Remote working poses all kinds of new opportunities – and challenges, too. Whether you’re moving your business to a remote-work environment as part of a larger digital transformation initiative or as a stopgap solution to an urgent situation, there are many questions that need to be addressed. Here, we address the most frequently asked questions on remote working – with insights from those who do it already – to help you fine-tune your transition and continue to succeed as a business.
1. How can I train & empower our managers to manage their teams remotely?
One of the biggest challenges of managing remotely is the relative isolation that a manager may feel from their team. There are logistical challenges in getting synced and on the same page. These can easily be overcome using technology and regular communications to maximize the connections and “team spirit” within a squad.
There are several ways you can help your managers succeed when their teams are remote working:
Darko Jacimovic, co-founder of e-learning company Whattobecome.com, pointed to technologies that enabled his colleagues to overcome the physical remoteness between colleagues, mentioning Slack and Hubstaff as tools he uses to ensure teams are aligned and productive.
Hope Weatherford, Head of Talent Attraction at InVision, highlighted the power of video technology in maintaining connections. While it’s not a perfect substitute for in-person interaction, Hope says it’s still key to successful communication in a remote working environment:
If possible, set up regular checkins with your teammates at the same time every day or when it works best for you. These do not need to have specific agendas – you can save those for other, more targeted meetings. The purpose of this check-in is for colleagues to have an opportunity to give general updates on work projects, share ideas for future undertakings, talk at length about campaigns, or even just engage in regular chit-chats. Many colleagues within a team sync naturally as they’re desk neighbors or have a coffee break together – this is your way of making sure that energy continues in a virtual environment. Workable’s marketing department started doing this as soon as the company shifted to a fully remote working environment and it’s worked very well.
Ensure everyone is accessible – even at the top level
Melissa Bruno, VP Head of People at Stack Overflow, encourages the concept of a weekly “virtual gathering” where even the top person in the company participates to talk about business as a whole:
“We actually do fireside chats where our CEO comes up on a weekly basis and we talk about the business and we all record each other. And we actually have different people who come in and talk about different pieces of the business.”
Also, work gets busy and managers need a bit of a nudge at times. If your boss is reaching out to you to see how you’re doing, that overcomes the physical separation in a powerful way, as Melissa says:
Communicate early and communicate often
Because you can’t simply walk up to your team and update them on something crucial at work, you have to be more diligent in using every virtual channel available to you – be it chat programs, email, even a quick recorded video that you share with the team as recommended by Smartbug Media founder and CEO Ryan Malone.
Ryan also notes that this communication outreach doesn’t have to be only professional. You’re both humans – it’s important to nurture that relationship. He admits that it can be “awkward” to reach out and dedicated time to that, but it’s still beneficial to open the channels and say, ‘Hey, I haven’t talked to you in two weeks. How are you?’. You just have to make it happen.’
Make sure your team knows you’re available
Ensure your calendar has regular 1-1s and team meetings each week, giving each team member the opportunity to sync with the team and meet with you one on one. Think of it as the virtual version of the “open door policy”.
Remember, it’s not about whether or not you can get the work done. It’s about making sure your team is fully accessible and your managers are available to them – and it takes a few proactive steps to ensure this continues to happen in a fully virtual environment.
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2. How can we keep employees accountable and productive?
The easy way would be to introduce a productivity software that requires employees to clock in and clock out throughout the day so you can monitor how much they’re spending in work. While useful for workers who are paid by the hour or for contracted workers, it’s not an optimal setup for your full-time employees. If you’ve trained them well, and you’ve shown them that you value them, they will respond in kind.
A few tips for you to ensure accountability and productivity:
Be clear to your employees that it doesn’t matter where, how, or what time they’re doing the work – the emphasis is on the results. If you’re looking for X project to be delivered by a specific date, simply specify that, and be confident in their ability to do it. Empower your teams to create their own ideal environment – be it time of day, location of work, surrounding scenery, accompanying music, etc. – in which they can thrive.
Train your employees to succeed independently
The best time to ensure an employee base that can succeed independently without intensive direction or micromanagement is in the hiring process, when you’re vetting their ability to work in ambiguous and remote environments – Smartbug Media founder and CEO Ryan Malone has that down to a T.
The second-best time is to train your existing workers to operate in that kind of remote working environment. Empower them to take steps without needing extra direction. Do this by communicating clearly to employees that you’re fully confident in their ability to do the job. Also, remember to include incentives for the best performers and stage regular “celebrations” where everyone gets a chance to be recognized for their contribution in front of the entire company. That’s a powerful motivator when people realize they can have their time in the limelight for something they’ve done well.
Instead of the “clock-in” approach, do the “check-in” approach. Check- in regularly with your staff, not to show them that you’re monitoring them but to keep that connection strong. The questions you ask can make a lot of difference, i.e. “How’s that project coming along? Can I do anything to help?” as opposed to “Will that project be ready for Monday?” Your staff knows Monday is the deadline – don’t talk down to them about that but show confidence and support.
