Over the last few months, you’ve probably found that Covid-19 has interrupted your usual business set-up. You likely introduced protocols to keep your staff and customers safe, but as the spread of the pandemic has continued into the summer, many firms have adopted remote working as the way forward. Having your team or teams work from home is beneficial for many reasons. For instance, vulnerable staff can physically self isolate if they wish, and others can be present to homeschool or supervise infants in lieu of childcare for some of the day. However, you might have found that productivity might be dropping a bit when it comes to how they’re performing work-wise.
Working remotely can be great, but there’s also plenty of opportunity for it to all fall apart at the seams.
So, to help out here’s our guide to ensuring your teams continue to pull together, and stay productive, wherever they might be currently based.
Utilise Strong Communication Tools
Communication is king when it comes to working together – whether you’re all in the office together or not. Without the possibility to turn to a colleague to double-check something, or pop over to their desk to highlight a problem, some things might suddenly feel more difficult. Constant phone calls are distracting and even stressful for some. At the same time, multiple email threads or text messages, risk tasks and instructions getting lost or misunderstood. So, if you’re all in different locations, it makes sense to put all team communication in one place where everyone can visit it 24/7. If you don’t use them already, there are plenty of great tools available out there to help you organise, discuss and disseminate information. Slack or Microsoft Teams are the most well-known, but there are plenty out there – both the free and the subscription type. Do your research and find one that’ll work for your business. Getting everyone on the same page is a crucial step in keeping remote workers unified. When you do get back to the office, this is a practice you’ll probably keep!
Planning Is Everything
Things might be up in the air at the moment, but do your best to provide clear instructions to everyone. At this point, plan where you can, even if it’s relatively short-term. Also, organise the tasks your team members need to get through, and by when. Make sure everyone knows precisely what to do in this period and how it’ll help the collective effort. Assigning specific tasks to each team member will go a long way to making sure everything gets done. Plus, if you set clear overall goals or targets and ensure every employee understands their role in getting there, you’ll build a sense of purpose. And consequently, a sense of collective achievement in your team.
Set Realistic Objectives
Speaking of goals, a bit of realism is the order of the day. Now isn’t the time to expect the moon on a stick, but that also doesn’t mean your business can’t innovate and achieve. Realistic objectives broken down into do-able chunks, accompanied by regular, explicit instruction are going to go down well with your folks. Keep up excellent communication and reward your employees when they hit their targets. Then move them on to the next.
Establish Accountability and Responsibilities
One path to hitting targets is to establish accountability and responsibility for various things. This should be laid down in the planning stage when breaking down tasks that need doing. Make sure you have channels to check up on progress and a universally accessible record of who is responsible for what. Once this is clear, you can dodge the ‘Oh. I thought so-and-so was working on that’ scenario, which is all too common in remotely working teams. However, keep in mind your people are all battling away on their own too. Make sure they know you’re open to communication about problems, setbacks and delays. If they feel they can come back with feedback about how it’s all going, then there will be fewer unpleasant surprises further down the line. If something is taking too long to happen, it might not be because your team member is on the sofa watching Netflix. It could be that they’re struggling with an increasingly complex situation and worried about raising the issue.
With teams and staff members all working remotely, it’s essential to resist the temptation to micromanage. It’s all a bit scary not being able to keep a handle on what your staff are doing throughout the day, but you’re going to have to let go a little and rely on robust reporting protocols to keep tabs on things.
Some staff might be having to homeschool their children for a portion of the day, and so will be unavailable sometimes. Other employees might be finding that they can now build healthy practices such as exercise into their daily routine. Mental health is an important consideration more than ever given the current difficult situation. Allowing team members to improve their overall wellbeing will ultimately help them focus on their jobs, and their quality of the work will be higher. Give your team members freedom to work when they feel most efficient, let them know that you trust them, value them, and you’ll reap the rewards.
While freedom and flexibility are two great things about remote working, you can’t let days and days go by without any communication at all. You want to support your people, and being left alone with a pile of stuff to do is potentially overwhelming for some. Those who live alone might be struggling to self-motivate in the silence, while those with full houses might need help with scheduling tasks. One way to stay in touch is to establish regular, brief, timeboxed meetings. Keep these short, ask how it’s all going, and offer solutions and support if need be. There are plenty of great video-conferencing tools available that you can make use of – with Zoom perhaps being the most well-known right now. Five to ten minutes of video work chat, whether it’s one on one or with a small group, will make all the difference in terms of motivation and keeping projects on track. Try and avoid long calls that can easily stray off-topic, get crashed by hungry kids, or muddle the plans you made previously!
Consider Implementing A SCRUM Approach
Many firms are adopting a SCRUM approach to help their teams achieve while they work remotely. Named after the rugby formation, it’s essentially a framework for project management that emphasises teamwork, accountability and iterative progress toward a well-defined goal. Initially developed by software companies looking to produce high-performance products rapidly, its methodology is gaining traction in other industries. It certainly gets results and keeps everyone in the loop, so it’s an excellent way to go when you’re looking to bring structure to a potentially rudderless situation. There’s plenty of literature out there about how to implement a SCRUM approach fully, but you mainly kick off with what can be seen or known, and after that, track the progress and tweak as necessary. Ultimately it means the team works as one to either succeed, (or fail) together. However, one of the most useful elements of this approach is a daily meeting that happens at a regular time – usually the morning. In it, you go over work completed the previous day and work out what can be done in the next 24 hours to further the project’s progress. Founded on values such as transparency, inspection and adaption, a SCRUM approach also incorporates commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect. Sounds good to us…
Help People Get Set Up At Home
An additional way to help your employees stay on track remotely is something more straightforward. Your staff have gone from performing their work in a well-equipped office to trying to do the same things in their homes – spaces designed for totally different actions. If you offer advice and help with home workspaces, you might find they settle into remote working more smoothly. Perching on the kitchen table isn’t going to cut it for everyone. Reinforce the importance of a quiet room, a decent desk, and if that’s not possible space-wise, then at least a suitable chair. Suppose you’ve now got an empty office. Why not let your staff take their chairs home for this period, rather than expecting them to fork out for one they won’t use when they eventually come back to the workplace. Great internet connections are also critical, so make sure everyone has them, and be prepared to help if they don’t. In fact, if your workplace has desktop computers that stay in the office, don’t assume everyone has a computer at home – it’s your responsibility to ensure everyone has the right tools they need for remote working. Think of it as an investment in your company – aching backs and flickering, frozen or disappearing colleagues on Zoom aren’t going to help your business going forward!
Meet Physically To Maintain Good Rapport
And finally, if it’s possible, consider the value of a face-to-face meet-up every so often. Most of us benefit from direct social interaction, and a meeting with colleagues can reinvigorate team spirit. Get creative, and come up with a way to do this safely. For example, since it’s summer, your team meeting needn’t be indoors in an enclosed environment. If you have multiple teams, try and gather just those who are working in the same department. People might be missing each other or have department-specific concerns they want to discuss in their usual shorthand. Or just catch up with those working on the same project if it reduces numbers a bit. Stay within legal directives about gatherings, keep it relatively short, and take care with hygiene such as hand-sanitising and mask-wearing. In this way, you should be able to minimise risk while maximising the positive aspects of face-to-face communication.