forward in the right direction while minimizing the risk of failure. With that said, it is important to follow the checklist we created below in order to stay on track with all the required procedures.
The three most crucial factors when making a remote work transition are speed, efficiency, and control. The speed factor refers to the ability to make the shift quickly and transparently without taking too long to complete all the necessary steps. With good action speed comes good efficiency, as you don’t want your team to lose their work habits and positive results during the shift. Lastly, it is important to establish control protocols that will allow you to keep track of your employee’s work and progress. With that said, we have divided the transition checklist into two phases – phase one, which refers to the initial transition steps, and phase two, which focuses on making remote work successful.
#1 Understand Why It Is Crucial to Establish a Remote Work Mechanism
The first step of phase one is to understand why making the remote transition is crucial to your business. If you just send your employees home and expect them to work as nothing has changed, your company is likely going to run into a wall. As with any next step in business, there has to be a clear goal and the reason why certain actions must be taken. Before you start training your employees and team leaders, it is important to create an overview of the company’s past successes and craft a plan for the future ones. One must take into consideration that the first few months of working remotely might not bring the same results and efficiency the company is used to.
This is completely normal, as it will take some time to establish all the right procedures and get used to a new work environment. As a business owner or team manager, it is your job to create a reasonable plan of action and list the goals that should be achieved after three to six months of remote working. Once you have the vision and goals in place, you can move on to actionable steps that will lead your business to the right direction.
#2 Create a Leadership Team
Completely shifting work habits and environments is a massive change. It will take time and good guidance for the employees to adapt. With that in mind, your next step should be to create a leadership team that will consist of employees or managers who have experience with remote working. It is crucial for team leaders to have this experience so they will be able to understand the challenges and struggles of remote working, as well as how to overcome them. To establish a good team, evaluate the managers and find candidates who are skillful in communication and time management.
The leadership team should be in charge of managing the remote workforce, handing out tasks, tracking progress, and documenting it all in a clear and precise form. Most importantly, team leaders will be in charge of keeping employees on track and helping them bounce back in case they fall down. Having a successful leadership team will enhance internal communication and help boost overall productivity. However, setting up the team is just the first step, as you will have to engage in team training later on.
#3 Put Together a Handbook with Guidelines and Policies
One of the best things you can do to ensure success during remote work periods is to put together a handbook with all the policies in one place. This document is going to serve as a guideline to workers at home, as well as managers who are leading the remote teams. The book should contain detailed information on how remote tasks are going to be distributed and completed. You can use tools such as Notion to create a detailed guideline page, or simply create a pdf document that will be easily shareable.
Having an official handbook or document will allow you to keep everyone informed at all times. The handbook should also contain answers to the frequently asked questions about remote work practices, communication, and similar topics. This is going to take a lot of weight off your managers’ shoulders, as they won’t have to spend hours answering people’s questions. They can simply refer them to the guidebook to solve their inquiries or concerns. However, make sure all rules and policies are clearly explained without any ambiguities and uncertainties. It should be easy for the employees to find their answers within a well-structured guideline without having to spend an hour searching around.
#4 Build a Communication Plan
Having a good communication plan can make or break your company during this challenging time, especially when it comes to remote work. Luckily, we have plenty of tools available to make communication quick and easy, even when it’s long-distance. A straightforward communication plan will help the employees adapt to the shift more comfortably without worrying if they are missing out on something. Not being at the same location as all of the coworkers can lead to feelings of loneliness, isolation, and lack of confidence in one’s work. However, this is not anything that a good communication plan cannot fix.
The plan should include a precise video call meeting schedule – a list of dates and times when specific teams are supposed to meet on a conference call, whether on Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams, or any other platform. There should be at least one daily meeting set in place, as well as several weekly meetings that focus on progress tracking and updates. However, team communication should go beyond the scheduled video calls. There should always be an open line of communication in the form of a chat group where the employees can ask questions or discuss tasks and projects.
#5 Choose the Main Tool
Choosing the main digital tool for carrying out remote work operations is one of the most important steps of phase one. There are dozens of great digital assets companies can use to communicate, share files, and collaborate on projects. However, having your tasks and communication channels scattered all around the place is not a good idea. Employees can easily get lost due to poor organization, which will cost them time and reduce their efficiency at work. Instead of having to jump from one platform to another, they should be able to access all the relevant resources and channels from one place.
