As we move towards the end of 2020, many workers have spent most of the year working from home. With varying levels of restrictions across the country, it looks like this is the way it’s going to be for the foreseeable future. Businesses that once saw remote work as a short-term solution in the face of Coronavirus are having to switch to a much longer-term strategy. Many are even making the move permanent, such as the tech giants Twitter and Square, as the benefits of remote work are being made clear.
While there are many advantages to having a remote team, such as increased productivity and the money saved on keeping an office running, it has to be approached in the right way. In this article, we’ll look at some of the ways that businesses can support their employees who are working remotely.
Strip back your tech
Over the last six months, you’ve probably tried a dozen different tools for communication and task tracking in an effort to keep teams on target. Without the option of face-to-face communication and with so many tools out there, many teams are now discovering how disjointed their processes are. Now is the time to take stock and decide which tools serve your business the best and get rid of the rest.
You might find that different teams are using different project management software making it more difficult to collaborate with other departments. Centralising and streamlining your tech will help to simplify your processes and help you keep track of progress.
Think about what you really need and ask your management team what they think are the most practical tools. Make sure you keep everyone up to date on which tools you’ll be keeping and what each is to be used for. Getting rid of some surplus software could save you some money too.
One of the biggest challenges you face with remote work is communication. You can’t just nip over to someone’s desk anymore and ask a quick question or get everyone together in a meeting room at the last minute if an unexpected issue arises.
The first thing to do is to establish which channels you want to use. You don’t want one team member predominantly using email while half the team are chatting using Slack and the rest are only reachable on Google Hangouts. Most teams will only need three channels:
- An instant messaging service
- Video calling
All of these things can be covered by a service such as Gmail and keeping it all within one tool could simplify things, however, it’s worth asking your teams what they prefer to use. You should also set out some guidelines as to what each channel should be used for. For example, email should be used for more formal updates and client communications etc., whereas instant messages are reserved for informal communications and time-sensitive issues.
You may also need a project management tool where team members can post updates and comments on progress. Keeping everyone on the same page can be tricky when you’re not all in the same room together so it’s important that you find a tool that allows everyone to visualise the project’s timeline and progress.
One of the big questions that managers and business owners have had over the last six months is how to ensure that your employees are actually working when they’re supposed to be. Some have even resorted to using software that tracks mouse movements and keyword strokes or even uses the webcam of the employee’s laptop to make sure everyone is working. Needless to say, this doesn’t inspire a culture of trust.
While this sort of tracking may be necessary for some jobs, many managers will be able to keep track of their team’s productivity by the work being produced. If there is a sudden drop in the quality or quantity of work being produced, this should be quite obvious to a manager who is fully engaged with their team.
Listen to your employees
It’s also important that employees still feel that they have a space where they can voice any concerns. While you should have been keeping up with how your employees have been handling their new remote working environment from the start, now is the time to get some proper feedback together. Surveying your workforce can give you a good overview as to what has been working and what hasn’t. Ask them about all elements of their working lives, from the company culture to the tools they have to help them do their jobs.
One of the most attractive things about remote work is the flexibility it affords for workers. At this stressful time, you can make the lives of your workers a little easier by embracing things like flexible hours. Simple things, like not worrying about being able to take the kids to their activities or starting an hour later in the morning to allow time for some exercise, can make a huge difference.
There are ways of introducing flexible hours while making sure that team members are still available to each other during most of the day. You could set core hours that must be kept while leaving it up to your staff when in the day they complete the rest of their hours. This means that there will always be a set block of time when meetings can be arranged and colleagues can catch up. Here are a few tips for managing flexible hours:
- Ask your team members to display the hours that they’re working in their calendars and make sure this is visible across the team.
- On your chosen messaging tool, ensure that your team members mark themselves as ‘away’ when not at their desks. This means that everyone can see at a glance whether a teammate is there for them to ask a quick question.
- Ask your teams to think in advance, not leaving it to the last minute to book in meetings.
- Use time management software to help everyone log and organise their hours. Keep this as simple as possible so as not to add any unnecessary admin to your employees’ workload.
Supporting your team in long-term remote work is all about communication and simplification. If you cut down on any unnecessary processes, streamline your communications and develop a culture of trust amongst staff, you’ll be well on your way to creating a productive remote team.