With many organisations asking employees to work from home to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, employers and managers may now be facing unforeseen challenges coordinating their newly remote teams. At NB, we have almost two decades of experience managing people who work remotely so we thought we'd take this opportunity to share some of our top tips...
Change your perspective
The NB team includes staff based in our offices in Lerwick and Edinburgh and also remote workers who work from home or in office spaces elsewhere. This 'hybrid' model came about as a result of us founding, initially, in Shetland. When we started the agency almost 20 years ago we had to look further afield for some of the specific expertise we needed at the time. The skills we developed back then have enabled us to recruit a global team of digital marketing experts, many of whom have been with us for a long time.
It's impossible for us to have face-to-face team meetings with all of our team members present, but we have found plenty of alternative ways to collaborate and share ideas successfully online. Having a 'remote first' philosophy, we realised that we didn't need to have as many meetings as some traditional businesses might hold, something that's freed up a lot of time, enabling us to focus more on work that matters.
Crucially, working remotely can be quite different to working alongside colleagues in a physical office. We truly believe that distributed teams can be even more productive than those working in a more traditional environment, but it may take a change in perspective - and a different set of management skills - in order to really see the benefits. Don't try to replicate all the practices that work well in physical office environment. Instead, implement things that make sense for teams that are distributed remotely.
Keep in communication
We're living in unprecedented times; no one knows what's going to happen in the coming weeks or for how long working from home might be an enforced reality for many organisations. It's therefore key that your employees feel comfortable in their home working set-up and know exactly what you expect of them day-to-day. This means keeping in close contact with people and that's where project managment software can come in really handy.
As mentioned in an earlier blog, at NB we use Basecamp to manage all our projects and for colleagues to keep in contact with each other, providing daily updates and progress reports. It's really easy to use and, as an employer, it's a great tool for getting an oversight of what your team has been up to, rather than having to schedule in regular calls or send lots of emails. You can also invite clients to access specific projects, so they can provide their input and comment without the need for separate email threads.
Tools like Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp and Zoom are excellent if you need to have face-to-face meetings with one or more of your colleagues. With Zoom you can also record presentations and share them with your team. At NB, we are just starting to make full use of Microsoft Teams - something we've had access to for a long time but which has become even more relevant as we strive to work even more efficiently from different locations.
For those completely new to remote working, LinkedIn have opened up access to number of free LinkedIn Learning courses that focus on being productive while working from home, including tips on using virtual meeting tools to build relationships in a new working environment.
Allow some flexibility
If your employees are working from home because of coronavirus then it's highly possible that those who are parents may have their children at home with them. While most parents will do what they can to juggle their work with their childcare, it might be difficult for them to work uninterrupted during normal working hours. Let your employees know you're happy for them to be flexible with their time, while giving them realistic expectations of what you need them to achieve, each day or week.
Also, it might be a good idea to introduce some form of time management software into your business. Not only does this help you keep track of employees' time, but it's also really handy for costing projects. Lots of project management software packages have time trackers in-built as standard.
Consider IT security
If you work in a business area that deals with sensitive or confidential data, then it's important you have a robust IT policy in place. For example, if you're asking staff to work on their own home computers, laptops or phones make sure they have the appropriate antivirus, firewalls and device encryption in place. Also, if staff happen to be working in public spaces like hotels, cafes or libraries, let them know that public wifi networks aren't always securely protected, so best avoided if they're working with sensitive information. If you've given staff devices to work on from home, such as laptops and phones, make sure they're properly insured for this purpose and have all the necessary antiviral and encryption software installed.
Be responsive and available
For many people, working from home will be a new concept, one that they might take some time to adjust to. It's therefore important as an employer that you don't leave individuals to flounder or inadvertently make them feel anxious or stressed by applying too much pressure or workload. Mitigate this by checking in regularly with team members, let them know you support them and praise them for any goals or achievements. For lots of people, the office environment is one of security and camaraderie, you can foster this atmosphere online by keeping in regularly contact with your teams and letting them know you've got their backs.