Moving from an office to a remote working setup for the first time can be a daunting and anxious experience for managers. How should you prepare your people for remote work, and how can you maintain the same level of productivity, and develop your company culture remotely? Read on to get the answers to these and more Frequently Asked Questions about remote work.
With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, many managers have found themselves suddenly thrust into an unfamiliar way of working: remote working. Some have had to move their entire existing team to a remote work setup, while others have had to hire offshore dev staff or an entirely offshore team since hiring onsite is currently not an option.
These managers understandably have many concerns and questions regarding a remote work setup, especially because this gives them very limited access to their employees.
It’s important to remember however, that this way of working has been around for quite some time and has worked well for a number of businesses, and it can for yours as well.
To put your mind at ease and get you on the right track in managing your remote team, here are some of your most frequently asked questions about remote work, answered.
- What’s the first thing that managers must do to get their people ready for remote work?
The first thing that managers must do is make sure that their employees have the means to work remotely. Do they have the hardware and software they need to be able to work and communicate with your team? Do they have remote access to the company resources that they will need? Make sure everyone in your team is well-equipped to start working remotely, and if they are not, you need to find ways to get them those resources.
- How can I help people who aren’t used to working remotely prepare for it?
It’s important to note that while the most obvious change to remote work is the location, a lot of other changes occur that can severely impact workers psychologically. Alone at home, they may feel isolated and lonely, cut off from their usual bustling world. They may suddenly find themselves burdened with childcare and housework alongside their usual office work. They may begin to feel unenthusiastic about work. All of these things can happen due to the changes they are experiencing.
As a manager, you need to consider how these changes can impact your people. Make sure to check in on them regularly, ask them how they are doing, what their remote setup is like, and what you can do to help them better transition to this new setup.
Keeping to a schedule and developing rituals throughout the day can really help people adjust to this new way of working, so you can remind your people to do so. If they’re used to moving about, encourage them to exercise at home. If they’re an extrovert accustomed to lots of interaction throughout the day, encourage them to communicate often with family and friends, and collaborate with coworkers online. Remind them that while this may be a strange time, it can be a pleasant one. They can make their setups as comfortable as they want, they can manage their own time, they can listen to music while they work, and spend more time with their families.
- What communication software or tools are best for remote work?
There are literally hundreds of online communication tools you could use (Gmail, Outlook, Slack, Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts, etc.), and you could use any number of them. However, it’s important that you don’t overcomplicate things. Take a look at the software that your team is already using and see how these can be applied to your new work setup. Keep it varied and interesting, don’t get caught up with just one software to get everything done. For instance, you could have your virtual meetings on Zoom or Skype for business, and then follow up these meetings with an email or a message on Slack. Using the tools that your team already uses eliminates the need for your entire team to have to procure and adjust to a new software or tool. Just make sure to monitor the efficiency of these tools, and make changes where you see fit.
- What can managers do to create or maintain a positive remote working culture?
This is a tough one, because a lot of the work relationships and moments that coworkers develop and value are made through personal, face-to-face interactions at the office. Without that personal contact, it’s difficult to develop that work culture to which your team is accustomed. But it can be done remotely, it just takes a number of key steps.
The first thing you need to do is make sure you still have those non-work-related moments online. Those random water cooler chit-chats and coffee breaks where you check in on everyone at the office are no longer possible, but you can recreate those moments online by making time for them. For example, before you start your daily meetings you can take a moment to ask everyone how they are doing, and what they’ve been up to lately. Encourage everyone to speak up, and set the example by sharing first.
You should also make space for these types of conversations. Establish a chat room where everyone can talk about random things now and again, or if they’re experiencing a bit too much cabin fever.
Apart from having spontaneous, non-work-related conversations before (or after) virtual meetings, also have “well-being check-ins” regularly. These assure your team members that you’ve got their back, and give you the assurance that everyone on your team is happy and healthy.
