Remote working is becoming the acceptable norm as more and more businesses are being forced to shift parts of their operations to a remote working environment due to social distancing. It is however highly unlikely that at any time in history one can pick and assemble a random group of people over a dispersed geographical location and expect them to be productive in the new working structure. The transition is not only a significant technical change, but also a cultural change which could shine light on some deep-rooted issues within the organization.
There are nevertheless three key factors that can increase the likelihood of such a group to become a productive remote working team:
People, Processes and Tools
It is important to form a team that is able to work in a remote environment. There are important ingredients that make remote work successful, but the most important ingredient is the team. Not everyone can work productively in a remote environment and not everyone can manage a remote working environment; though I suspect that many managers will learn over time how to do that.
Hiring the right people is the key part in the transition and the first to focus on. It is very easy to fall back into normal hiring processes and expecting a different outcome. The focus must be to assemble a team that is put together to fit the purpose of working remotely.
It could mean changing from a full-time employment structure to a deliverable focussed structure where a part-time or full-time worker is paid per deliverable rather than being another “bum on a seat” sitting around to make up number. Saying that, some roles require the backfill of a number of staff who are not always productive as they are on call or work in areas with high peaks and troths in workload and where there is a high risk of liability by not having enough staff on the rota.
- Hire Doers
Someone who is a Doer will get it done independent of their location. You don’t have to micro manage a Doer as they will simply get the work done.
Your input and oversight would be limited to providing direction, guidance and the necessary tools to enable them to get on with their work in your absence.
- Hire People You Can Trust
If you are constantly worried about what someone is doing, you will focus on something other than the business. If you can no longer trust the person on the other end of the line, remote work will no longer work for you as it is taking unnecessary focus of the business and placing it on the management of people.
Note: The flip side is that you will have to show trust in the people you have hired and learn to manage deliveries and not count on having unproductive “bums on seats” during prescribed regular hours.
- Hire People Who Can Write
Communication is one of the most important parts of a remote working team as in a co-located office a lot of information is shared verbally whereas in a remote team the majority of information is shared through written communication. Many misunderstanding could arise from misscommunication so it is imperative that communication channels are available and that people are able to use it effectively to convey ideas.
- Hire People Who Are Ok Without A Social Workplace
The truth is that remote jobs are usually far less social than those in co-located sites, and therefore the people need to be OK with it. A lot of people are being forced to work remotely, but it takes a certain type of person to be productive and thrive in such environments. Being the life of the party no longer has its normal attraction if there is no audience. Make opportunities and space for people to spend social time together, whether it is a virtual “water cooler” chat area or a weekly social online group chat.
The second factor in a powerful remote team is having solid processes. Most people don’t like to think about process as it feels boring and rigid, but if you think of process as “how we work” it starts to feel more powerful. Good processes provide structure and direction for getting things done. That doesn’t mean processes should be rigid, unchanging or pointless. Processes at a small company, is more about providing a feedback loop so that you can measure progress for both the company and the people in the company.
- Weekly Catch-ups
Find a good time once a week to get together for lightning talks, demos and/or interviews. These sessions are a chance to catch up with folks you may not normally see. Each session someone inside the team could do a lightning talk or demo on something interesting or if someone is in the running to join the team, have them present a lightning talk.
- Buddy Up
Have everyone on the team get paired up with one other teammate at random each week for a short 15-minute buddy call. Use this to chat about life, work or whatever random thing seems interesting. Sometimes new product features could come out of these, other times it’s just good fun. Regardless it helps everyone better know their teammates.
- Monthly One-on-Ones
Setup a recurring monthly event with each team member where both jump on a video call to chat about four things:
- what’s one thing you’re excited about
- what’s one thing you’re worried about
- what’s one thing I can do better to help the other person with their job
- what’s one thing you can do better to improve at your job.
These questions are consistent so it’s easy to prepare and so that it’s easy to measure changes over time. Specifically limit it to one item per question as it is easily achievable for a person each month. But over time, being able to fix one issue a month adds up.
These answers are logged in a doc so that the next session it can be referenced and checked on how you did. Use these sessions to determine how the team is doing working remotely.