Even as a CEO, Ryan at Smartbug makes sure he does that with people in his company:
“I personally call everybody at our company over a period of time to just say, what can we do to make [it] healthier? What does your roadmap look like here? And is there a path to see it? Because you don’t have that office kind of chatter that you typically see.”
3. What are creative ways to maintain team morale, relationships and cohesion?
Maintaining that all-important team morale is more challenging when you don’t get to see your team every day, because you’re missing out on the crucial nuances. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible – here are some tips to make it happen:
Be aware of the non-verbal signs
Hope Weatherford, Head of Talent Attraction at InVision, highlighted in response to question #1 the importance of video to catch the non-verbal cues. Ryan Malone, CEO and founder at Smartbug Media, agrees that those important nuances are harder to see when you can’t just walk by someone’s office:
“When somebody gets on camera during the work day, you know they have their game face on, but you don’t know what’s really going on,” he says. “In fact, we had an employee who had a death in the family like an hour before a call and when she got on the phone call, she was completely buttoned up. But you had no idea, if you were in the office you would have seen that and said you need to go home. Like you do not need to go on this call.”
So, it’s crucial to be aware that there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes. If your colleague walks into the office space with hunched shoulders and a sunken face, you know something’s up. Sometimes you just have to reach out with regular, personal check-ins and be actively observant of their current mood.
Don’t do texting/email if you can do video
While texting and emailing have their place in a work environment, there’s a tendency to resort to those even more often in a remote working environment because you just can’t shout over to your coworker about something in the moment. Hope at InVision urges video even in those quick one-off interactions, saying the technology shouldn’t be reserved just for meetings.
Ryan at Smartbug Media agrees, and says this is even more so for a manager when it comes to announcements and updates.
“If they’re going to do an announcement, do an announcement on camera and don’t script it,” he says. “Just let it rip, because when your team sees your own emotion, your own kind of non-verbal cues on your face, I think it’s really, really impactful to them. And it comes across really cold, if in a remote environment as a leader, you just send out email announcements all day. It’s a tiny little change. It’s actually easier than writing a big old email. And it’s really impactful.”
Be clever with your resources
Hired’s Head of Customer Success, Will Alexander, says we have the opportunity to be clever and innovative in boosting team morale in a virtual environment – and shares his own real-life examples:
Stage regular meetups
Melissa Bruno, VP Head of People at Stack Overflow, admits that you can’t always replace those in-person interactions and gatherings virtually, but it can be done to some degree. She suggests breaking your company into regional teams to have virtual meetups – even with a budget::
Make it more personable
Ryan points out the importance of personal interaction even during those formal blocks in a workday set aside for meetings. As he says, in a virtual environment, “you miss out on that five minutes before a conference call where everybody is sitting at a conference table chatting about whatever.”
So, Ryan says “I always encourage people to take some piece of a call that they have with a client or with themselves and just shoot the breeze because that’s how relationships are made and if it’s all business, you miss that opportunity.”
Remember the ‘well-being check-in’ as well
Ryan also adds that it’s important to do a ‘well-being check-in’ – not for work purposes, but for making sure everyone’s doing OK within a team. Not only does it send the message to your team that you’ve got their back, but it’s also about looking after your employees to make sure they’re happy and healthy:
Technology may not be an ideal substitute for authentic human interaction, but when you set the stage for people to willingly participate – and help them overcome their tech hurdles – you may see a high level of engagement within your company.
4. In-person companies are able to have social events and happy hours. How do you replicate this digitally?
It’s definitely hard to have a ‘happy hour’ when everyone’s in a different location. However, Will at Hired has made it work at his organization. In his team’s ‘remote’ happy hours, they gather weekly in Zoom after work is done for the day:
“Everybody’s got their drinks together and everyone’s having a conversation. It’s a different sense of connection, because people are in their homes.
He notes there’s another kind of connection happening that doesn’t actually happen in the physical workplace:
“You’re dialed into the actual homes of your colleagues. […] And they’re preparing their dinner and their partner’s walking by, and we’re grabbing them and asking some questions. And [one colleague] has been showing us how to make particular drinks, and what’s she’s been cooking and stuff. And so, yeah, I actually find that more connection-driving than you could argue even in person.”
Hope Weatherford, Head of Talent Attraction at InVision, takes a similar approach, with a weekly ‘fun day’ free of the burden of an agenda. This, she says, can boost connections both between colleagues and with management:
You can also set up virtual ‘drop-in’ meeting rooms and online chat rooms. Have a chat channel titled ‘Cabin Feverrr’ – as Workable’s own employees have done. Distribute “happy hour gift cards” – i.e. $10 at the local supermarket to spend on something to consume during this time.
These events can also be gamified. There are numerous apps out there that support virtual games with participants tuning in from different locations. You can also stage competitions for best work-from-home environment, best ‘work companion’ (a pet, toy, kid, etc.), and more. Make it fun for everyone.