Next, make sure to update everyone on what’s going on at the organizational level. Stuck in their own homes, most people will feel detached from the company, and clueless as to what is happening with it, with common objectives, and their clients.
It’s important that you communicate this information to your team so they continue to feel connected and on track with goals and deliverables. Try to do this on video if possible. That way your team will be able to see your emotions as you make these announcements, and they are able to better pick up non-verbal cues and information. They can also have their questions answered in real time.
Is your team missing that camaraderie that you usually share during company parties, outings, and other such social events? You can still have that, albeit online. You can have virtual gatherings where everyone gets food delivered to their home, and spend time online with colleagues eating, playing online games, and catching up. You could have something of a “show-and-tell”, where everyone gets to show something virtually online from their homes, like how they prepare their favorite meal or drink. You could have fun little competitions like best work-from-home setup, best “work companion” (pet, kid, etc.), and more. While these virtual gatherings can’t really replace in-person gatherings, they can at least be a temporary replacement until you can all see each other again in person.
- How can remote working affect productivity?
Contrary to what you may think, there’s robust evidence that shows remote working does not affect worker productivity in a negative way. In many cases, it can actually increase productivity as workers no longer need to commute to work or have any of the usual office distractions. However, for some workers who are at home with their families there may be some things that need to be worked out, such as having adequate childcare at home.
Another thing that may affect productivity is your ability to get feedback or resolve problems quickly. These are very likely to be affected due to the fact that you’re no longer meeting people face-to-face, in real time, all the time. To avoid such cases, it’s best to plan things ahead and give your team some leeway when it comes to scheduling tasks or responding to queries.
- How can we help keep our people productive and accountable?
The quickest answer to this would be to introduce productivity software to your people that requires them to clock in and out and monitors how much time they spend on work. But this solution is not exactly the best or most appropriate for all cases. While this may be useful for those who are paid by the hour, it’s not optimal for full-time employees. In many cases this type of monitoring software will only make them feel like you don’t trust them enough to spend their time wisely and do their work independently.
To ensure accountability and productivity among full-time remote workers, it would be better to take the following steps instead:
- Focus on results – Make it clear to your employees that it doesn’t matter where they are or when they work (unless of course you have scheduled appointments), as long as they deliver on required output. Always specify what output needs to be delivered and when, and be confident that they will be able to deliver. Make it clear to them that they can choose to create their ideal work environment: location, scenery, music, time of day, etc. This will not only give them the freedom they need to work more efficiently, but also let them know that you trust them.
- Check-in regularly – We’re not saying every hour or every single day here, but on a consistent enough basis that you can monitor and keep in touch with your people without seeming like you’re breathing down their necks.
When you ask them for updates, choose your words carefully. Instead of asking things like, “when is this going to get done?” say, “How are things coming along? How is your roadmap looking? Is there anything I can do to help?” Know that your people are aware of their deadlines, show confidence in their ability to get things done, and offer support.
- Train them to be independent – Empower your people to operate and succeed independently by giving them the freedom to choose where and when they work; allowing them to take necessary steps with limited direction from you; and clearly communicating your confidence in them. You could also motivate them by incentivizing exceptional performance and celebrating small wins, recognizing each team member’s contributions.
- Choose people who can work independently – The best time to check and make sure your employees can work and succeed independently is during the hiring process. Ideally, you want to hire people who are able to work in ambiguous and remote environments without much direction or micromanagement. Hiring already remote workers, such as offshore web developers or offshore dev staff means that your workers are already experienced in working remotely and therefore need minimal input or direction from you in order to get the job done.
If you’re unfamiliar with the vetting and hiring process for offshore workers or just need help getting offshore workers quickly and reliably, you can always turn to established offshore development outsourcing companies like CoDev. CoDev has a tried and tested vetting and hiring process that ensures high quality hires at all times. We can get you the skilled offshore web developers and other technical specialists you need quickly and within your budget, and they’ll be ready to work remotely right away. Get in touch with CoDev today to learn more.