For example, Microsoft Teams makes for a great tool for remote collaboration. It provides more than just video conference features, as it expands into hundreds of chat rooms with up to 10 000 team members, as well as hubs for file and data sharing. Tools like this are more convenient than web conferencing platforms such as Zoom because they allow you to share files and work on the same projects at the same time. That is just one example of how Microsoft Teams can serve as a great main tool for managing remote workforces. However, you have the freedom to choose any similar tool that suits your business.
#1 Secure Employee’s Access to Resources
Once you complete phase one of transitioning to remote work, all your employees should be well informed about your communication plans and schedules. They should have access to a guidebook and relevant resources all in one location. You will then enter the second phase that includes handling security and keeping the workers motivated and efficient. The first step is to secure all employees’ access to company resources. The biggest downside of a remote work system is the lack of security and the increase in cybersecurity risk. The reason behind this is that your IT team will no longer be able to control what the employees do.
This step should start with a comprehensive cybersecurity training for all your managers and employees. The training session should go over all the relevant security measures each employee should practice on their device. This includes using multi factor authentication, creating strong passwords and healthy password management habits, as well as using a VPN when necessary. After the training, make sure to keep track of your employee’s security actions to ensure they are not putting confidential files and resources to risk.
#2 Provide Remote Work Devices
This step is closely tied to ensuring optimal security for a remote work team. If your business has the budget to do so, it would be best to provide employees with work devices to minimize the security risk. The reason behind this is simple – no matter how much training your employees go through, you still cannot control what they do on their personal devices, which they later use for work. In other words, each computer that has access to confidential company files, sites, and resources can serve as a backdoor for hackers who are trying to gain unauthorized access and exploit data.
Since monitoring personal devices would be considered a privacy breach, your best shot at maintaining low security risk is to issue remote work devices to each employee. This would be a computer that you could freely track and access remotely. These activities could help you track the employee’s work, as well as make sure there are no loopholes in the overall security system. The companies that don’t have a budget for issuing work computers will have to put the extra focus on employee security training. This will be their only shot at avoiding cybersecurity risks, as every remote team member should be on the same page regarding potential security threats.
#3 Document Everything
If you want to turn remote work into success for your business, prepare to document everything that is going on online. This includes recording video calls, conferences, and even important chat messages. With people scattered in different locations, sharing files and information is going to look different compared to a traditional office setting. The word of mouth, when it comes to progress updates, task settings, and communications no longer plays a significant role in proving any piece of information. In other words, nothing can be considered valid if there is no official report or recording of that information.
Therefore, it is of crucial importance to start documenting online and remote work activities in time. That way, you will save yourself the time and struggle in the future when you need to find certain information or remind someone of what was said on the previous video call. All recordings and calls should be available to all team members at one designated location. That way, everyone will be able to access the files and recall what was talked about in meetings and chats. Having a library with documented conversations will save your team hours of miscommunication and stress.
#4 Organize Manager Training
Next up, organize training for your managers who are going to be in charge of leading the teams. It is important that all managers have the skills needed for team leadership. Running a virtual team is not the same as running a team that works in-person. It requires special communication skills and methods, as well as patience and good time management skills. Besides enabling proper communication, team leaders should be able to motivate the remote workers and lift them up. This is especially important for employees who have never worked remotely before.
Working from home can feel lonely and isolated after a while. These feelings can reflect on the employee’s performance at work and thus affect the overall efficiency of the company. Therefore, the team leaders should be there to communicate with the workers in the right way and recognize when they are feeling down or burnt out. The manager training should thus incorporate all the important theoretical and practical lessons on how to organize and lead a group of remote workers. Without proper training, your managers will likely feel stressed and unable to complete the tasks ahead of them.
#5 Motivate and Train Employees
The last thing on the checklist is not something you can just do to get it over with. Instead, you have to repeat it regularly to ensure the best results. This refers to motivating and training employees who need to adapt to new work habits and environments. Employee training should include three different sessions. The first session should cover the basics of working remotely, including any necessary tutorials on using the digital platforms you selected for communication. The second session should focus on the security aspect of working remotely, as well as cover a cybersecurity checklist that each employee should go through at home.
Lastly, the third training session should be oriented towards motivating the employees and giving them a reason to learn on their own. With proper motivation and encouragement, they will be more likely to accept the shift with an open mind, rather than let negativity affect their workflow. Overall, you should organize weekly activities with the aim to keep the employees motivated and looking forward to the next work sessions. Offer them additional opportunities for growth and emphasize the importance of culture and teamwork during these times. Make sure to encourage employees to communicate openly and discuss any issues they might have.
