The Forced Transition
“Google, Microsoft, Twitter. Hitachi, Apple, Amazon. Chevron, Salesforce, Spotify. From the UK to the US, Japan to South Korea, these are all global companies that have, in the last few days, rolled out mandatory work-from-home policies amid the spread of Covid-19.“ – BBC. Some employees & employers are already used to working from home, others are just experiencing it for the first time, but all are facing the same challenges and opportunities remote work can yield.
In the past, many companies said NO to remote work before even giving it a go. Now, being forced to do so, hopefully, lots of them will recognize the countless benefits and keep it going long after the crisis has ended.
“Never let a good crisis go to waste.“ – Winston Churchill
Let’s start off with the costs. Remote workers don’t need a fancy new office building in the city’s hotspot, thus companies can save high amounts of renting fees if they move to smaller offices. However, you can offer your remote workers a small stipend to cover their expenses for arranging their home offices (desk, chair, monitor, etc.). As a result, they can create their own individual work environment which ultimately leads to high increases in productivity and focus. The high flexibility gives employees the possibility to better organize their daily chores and family time and also not having to spend time and money driving to the companies office every single day definitely increases their well-being. Additionally, there is much less distraction at home compared to the regular office. Also, it offers them the chance to work in their most productive times of the day, as for some early mornings work best, for others afternoons and even night times. Yes, some remote workers might have their kids around or similar distractions, but those are more or less easily controllable variables unlike those in the regular offices. A coffee break here, a little chat there, and soon enough half of your workday is gone. Your work is usually linked to the work of others, like project members or supervisors, this fact leads to frequent interruptions of your focus on the task at hand with questions and objections from co-workers.
A commonly used argument against remote work is about having no control over what the employees are really doing at their desks. But does a manager in a regular office necessarily have more control, where his employees are sitting just across the hallway, possibly watching cat videos, checking their Facebook feed, or playing online poker? Even more so employers can evaluate their employees‘ quality not by their behavior towards co-workers, not by the number of their brakes taken, not by the number of their hours “worked“, but solely on the most important aspect: their work done. Also as a recruiting employer accepting remote work gives you the chance to access a much larger talent pool, even up to getting world-class talent working for you from all over the world.
Duties and Responsibilities of Remote Work Leaders
As a team leader or supervisor of partly or fully remote teams, there’s a lot of stuff you need to keep in mind and should take care of in order for the team to function optimally. First of all, smooth communication must be provided. This can be achieved through the introduction of various chatting tools like Slack or Telegram offering you to create different channels, groups, and teams. So everyone knows where to write about what and to whom, thus killing useless spam from co-workers not working on the same task, project, or in the same group. Another crucial part is communication through speech (and/or video). Calling someone on their phone works well for quick questions or updates, for meetings you should use one of the many video call tools out there. Video calls can often be frustrating, so agree to the use of only one tool, set some ground rules. Have a moderator for each call with more than two participants. The moderator is the one maintaining the order, keeping the call on track, making sure all agenda items will be discussed, and ensuring every participant has the chance to finish their thoughts without being interrupted. Participants must make sure not to be interrupted or distracted during the video call by other phone calls, social media, or the TV. Make sure to provide good audio equipment for your team! By the way, an enormous plus for video calls is the fact that participants listen so much more and talk less, but in longer parts compared to real-life meetings, which is scientifically proven to maintain communication balance and to boost thinking and understanding activity of the brain. Here’s a list of the most common video call tools with their capacities:
- Skype (up to 100 users) –
- Zoom (up to 500 users) – partly free
- Hangouts (up to 100 users) – free
- MS Teams (up to 100 users, up to 10.000 for live) – partly free
- Whereby (up to 50 users) – partly
- Facebook (up to 50 users) –
- Facetime (up to 32 users)
In sales, you can also make use of video calls by organizing live demos of your products in 1-1 meetings or in front of bigger audiences, which is one of the most cost-effective ways of presenting your product. Of course, it’s harder to gain a customer’s trust without personally meeting them and shaking their hand, but you can compensate this by being open with your home office situation and very attentive to the client. Make sure to create a connection. Don’t forget to give the client enough time to speak!
Provide a smooth project management workflow with tools like Asana, Jira, or Trello. Read more about it here.
Last but not least: Introduce a shared calendar tool like Google Calendar to keep co-workers up-to-date on upcoming events and trips and also facilitating the process of scheduling meetings by not having to contact every single participant.
Effective collaboration must be nurtured: Web developers need to discuss with Project Managers, sales teams need to reach out to clients, etc., so it’s vital to ensure a consistent flow of information between remote workers. Agree on a core time period per day where team members need to be at their desks – guarantee at least a 3 hours overlap for employees working on the same projects. Make sure to have a shared cloud installed in order to easily transfer files needed for various projects.
Personal relationships must be nurtured. In regular office life co-workers often become good acquaintances or even friends. In remote work, people need other kinds of social interactions, like taking a short walk or meeting with colleagues in “Coffee Break Chat Rooms“.
Due to no real face-to-face interactions, signals, and words can easily be misinterpreted. Negative relationships could arise from this, thus it is important to pay close attention to others. Organize socializing meetups at your headquarters a couple of times a year to unite the company and solve tensions.
- Introduce morning check-ins and afternoon checkouts for the whole team to maintain a high motivation but also to kill any possibility of burning out.
- Don’t over-control your employees. Give them autonomy – it increases their creativity.
- Offer online seminars and training.
- Offer health benefits like gym memberships.
- Share video messages from time to time – be personal and human
Here’s a great TED Talk on the visionary remote work philosophy at Automattic (WordPress) by their CEO Matt Mullenweg: