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From office to remote
Transitioning to a fully remote company in times of change
As the world changes in times of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses are having to quickly adapt, not only for their consumers, but also to protect their employees. Many companies are needing to implement full work-from-home policies, and support their staff during this change. At Ahoy Team, we’ve built our company on helping companies transition to remote work, while upholding great company culture and accountability for asynchronous, and distributed teams.
During this time, we wanted to help by sharing some of our top tips for transitioning to a fully remote company. As we adjust to our new normal, some of these tips might outlast the lockdown as we begin to interact as teams again.
- First steps as you go remote
- Help employees set up work environment at home
- Help teams run effective meetings
- Keep employees informed
- How to maintain company culture
- When it returns to normal
Each chapter will include examples of workflows that could be implemented through AhoyTeam platform.
First steps as you go remote
So, chances are as you’re reading this your company has already been forced to work from home. You likely emailed employees informing them that your office location was closing, and sent them well wishes. This is an unprecedented time for all of us, so it’s important to play catch up now with the things that help with remote culture.
- Start now by emailing your leadership team. Empower them to answer frequently asked questions, host virtual town hall meetings, and offer virtual ‘office hours’. During times of crisis, employees often need more reassurance and are likely to ask questions repeatedly- stress makes it difficult for information to stick for all of us, and the answers are likely changing rapidly. If you missed anything in your original ‘everybody go home’ email, don’t hesitate to share another one. Strong leadership and regular communication helps to maintain morale and support during this time.
- Update documentation, or create a hub page on your employee portal or intranet to help employees find things. Nobody wants to be sifting through lots of information trying to find what they need- surface relevant information to them. Outline any policies, such as insurance benefits, sick leave and absence policies, and contact information they might need.
- Remote meetings: As you switch your meetings to remote, be mindful of the additional pressure employees may be under and lead with compassion. Remind your employees during each meeting that their mental health is the priority, that it is ok to have interruptions as people try to navigate family life and childcare, and ask yourself if meetings are really necessary. Different employee personalities may find virtual meetings stressful, so don’t default to a meeting when an email could work just as well.
- Research other tools that could help and ensure everyone has access to them. While now isn’t the time for huge changes and big roll outs, tools such as Slack can be a quick, easy to implement way to keep people connected. Look for small changes that can relieve pressure and increase collaboration.
- Create a Slack or communication channel. How does Slack fit into all of this? Well, in place of team members seeing each other every day and spending time together in meetings or over lunch hours, companies can create bonds by utilising technology to allow employees to spend time with each other. Create a dedicated channel for COVID-19 updates, and allow space for fun and distraction.
Boost social interactions in remote setup
Slack culture 101 onboarding for each employee
Help employees set up work environment at home
Not everyone has worked from home before, and may find it a challenge. As a leader, you can help by ensuring that people have things that they need.
- Make sure they have the devices they need:
- Bluetooth headsets for remote calls
- Seperate keyboards and mice for reducing wrist strain
- Ergonomic chairs, or the means to reimburse chairs
- Additional monitors, if your employees normally use them i.e programmers or finance
- Make sure employees have access to the software they need:
- Ensure they can download Zoom, Google Hangouts, or similar video conferencing software
- Update your safety and security policies to reduce additional concerns. Ensure VPN can handle the additional traffic.
- Share physical health tips, such as videos on stretching and how to adjust your chair properly - without being in an office your employees are not getting their usual assessments.
- Make a quick and easy process for employees to report cases and symptoms. Make it easy for them to get support from their manager, HR, health care provider, and do not make them jump through any additional administrative hoops to do so.
- Provide health and safety information to help employees navigate the noise, such as cleaning information, and the latest confirmed government advice. For some people, they are struggling to navigate through less-than-ideal spaces, so communication and mental health is important.
Simple weekly employee health check (COVID-19 version)
- Remind your employees that it is ok to be working surrounded by laundry, or with a child on their lap, during this time. Share anecdotes and funny pictures of your workspace to remind employees we’re all in this together.
- Make sure that your employees know who their main POC is in case they need help navigating working from home. If you already have remote workers, consider making them remote work ‘champions’, who can share their tips.
- Remind employees to separate their work and home environments wherever possible, by closing a door on their office, packing away their laptop, or changing their clothes to mark a difference between ‘work’ and ‘home’ time.
- You can also generate positivity by creating community activities like virtual workouts, virtual volunteering, or lunch hours to maintain positive relationships.