Tips to Get Used to a Remote Work Culture
Shifting to remote work is going to require a certain adjustment period both for the workers and those in charge. Since all business operations and communication are going to be handled online, things will look much different compared to what they used to look like in an office environment. With that in mind, we want to conclude our remote work guide with some of the most important tips to help you and your workers get used to a remote work culture.
Start by communicating openly with remote workers and listening to their questions and concerns about their new work position. The best way to make remote work a success in your company is to hear out the workers’ concerns and demands and deliver the best possible response. With open communication, you will be able to get over any obstacle on the road, as long as your employees feel comfortable with talking to you and voicing their concerns.
One way you can help everyone adjust to the new situation quicker is to mimic the traditional work habits you used to have in the office. For example, if the team practiced certain exercises every day at 11 am, allow them to continue their practice remotely. This will make them feel less isolated and help them connect their past experiences with the new challenges ahead of them.
Moreover, you can make remote work fun by incorporating fun video call activities every once in a while. It is important to allow the workers to have some level of social interaction during their work hours, as this will make it easier to adjust to the change. Fully isolating themselves can lead to negative consequences, which is why it is important for team leaders to organize a social activities time and encourage the workers to connect.
As a business owner or a team leader, you should leave some room for mistakes. Things cannot run smoothly right away, as people will need some time to adjust to the massive changes. Therefore, try to be flexible and come up with creative ways to tackle issues and challenges instead of putting extra pressure on the employees. You should always leave some room for time schedule flexibility, as it can be difficult for workers to balance their life and work activities without changing the environment.
As one of the biggest challenges of remote working, staying at home can have its pros and cons. That is why it is crucial to keep communication open and plan online social activities to make people feel more connected with their co-workers. Some teams even like to stay on a video call throughout the whole work session so they feel like they are working in an office with some company. If this is not your style, you can always come up with different online activities to help people adjust to the change. As a business, you should strive to make your employees feel more comfortable with working remotely, as your success is going to depend on their level of satisfaction and productivity.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Can We Keep Employees Productive?
The best way you can motivate employees to work on their productivity is to provide them all the necessary productivity tools. These don’t have to be paid or expensive tools, as there are plenty of free apps they can use to boost productivity. Suggest apps such as productivity timers, journals, and scheduling apps. Another way to ensure your employees remain productive is to make them accountable for their work. You can do so by organizing daily check-ins where everyone gets on a shared call to discuss what they are working on or what they have recently completed.
What Are Good Teamwork Exercises That Can Be Done Remotely?
Teamwork exercises are a great way to motivate team members to work together and get to know each other better. Friendly relationships among the team members will help them feel more connected and satisfied at work. However, most of these teamwork exercises are done in-person, although many of them can be replicated virtually. For instance, games such as Pictionary or Charades can be done via video calls and the team will still get to work together and communicate. Doing these exercises is especially important now that they might be feeling isolated at home.
How Often Should You Communicate with Remote Employees?
Establishing the frequency of video calls and check-ins can be a tricky task. The question is, what is considered too much communication and what is considered not enough? We recommend setting up at least two weekly meetings that will focus on discussing progress or specific projects. However, you should organize daily check-ins to make sure all employees are on the same page and that all of them are doing their part of the job. It might seem difficult to organize daily check-ins for hundreds of employees so it is best to divide them in teams and have each team leader handle the organization of the call.
How Can You Train Employees Remotely?
Training employees remotely is going to be a different experience compared to in-person training. You can use different digital tools to create presentations or hold live presentations via Zoom or any other video conference program. Besides live video lessons, you can create a series of videos and distribute them for employees to watch on their own time. It is important to encourage employees to learn on their own. To do so, they can use a variety of online training platforms with thousands of courses on topics related to their work. Think of a point system that will reward the employees who take learning and self-improvement seriously.
Is Security a Big Concern for the Remote Working Culture?
Lastly, it is true that online security is one of the biggest concerns tied to working remotely. The security risks can impact both the workers and the business itself, as company data can easily be compromised online. The best way to tackle this issue is to provide work computers that can be monitored and assessed remotely in case of any threat. If this is not possible, train your employees to protect their personal devices and handle corporate data and files with care. Make sure to emphasize the importance of online security every once in a while and keep all workers on the same page regarding the necessary security measures.
How to Measure Productivity of Remote Workers?
