It’s challenging, but not impossible. You will need Slack, Zoom, and some good ground rules.
Whether you love remote work or hate it, we are in the midst of a rapid transition from office-based work to WFH. The good news is that many successful, productive companies and organizations already utilize (and even prefer) remote workforce management. Their best practices mean you don’t have to start from scratch during this COVID-19-induced adjustment.
This post will you help you strategize how to best support your team’s quick transition to remote while safeguarding productivity and culture.
A bit about me: I have experience working on (and managing) teams in office HQs, satellite offices, on-the-road 30%+, and remotely. I’ve also been a consultant for teams with offices, coworking spaces, and remote structures where I coached on operations, strategic planning, and culture. Based on these experiences, I’m sharing tips on how to prepare. I hope you find it helpful.
Part 1: Initiating the transition
Does your company already have a flexible or WFH policy? Are there current expectations you can build upon? Great. Keep as much existing protocol in place as possible. As a leader in this transition, how you set expectations and process around accountability, communication, and accessibility is key.
Preparing to communicate to the team:
First, as leadership, make sure to ground your communication in respect for your team and recognize their dedication. Acknowledging the team’s hard work is important for two reasons: 1) Being suddenly much less visible in an office, especially with market volatility, can feel vulnerable. Emphasizing the caliber of work in progress will reinforce trust and set an ongoing expectation that feels predictable. 2) Reinforce that health and wellness come first and foremost and you have your team’s back.
Moving to remote syncs and meetings:
When planning the transition with your exec team and ops, try to preserve as many standing meetings as possible and avoid unnecessary cancellations. For each recurring large meeting, assign an owner to be in charge of taking the meeting online. Require all meeting owners to specify the agenda in the calendar invite and commit to summarizing next steps & owners at the close of each meeting. Pick one meeting tool (ex. Zoom) and stick with it. Set a few ground rules for video calls across your org: video ON, auto-mute, how late you wait in an empty meeting room (I recommend 4 minutes) before hanging up. Try to find ways to use video calls to have fun or create traditions that keep people engaged and keep your culture strong.
Check out my top three tips for successful team video calls here.
Keeping your teams aligned:
What strategic planning tools do you use to drive company alignment? How frequently do you revisit these? Make sure to dust off and spruce up your most important 1–2 strategy documents, check that you have solid planning in place, and reshare monthly or quarterly (this is hopefully happening remote or not, right?!).
The vital purpose of revisiting strategic planning documentation before going remote is to confirm that your system of record is up to date and that staff is aligned on priorities, key projects, timelines, where to ask for help, and where to give updates on progress.
Setting norms around updates and confirming those updates are seen is key to staying aligned. Do you want your project leads to send updates by email and/or slack and/or at a weekly meeting? If you have current norms around update-sharing, keep them and be explicit about how to take it online. For example, promote frequent usage of Slack emojis, reply-all (yes, really!) responses to big update emails, or +1s in video call chats will signal messages have been seen. Make sure leadership fully adopts and sticks with these over time.
Part 2: Managing Remotely
Next, put some thought into giving excellent guidance for your team on remote work. Remote is still often met with suspicion, which can backfire.
There is a balance to be struck between trusting your talented team to be responsible adults and issuing clear expectations. Remember, remote does not mean everyone is slacking off and watching Ellen at 4pm. Meanwhile, many dedicated staff may legitimately struggle with the major context switch and see an initial loss on their productivity. It’s important that they know that you know that they aren’t watching Ellen. Aim to offer support and guidance that empowers each person to find their best path, and trust folks to do their best and ask for help when they need it.
To keep the distinction simple, you can set a norm that the same expectations that apply in an office apply with WFH: If you wouldn’t do it at the office, don’t do it at home. It is normal work behavior (and healthy!) to take short breaks, to go on a coffee run midmorning, to walk or exercise on a lunch hour, to step out for an occasional errand or appointment. Similarly, it is not a workplace norm to binge watch Netflix at work or to be MIA for hours at a time. Communicate this once if you need to, and then let it go and trust your team to do the right thing.
Encourage remote availability visibility:
Help your team frequently communicate their availability using Slack status, or scheduling the blocks of time when they aren’t available. Said another way: encourage your team to embrace flexibility with visibility by demonstrating when they are unavailable/available. This helps teammates be most respectful of each other’s time and avoid misunderstandings. Model this as well in your own calendar. Encourage your team to name and claim time off, especially if they are sick, encourage folks to get offline and rest.
📆 = lots of meetings
☕️= coffee run
Some people LOVE to work from home, and you may find their productivity and happiness goes up. Others may struggle with working from home. Encourage HR/ops to be available as a non-managerial resource to support staff if they are struggling in this area. As COVID-19-induced WFH policies expand, there fantastic new tips and articles on how to avoid common distractions, set up productive workspaces, and knock out to-do lists. My new favorite is the Career Karma Complete Guide to Remote Work.
Suggesting each person set a clock-out time and have a ritual (such as a walk around the block) to switch in and out of work mode will help your staff have healthy boundaries that don’t bleed into burnout. I recommend providing ergonomic advice or tools if you have them. Consider offering internet reimbursement (even if confidentially as-needed if necessary) to remain inclusive and accessible as an employer.
Encourage people managers to clarify their reporting, team projects, and how they will share updates. Ensure managers maintain 1:1s with direct reports on video calls to keep communication consistent and encourage them to minimize rescheduling. If staying aligned is a challenge in your line of work due to pace, geography, number of projects, etc. I recommend encouraging managers & their teams to adopt a Friday checkout email tradition.
Part 3: Let things evolve
Even the best-laid plans feel shaky these days. We are living through a wild moment in history where we will have to evolve and adapt, time and time again, to significant challenges: new rapidly globalized diseases, climate instability, misinformation & security vulnerabilities, and sadly much more.
Try to keep everything in perspective. Even the ability to switch into remote work (and keep our jobs while doing so) is a privilege that many others in our communities do not have. Let’s do our best to be patient, be kind to one another, and be supportive to all those most affected by COVID-19.