Remote working when you’re not a remote team
There’s a great deal of of information online on remote working but much of it is for companies building remote teams intentionally and for the long term, not temporarily in response to Coronavirus.
To help companies come up with a plan quickly, I’ve borrowed the relevant bits from Zapier’s very popular Ultimate Guide to Remote Work and added some additional tips.
At the bottom, I’ve shared links to other resources that are worth looking through.
This is meant to be actionable, not comprehensive but if you have suggestions to add to this guide, leave a comment below.
- Make a plan — the first important thing now is to set aside time to come up with a plan if you haven’t already, some good advice on things to consider below and here. If you don’t have a People team in situ, it’s a good idea to assign this transition to a small task force internally.
- Run a drill — close the office for a day or two now to see what issues come up, this can help you with the contingency planning.
- Get IT backup — you will need redundancy here in case your current IT person is sick or just overrun.
- Prepare for two months of fully remote — better to be over-prepared.
From Zapier’s Guide: In a co-located facility, you can always round up the team for an all-hands meeting to steer everyone on track. In a remote team, you’ll need the right tools to make sure everyone stays on the same page and can continue to execute without a physical person standing next to them.
While the exact tools aren’t super important, you likely will need a tool in certain categories like group chat and video conferencing to make remote successful.
You’re unlikely to have the bandwidth to adopt new tools but there are a few types of tools that you need to have:
Videoconferencing: this is the most critical and everyone has their favorite, key thing is to have a robust enterprise level tool for this, Zoom is the popular choice
Live chat: whether it’s Slack or gchat or any other, make sure everyone in the firm is using one tool and everyone is on-boarded and connected. If some people are on one platform and others are not, it’ll cause big issues in remote setup. WhatsApp is not built for this purpose so not the ideal tool.
- Setup a virtual cafe: if you have a team that likes to socialize, make sure there’s a slack channel or ‘cafe’ area for them to share wins, post memes, and otherwise be social
Secure shared drive: Dropbox, Google drive, etc. I assume everyone is setup here already, if not, everything must be on the cloud. I speculate instances of toddlers or cats knocking coffee over the laptop will be north of 0 when working from home.
Project management and collaboration: you don’t need this urgently but some companies are setting these up to help with remote collaboration. In case you want to adopt a new tool, I recommend Notion over Basecamp/Trello/Evernote/Airtable, why? Because it’s all of those in one.
VPN: if you’re using it, ensure everyone has an updated version installed on their portable devices, including smartphones.
Contact list: not a tool exactly but we’ve all had those panicked moments, 5 minutes into the meeting looking through email signatures for the missing attendee’s phone number. Have an updated list of phone numbers with permission to share this across the company.
Offline access: home internet connections are not as reliable as the office. Make sure people know how to access files offline and can do some work without an internet connection if needed.
Spare chargers and dongles: these are obviously critical, but people do forget about them because it’s easy to get one when in the office.
Headsets: everyone will need these for calls and remote meetings, if you can afford to provide them with good ones (noise cancelling, good mic, etc) then do so especially for your sales and frontline teams whose work is primarily on the phone.
On Mission critical tools
- Can everyone login into everything?
- Does your team know who to call if their device crashes?
- Does your team have contact info for your Dedicated Customer Support person for the tools you’re using regularly? (e.g. at Zoom, Salesforce, etc.)
- Does your team know how to forward calls to their mobile?
On Trust and Communication
From Zapier’s Guide: One common thread that runs deep across every method of managing a remote team: trust. Employees need to trust that their managers are looking out for their best interest. Managers need to trust that their employees are engaged and motivated at work. Part of this trust is…built over time with each positive interaction.
Finding the best ways to communicate with your team is imperative when you’re not working face-to-face, because you’re missing most — if not all — of the context of each person’s situation.
Relying on Text the Right Way
Your team might rely on tools like Skype or Zoom for video and voice chats, which will give you a chance to use those rapport-building strategies we just discussed. Voice and video calls can help you feel more in touch with your team and avoid the issues of asynchronous communication like time lags or misunderstandings.
But you’ll likely spend a lot of your day communicating with text. Whether it’s in Slack, Basecamp shared documents, emails, or GitHub issues, text tends to be the most convenient way to keep in touch with your teammates without interrupting them.