One question often presented is “how do you know if people are productive?” Any easy way is to have weekly updates that covers what each person completed that week and what they are working on for the next week. This makes it easy to keep track on projects and also keeps everyone accountable to everyone else to do their part.
- Group In-Person Sessions
In-person interaction is valuable for any team as there is definitely something unique that happens when people can work on something in person. Therefore, plan to bring the entire team together twice a year. If well planned, it could mean that only a small number of the team have to jump on a flight. The great part is that you’ll likely have the money to cover this plus more since you don’t have to pay for a central office that everyone is working from.
- Reward Contributions
People feel most valued when they feel that their opinion counts. It doesn’t always have to be earth shaking contributions, but could be the small changes in processes which saves a minute a day. Over time it will all add up and make for a smoother running of the business. Look for ways to reward contributions from your team.
- Automate, Automate, Automate
Automation cannot be emphasised enough as it can deliver the biggest time savers over time and will ensure that steps aren’t skipped when it gets busy. There are a couple reasons why you should look to automate things.
- It allows you to keep the team size small since you don’t need people to perform repetitive, mundane and boring tasks.
- It lets people focus on high impact work rather than figuring out less impactful things.
Tools are important because they allow you to better organize your team and keep everyone on the same page. Group collaboration and chat tools are great for creating camaraderie, but with a team working remotely you need to make sure that everyone stays on the same pages. With the right tools, you can quickly and efficiently assemble your teams to get them on track.
A group collaboration/chat tool is great at creating camaraderie. Depending on your team size, you’ll want to make use of channels as it can start to get “noisy”, so it makes sense to section off channels into things like “water cooler”, “engineering”, “marketing”, etc.
Identify a tool that will suit your organizational needs where you can surface important conversations that can get lost in the fast-paced collaboration/chat tool.
- Task Management
Tracking tasks that you would like to action will need to be managed centrally. In most situations, you’ll find yourself creating way too many tasks, trying to do too many things. A trick to prevent this from happening would be to require a detailed description of what the task is, why it’s important, and what the results of a successful implementation of this task would be.
- Document Creation and Management
A proper system or process to capture, track and store electronic documents such as PDFs, word processing files and digital images is critical to any organization.
- Video Conferencing
There are tons of video conferencing tools so you are spoiled for choice. Your choice will depend on your organization’s requirements; i.e. number of users, functionality, video quality, etc.
- Document Signing
Every now and then, you and your employees might need to sign something. Spare yourself the hassle of printing out the document, signing it, scanning it back onto your machine, and sharing the document with the next person that signs and instead just use a document signing service.
- Office Furniture
Other than pure software tools, the same company policies for home office ergonomics and Health and Safety would apply and will have to be reviewed with the same scrutiny for everyone working remotely asif they were working from the office.
Some additional tools specific to IT organizations could include
- Code Versioning
A good code repository is key in code related project management. Issues are reserved for bugs only and features should be managed in the Task Management tool and/or a planning document.
- Password Management
If you have a large number of passwords to keep secure then a service to share and help keep it secure would enable anyone who works at your organization to access any of them without having to fire off an instant message or wait for an email reply.
For a young organization that is in the developing phase it could be much easier to transition from an on-premises to a remote working environment as the organization is still in a flexible enough stage and can more easily build the team, processes and identify new tools.
The biggest hurdle for an established organization to transition to a remote working one may be to address the first principal, people, as it can’t easily be aligned with the new approach if employees aren’t already chosen and geared up for a remote working environment. An organizational review may therefore be needed to implement the cultural change by recruiting suitable staff.
Organizations may find that they already have the desire, tools and processes in place to move towards remote working, but never seriously considered it due to the lack of a driver to make the transition.
Identifying the right tools for your organization can make all the difference. At Beztec, our focus is to assist companies to transition to remote working environments and we can help to not only manage the performance of your employees by introducing new processes, but also automate and structure corporate communications by reviewing the tools in use as it is very easy to become entangled in a web of too many tools; which then causes confusion as to what is used for which purpose. It is therefore important to ensure that every tool is evaluated for its suitability before introducing it to your organization as each new tool will take energy from your team to learn the necessary skills to effectively use the new tool.