At this point it’s blindingly clear: the future of work is remote. Approximately 62% of global companies now offer some form of remote working policy, and employee expectation has reached a point where 74% of workers would quit their job for a remote position. But the drive to stem the global Coronavirus epidemic has pushed many companies into contact with remote work sooner than they’d like.
If you’re not completely familiar with the idea, transitioning to remote work can seem overwhelming. While it’s true that a successful remote culture can take years to build, there are many practical measures companies facing unstructured, long-term remote working can take right now to make the transition easier.
How to prepare for remote work
To kick-start remote working, managers need to create conventions and structures for collaboration, setting clear boundaries and goals, and defining how their teams will work together. They then need to invest in the right tools to make it happen – helping people stay connected, share assets and keep progress visible. Here are six of the main areas every company should address for a smooth transition to remote work.
Effective communication comes into its own with remote working. Without everyone being immediately accessible from the same room, you need to work out exactly how you will coordinate with each other. This starts with setting expectations for when and where employees should communicate, clearly defining the purpose of different channels and explaining which types of communication belong where.
Ultimately, everyone needs to know how they will communicate progress updates, blockers and achievements – and ask for help. You need to create specific conventions for global announcements, ensuring that nobody misses key information or updates. Similarly, you’ll also need to set boundaries so that communication doesn’t become needless or disruptive. Remote collaboration tools necessarily come with a lot of notifications and pings, but these need to be managed to ensure people still have focused space for uninterrupted productive work.
A few remote communication best practices include:
- Creating global pinned Slack channels for specific functions, like “announcements”
- Promoting smart, simple and intentional communication – always choose asynchronous communication wherever possible
- Asking everyone to set availability hours for checking inboxes and replying to requests
- Creating logical cloud-based structures for sharing assets and information
- Scheduling weekly video conference check-ins with teams
- Getting everyone to summarize what they’re working on each week in one global space
- Creating rules to keep communication considerate e.g. posting once in the right place – not sending someone a Slack @, email and work tool comment for the same question.
- Using anti-distraction apps when trying to focus
Keeping work visible is one of the biggest challenges of remote work – from coordinating workloads, sharing progress and workload status, and keeping everyone in the loop with objectives and results. Technology forms a huge part of this, but many in-office teams already unwittingly use some of the best tools for virtual team and project management.
For those who are less familiar, a few top picks include:
- Trello – an intuitive task management tool. Organize and prioritize tasks, and then track their progress from one clean space. Especially useful for setting up remote team workflows and keeping work activity visible.
- Basecamp – a project management and communication hub. Its to-do lists, message boards and scheduling help teams keep all work visible, keeping people aligned on upcoming tasks and any changes in direction.
- Timely – an automatic time tracking tool built for remote teams. Employees gain an accurate private record of all their work; managers can effortlessly gauge workloads, capacity, overtime and plan project work.
- Airtable – a powerful tool for centralizing, indexing and organizing work. Part spreadsheet, part database, you can use it for anything from planning editorial calendars or structuring project management.
Just remember that tools aren’t a substitute for in-person communication. Consider having weekly round-ups to share what your team has achieved, what’s blocking them and what they’re prioritizing next. Having the space to share feedback and learnings within this virtual group setting doesn’t just improve efficiency – it helps everyone feel part of a team, pulling together to reach the same goal.
For all its perks, remote work can be lonely and insular, and studies show that people who work remotely have poorer relationships with colleagues than people who work in offices. This makes fostering a healthy company community more important than ever. Without a space for ongoing feedback and personal interaction, employee motivation, engagement and shared vision can quickly fizzle out.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to enjoy tangible human connection even when working remotely. Here at Memory, we’re big fans of these remote team building exercises, and regularly hold friendly competitions, “virtual lunches” and light-hearted quizzes to learn more about each other. On a day-to-day basis, you’ll mainly be socializing on platforms like Slack and Zoom, setting up personal channels where people can chat, share news, swap playlists and post inspiration. These small actions go a long way in building trust and strengthening relationships.
Transitioning to remote work isn’t as simple as just taking your laptop home. Without immediate management or tangible boundaries to work, the onus is on employees to structure their day. We’ve previously detailed time management strategies for remote workers, but the common theme to all of them is being able to understand where your time goes and how you actually use it.
Essentially, employees need to establish their own mechanisms for individual self-management – creating the daily routines, work environments and work structures that help them achieve their weekly goals. Many people new to remote work like to try time blocking – where you set aside finite blocks of time to work on certain tasks to help you stay focused. Similarly, they may try changing up where they work from and sketching prioritized daily to-do lists.
A lack of face-to-face human interaction, and an overlap between professional and personal life can be difficult to manage. But there are ways to prioritize your own wellbeing. That starts with helping your team set boundaries to fight the pressure to be immediately available. Many people feel guilty about working remotely – not helped by a common misconception that remote workers are less productive – and try to bridge their physical absence by replying to everything as soon as it lands.
Support a workplace culture of trust and encourage employees to create a work schedule that works best for them. This should prioritize space for uninterrupted deep work above constant piecemeal communication, and have set work hours – outside of which no employee should be expected to answer emails. Remote employees should be encouraged to schedule regular breaks to protect against the common problem of overworking, and fully digitally disconnect at the end of a working day.
6. Get the right tools
We can’t over-stress the importance of technology to remote work – it simply can’t work without everyone accessing and using the right tools for their work. Some elements of the remote infrastructure are obvious – everyone needs to have a stable, secure and relatively fast WiFi connection – but others only come with experience.
Here are a few tips to skip that learning curve:
- Make sure everyone who needs access to a certain tool has one
- Get everyone to enable two-factor authentication across all their work tools
- Get a 1Password account to help employees create and store secure passwords – as well as provide a simply means for sharing global account log-ins
- Choose a robust cloud-based file storage tool, like Dropbox or Box