Remember Hanlon’s Razor
A razor is a concept used in philosophy to help us strip away possible explanations (hence the name) for a phenomenon. Hanlon’s razor refers to the idea that we should always assume ignorance before malice. That is, if someone does something wrong, don’t assume they purposely meant to hurt you. It’s just as likely (perhaps more so) that they simply made a mistake.
This is especially important in situations where you’re missing context. If you’re communicating via text with co-workers who are multiple time zones away, try to always assume ignorance before malice if you have a misunderstanding.
Asserting Yourself When Needed
Perhaps the hardest, yet most obvious, way to compensate for the lack of context in remote communication is to be more forward and open than you normally would. As I mentioned in my example earlier, working with someone in an office makes it easier to pick up on their mood and know when they need some time alone. When you work remotely, you’re going to bug people by chatting to them when they’re not in the mood — it’s unavoidable. Being respectful of others is just harder when you have less information to inform your decisions.
Tips related to this
Respect Do Not Disturb mode on Slack or similar signals that allow for quiet heads down time.
Use of emojis should be encouraged — a smiley at the end of a statement can make a big difference in softening the tone.
NO ALL CAPS EVER — shouting at the office is unacceptable, let’s not do it in text either.
Please and thank you — sounds simple but go overboard on these, the team is extra sensitive now and needs it.
Pick up the phone and call — for some of us calling seems rather archaic but in this context it can save time and avoid confusion. A rule of thumb is if it’s a 1:1 internal issue, and it’s going to take back and forth, then call the person; and of course, if it’s sensitive or bad news, always call.
Use video when possible — there’s no replacement for being together as a team, and without a Transporter to beam us over for meetings, video is the next best thing. It does bring people closer and adds more context so opt for video calls over voice calls.
On Ways of working
From Zapier’s Guide:
As we’ve grown, it can be harder to know all your teammates. One easy way to mitigate that is to have folks on the team get paired up with one other teammate or two at random each week for a short pair call. We use Donut in Slack for this to chat about life, work, or whatever random thing seems interesting. Sometimes cool new product features come out of these, other times it’s just good fun. Regardless, it helps everyone better know their teammates.
You may not need a formal setup for this but one of the hardest aspects of temporary work from home is your team is not used to this, they will start feeling isolated quickly and with the stress of everything going on, this will affect their productivity.
So encourage your team members to pick their own buddy and suggest that they check in with each other regularly. (sidenote: be aware of new joiners who may not have friends in the company yet, these may need to be paired).
In every job I ever had (even co-located ones), there wasn’t enough feedback between me and my supervisor. So at Zapier, we set up a recurring weekly event with each team member I manage where we both jump on Zoom to chat about how work is going. These one-on-ones follow roughly the format outlined by the Manager Tool’s podcast.
Hopefully your managers do this already but if not, it’s critical this happens now, both to check on people but also for accountability.
Working from home offers people more flexibility and were you a remote company, you could build a culture where people set their own hours and work at their own pace.
However, under these circumstances, it’s important that people maintain their normal office hours and are expected to be online and responsive within those hours.
This is important for trust and continuity but also, it discourages overworking. Since there’s no ‘leaving the office’, there’s no natural break and people may forgo breaks and sleep. This added to the stress of the circumstances, is a recipe for getting sick.
Related to this, it’s a good idea to get dressed for work. Even though, rolling out of bed and onto your laptop still in PJs may be fun for a day, regular remote workers’ advice is to follow a work week routine including changing from home clothes to work clothes and back.
- Find a quiet space — ask your team to think ahead about where they will work, if at home, do they have a room they can use as an office? do they have access to a quiet space for calls? It’s likely schools will close along with offices, so having a quiet call at home will be challenging.
- A comprehensive guide to setting up your home office can be found here.
If you don’t run expense accounts typically, make it clear what people can and cannot expense and what the process is. Lunches? Extra charger because they lost theirs?
- General Tips for being productive working remotely
- Snyk’s Employee Guide and Manager Guide for Remote Working in Quarantine
- Communicating effectively and responsibly through text
- What’s Your Company’s Emergency Remote-Work Plan?
- Workable’s HR and Recruiting Resource Bank
- Survival Guide for WFH Parents with young kids