An important question arises when you notice that one of your remote workers is not doing their job properly. However, the question is are they procrastinating or doing a bad job, or are they working on it at a regular pace but the task requires more time and effort? It is difficult to answer these questions when dealing with remote workers because you are not there to check on them. We suggest doing daily check-ups on the employees who seem to be showing a lack of progress. Ask them for proof of work or the reasons why it is taking them longer than others to complete their assignments. Follow the daily check-ins and decide whether their level of productivity is up to the company’s standards.
Are Written Instructions Better than Video Instructions for Remote Workers?
Generally speaking, the written word is more valuable than the spoken one, since the workers can refer to the writing as many times as they need to during their work. With video instructions, they only have one shot to capture everything you say, which makes it more likely that they will miss out on something. Of course, you can provide a playback of the video for them to rewatch if necessary but this can be too time-consuming, as they won’t know where specific parts of the video are. For example, in written instructions, they can just search for words using CTRL + F to find what they are interested in, whereas they have to rewatch the entire video to find a piece of information. If you still want to do video instructions, make sure to provide a written instructions document along with it.
How to Lead Weekly Check-Ins?
Once you get all workers on board for the weekly check-in call, whether on Zoom or any other platform, you have to follow a structure to keep it short yet meaningful. Managers should do more listening than giving instructions, as the workers should feel like it is their turn to talk. Active listening should be the main focus of the call in order to keep the workers enthusiastic and motivated. Before the call, write down a list of topics or questions you would like to address and try to let the workers speak more than you do. Listen to them and find ways you can improve their workflow or provide relevant advice.
What Should You Ask Employees During Weekly Meeting Calls?
If you are not sure where to start with these weekly meetings, here are some questions you could ask employees to get valuable insight on how they’re doing:
- How are you feeling?
- Is there anything that is blocking your productivity this week?
- What can we do to help you move forward?
- Do you need more resources, time, or budget?
- Are there any issues that need to be addressed?
- Do you have any questions for me?
How to Help Employees Bond Remotely?
Just because all your workers are now scattered around different locations, it doesn’t mean that there should not be a specific work culture in place and that they shouldn’t get to know each other. Make sure to leave some room for non-work related group activities where the employees will get a chance to socialize and spend time with one another, even if it is only remotely. Teammates need to get along in this aspect in order to function efficiently at work. Some companies create virtual groups such as book clubs, chess groups, and similar ideas to encourage peer-to-peer interaction.
What Tools Should We Encourage Remote Workers to Use?
Transitioning to remote work can be a confusing and stressful period for many employees. The fewer tools you make them use, the easier their adjustment process is going to be. Stick to one or two major platforms where you can share all relevant data and make video calls. Microsoft Teams is a great tool that provides all the necessary features for remote work communication and file sharing. Keep the list of tools as short as possible for the highest efficiency results.
How to Make Sure Team Managers Are Running Things Well?
Your best shot at building a successful team of managers is to hire people who are trained leaders and have experience with remote teams. You will need someone who knows all the perks and downsides of remote working in order to manage a team realistically. Be careful whom you set up as team leaders if you want your teams to function productively and stay motivated day in and day out. Besides hiring the best managers you can find, create a training session specifically tailored to your business and remote culture.
How Much Flexibility Should Be Involved in Leading a Remote Work Team?
Leading a remote team is not the same as leading a team of workers in-person. Working outside the office space can bring numerous challenges for the employees which can take a toll on their productivity or simply prevent them from meeting deadlines. For example, working from home leaves a lot of room for distraction and unexpected events that need to be taken care of. That is why it is important to be flexible when managing a team and your expectations of their success and productivity. Do not pressure the workers to work overtime or meet earlier deadlines, let alone jump in on weekends to get things done. Give them time to have a personal life along with a professional one, since both of those are now taking place at home.
How to Approach Goal Setting for Remote Workers?
Instead of you being the one determining the goals for your workers, let them in on the conversation and try to get them involved in the goal setting process. Set realistic goals that can be done in the given timeframe and do not have too high of expectations when just starting out. Keep in mind that the challenges of transitioning to remote work can come across as an obstacle for these initial goals. Therefore, remember to stay flexible and let the employees voice their opinions on whether certain goals are possible and how long it will take them to achieve them.
How to Eliminate Distractions When Working Remotely?
Your remote workers will have to deal with a lot of distractions on the daily basis and it is your job as a team leader to help them overcome and remove those. Some companies like to use video chat tools to create a virtual office where every employee is present on camera during office hours. That way, they will be held accountable for their activities during those hours and they will be less likely to give in to those distractions at home. Moreover, ask your employees if they find it difficult to focus at home and whether they need help doing so.