A Guide to Managing Remote Teams in times of Corona
With the Coronavirus threat hanging over all our heads, we hear that one of the things businesses are doing is to enable remote-working for their employees. It is actually a pretty good thing to do, ensures business continuity and employee safety.
Now we have some expertise in the area of remote working, as some of you might know. For those who don’t, we provide flexible i.e. part-time, project-based & remote-working talent to businesses; having done this for hundreds of engagements now, we understand the triggers and challenges around remote-working well. Moreover, we ourselves are a fully remote organisation, with our 24-member team working from across different cities (and even countries). So we thought why not put out a quick guide to help businesses, especially startups, manage this sudden transition of brick & mortar into remote. These are quick tips meant to help in the short-term, and keep your business operating with maximum efficiency.
- Set high expectations but give time for adjustment
First of all, set the expectation that working remotely does not change expectations on quality or delivery. Remote Work = Regular Work. But do make space for the fact that this is a transition for your employees too, many of who are not used to working from home, and will have to attune their infrastructure and ways of working to this reality. Give them a week to find their rhythm, and help them be productive in whichever way possible, such as being open to parents/mothers in your teams finding their own unique schedules given their kids will be at home too
- Create remote-first channels of regular communication i.e. Whatsapp groups/Slack channels
In a remote or a blended team (mix of office workers and remote workers), the equivalent of a quick huddle are messaging groups that you can create for different sub-teams. For example, you can have different groups for marketing, creatives, sales, ops, finance, founders, founders with finance, etc. You can use Whatsapp or Slack (although whatsapp works fine, as most people are already on it so less of a learning curve). In fact, once you and your teams get the hang of it, it is likely you will realise how much time can be saved through communication via messaging instead of calling a meeting or doing a call for every small thing. It also aids transparency and puts everyone on the same page wrt priorities given all discussions happen with the entire sub-team in the group
- Get familiar with virtual meeting tools like Video Conferencing
There are many tools now available for VC which don’t require accounts and logins, and where you can simply create rooms that anyone with the link/ID can enter with a click. As with the whatsapp groups, you can create separate rooms as per your need. You can evaluate some of these tools here, many of which are free for some usage. Or you can use Google hangouts, which has made free its advanced set of features as well for companies to tide over this period and manage their remote workforce easily.
- Agree on log in-log off times and catch-up calls with team
One of the biggest barriers around remote working is not knowing when people are actually available. To counter that head-on, agree broad timings of login and log-off with the team. In fact you can put this on a shared sheet to which everyone has access. This will enable people to know when to start sending emails, start calling, and align expectations for response. Also, your current in-office working style might be more impromptu with catch-ups happening whenever you feel the need. When you start working with remote or blended teams, it is a good idea to plan for some catch-up calls without any agenda, just to get updates and keep communication lines open, since it is a transition for everyone. Scheduling these into calendars will help pull everyone into the virtual meeting room or conference call at the same time
- Agree deliverables for the week
Since it is a transition for everyone, might be useful to flesh out expectations by agreeing on deliverables for a week or two weeks. Will put you at ease and help give clarity and set priority for your team. You can also use management tools like Asana and Trello for task allocation, for reporting, and to help everyone prioritise and track their daily work
- Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Communication is the life-blood of remote organisations, and it is very important your team gets into the habit, else everyone will feel they are working in isolation. Take the lead by sending across appreciation, updates, task allocations, etc on the messaging groups you have created. In fact you can also have fun sessions virtually (either on messaging or video calls) where the team can just come and hang out for a bit. At FlexiBees, we have something called “Fun Fridays” every once in a while, entirely on whatsapp, where we pick up interesting topics or just do free-flow conversations, to let off steam and get to know each other better
- Create time for deep working
Encourage employees to be available on phone or message through their working hours, but also create space for them to do deep work without being disturbed. Just ask them to let you know so you know when not to call them. This is the equivalent of them working from a conference room or from a different location when in the office
- Above all, keep calm and trust your team
Keep calm if you cannot get in touch with someone for a while. They could be focusing on something, not be near their phone, or have taken a break. Most things can wait for a few minutes, and as a leader, it is important to build trust with your team enough to know that you don’t have to be breathing down their necks to ensure work happens. You will probably have a more disciplined, independent yet communicative team once this exercise ends
Hope this was useful. Enabling remote-working for your team can have huge advantages even outside of the Corona situation. You get to hire talent without geographical boundaries, you don’t have to spend on expensive office space, you save your team the unproductive commute time, and you get access to talent pools who are only available to work remotely (such as mothers, parents, many freelancers, people in traffic congested cities etc). Moreover, working remotely or in a blended fashion, automatically improves trust and discipline in a team.
Think about it, it can be a serious hiring advantage. And for more information, read about the several companies who have been operating remote-first since always, here, and those who have enabled it during the covid19 outbreak, here.
All the best, and we hope that with these and more precautions, we all stay Corona free.