5. How can you create a meaningful buddy system?”
Touchpoints are as crucial in a remote working environment as they are in a physical work environment. Feeling socially distant from your colleagues is commonplace when someone’s a new kid on the block – that’s the importance of having a buddy system in place so they don’t feel so far removed from work social circles.
It becomes even more crucial in a remote setting. When everyone’s fully remote from one another, you need to replicate every part of a normal buddy or mentor system in the workplace. Those in the onboarding buddy or mentor system will touch base at regular times throughout the week – whether it’s dedicated meetings or going for lunch/coffee together. These can easily be set up remotely, bearing in mind that face-to-face interaction through video isn’t ideal but still very beneficial.
Do it the “mentor” way. Set lesser experienced/new workers with the more experienced. Don’t do them within departments – do them across departments and emphasize confidentiality “safe space” throughout.
6. How can we train hands-on, direct-care, or field workers remotely?
Regardless of the reason for it, there are many solutions for when you’re working remotely in a relatively normal situation and wondering how you might train new hires.
Get boots on the ground
When you’re setting up shop in a new location – whether you’re entering a new market, expanding, or opening an additional outlet – have at least a couple of employees native to that location who can be tasked with training new hires on site. When we reached out to organizations on their recommendations for successfully opening up business in a new location, hiring local talent was one of the most popular tips. It applies here as well.
Build a ‘training team’
A common strategy adopted by companies is to have a ‘mobile training team’ who travels to locations to train new hires and existing employees. The concept is widely utilized in the military, but has been adopted by businesses who have many workers in the field or are aggressively expanding to new areas. These training teams can be ‘trained’ at headquarters, and then carry their knowledge and expertise with them to multiple locations for team-building purposes.
7. I work for a school system and many of our employees are not tech-savvy. Have you put together trainings for employees like this on how to use video conferencing softwares and how to be creative with technology?
According to Melissa Bruno, VP Head of People at Stack Overflow, it’s critical to have an educational system in place to make sure everyone is well informed on how to use that technology and tapping into the willingness of people to learn. She also recommends appointing two or three highly motivated employees as tech ‘champions’ to help rally their colleagues:
8. How do you find the right balance in over-communication and make sure important things don’t get lost in the noise?
Think of it the same way you would in a normal workplace setting. If you simply get an all-in email from HR or from the company at large communicating various things every week, that usually doesn’t have a lot of impact, especially if sent out at a frequent cadence. What carries a lot of power, instead, is what Ryan at Smartbug Media suggests above: record yourself, warts and all, talking about the ‘important things’ and put that in an email or a chat channel. Better yet – do it live, pulling everyone together into a virtual room.
You aren’t necessarily holding meetings that could be an email. That challenge doesn’t change if you’re working remotely. Emails, text messages, phone calls, video check-ins, 1-1s – they all have their part in workplace communications. A good manager should know when to bring all hands on deck for important messages and when a quick note to the team will suffice.
Hope Weatherford, Head of Talent Attraction at InVision, notes that every company will have a different threshold around how much is too much in terms of communication. If you’re finding your messages lost in the ‘noise’, you can switch things up a bit – and be creative and engaging at some point in your messaging to maximize the response:
9. What software do you use/recommend for remote working (i.e. communication, conferencing, team recognition)?
There are hundreds of tech tools out there – we have our own extensive list of the best tools that can get you operating in a fully remote fashion, broken down by function and purpose.
Hope Weatherford, Head of Talent Attraction at InVision, notes that it’s important not to get stuck in one software to get most of your work done. Keep it variable and interesting, and monitor what’s working and what’s not. She explains:
“Use your messaging, Slack, G Chat, whatever it is that you’re using, use that along with maybe a video. Right? […] Don’t overcomplicate it. Just do a quick video and look at [your] email. And if you don’t feel like something’s working, don’t be afraid to change that in the middle, and really think about how things are communicating.”
Primarily, look at what your team already does, and see how that work can be continued at a high level using a tool from our above-mentioned list. And keep monitoring the efficiency of that tool – not just for the tool’s capabilities, but the way in which your team is using it to excel in their projects.
10. If you had a friend who was going to move their business remote and they’re going to open their laptop at 9 a.m. tomorrow, what is the one piece of advice that you would give them?
It’s a hard thing to do, moving your entire operation to a fully remote working environment. It’s easy to think that not everything can be done fully virtually – but as the saying goes, there really is an app for everything. And It’s been done before – as proven by those who’ve been there and done that.
When your teams open up that laptop at 9 a.m. on their first day of remote work, Hope Weatherford, Head of Talent Attraction at InVision, says it’s important to remind them to go easy on themselves:
“Give yourself a little bit of grace. You’re not going to be perfect at everything. You’re going to have some things that go amazingly well, and then you’re going to have some areas where you can learn from, and just make sure and give yourself grace. And don’t take yourself too seriously.”
“I would say trust that every interaction, that comes with good intent and that everybody wants you to succeed and that everybody wants the company to succeed, that intention piece where if you make a mistake, it’s really not a big deal. What Hope talked about, don’t take yourself too seriously. Because at the end of the day, we’re all in it together.”