- Make sure to share your expectations and make sure they are manageable for people. Some members of staff may find it exceptionally helpful to understand that the 9am stand up meeting is critical, but that they can alternate with a colleague on another one to reduce the pressure. Make sure to communicate your expectations around working hours, and consider if you can make this more flexible for both your employees and your customers.
- Link to resources for people, such as mental health resources, and make it easily available on employee intranet. Create community activity like content by wellness specialists, watch parties or book clubs. Enable a forum for your employees to share content with each other, such as Mindfulness meditation videos, podcasts, tips and ideas of what’s working for them.
Help teams run effective meetings
As all meetings switch to virtual, help your teams make effective use of their time and maximise meeting effectiveness. This is not just for your company- it also helps employees get more time back and remain focused, which is going to help with mental health.
Set up a good meeting rhythm to help stay connected, such as weekly 1-2-1s with managers, team calls and a company all hands. Share basic meeting tips for remote communication, which can help remind employees how to streamline their daily tasks and spend more time with family or community.
- Always have an agenda for a meeting. If there isn’t an agenda, empower employees to ask, or switch it to an email
- Keep minutes from meetings, or record calls, to help absent, time-zone separated or employees with childcare problems to catch up
- Start and end meetings on time. For some employees, the fact they are working from home and enjoying the conversation means meetings can drag on. Being on time helps reduce stress for busy parents, and manages expectations across teams.
- Be flexible. Meetings should be at a time that causes minimal disruption for all members
- Have a facilitator. People are coping with the pandemic differently, and having a facilitator means that person can support the rest of the team keeping the meeting productive.
- Start the meeting with wins. Thank your team for their hard work, focus on the positives, and then move on to alignment and troubleshooting.
Written Daily Standup
Schedule weekly Zoom calls with actionable task before and after the call
Keep employees informed
The more transparent you can be with your team and employees, the more they will be able to minimise stress and predict any difficult decisions you may need to make down the road. There’s no silver bullet and single answer to this, but you can help keep employees safe and engaged by improving how you communicate with them.
- Create open, transparent communication channels such as Slack, to share news and information. In times of uncertainty, it’s even more important to have a single hub where people can ask questions and share updates.
- Be upfront and honest on team calls about company finances. It’s not easy, but people are concerned about their income, and the more you can share, along with any safeguards you’re putting in place to help reduce layoffs (such as government or tax claims), the better. People will speculate anyway, so it’s important to give them clarity, even if it’s bad news.
- Enable collaboration. Working remotely can make communication difficult- we tend to forget all those natural conversations that happen by virtue of proximity. Slack lets you work collaboratively by bringing tagging and chat into documents. Be available, and be mindful of any miscommunication that can happen more readily without non-verbal cues.
- Make it easy to find information. Surface Slack channels where key information is brought to the forefront- people will have a lot of questions for IT, HR and facilities teams in particular.
How to maintain company culture
For a remote team, company culture is critical. A common misconception (that I’m here to challenge!) is that it’s more challenging to build a company culture in remote teams than in co-located teams.
It’s true that in co-located teams, there are more naturally occurring opportunities for relationships to develop, such as going for lunch or conversations in passing. However, co-located teams tend to take it for granted that a positive culture will develop, instead of making a concerted effort to foster a sense of teamwork. With remote teams, you know it’s not just going to happen automatically, so you go in with intent. With the right focus, both remote and co-located teams can benefit from this renewed focus on positive company culture.
Culture is an ongoing process. Employees should feel happy in their jobs, and the atmosphere shouldn’t provoke stress. A great culture should alleviate stress from difficult tasks. For remote employees, it’s easy to feel isolated, which is where tools like Slack have come in to create virtual hangout spaces and a sense of connection. Instead of team members seeing each other every day and spending time together in meetings or over lunch hours, companies can create bonds by utilizing technology to allow employees to spend time with each other, creating virtual hangout opportunities.
- Define your culture. Company culture is hard to define. It’s that secret sauce, the personality of a company. Get together with your leadership team or ask around to gauge the values that make you tick. Get them captured in a document.
- Share your culture: Share this document with employees, so you can get accountability to maintaining that positive culture. Teams will automatically begin to reward values that fit.
- Remote-friendly values: Emphasise values that work well for remote teams. When you work in a remote team, you need to trust each other to deliver. There’s simply no way around the fact that when you all work from different locations, you can’t monitor productivity or input. Work should be measured on an output basis, and employees should be encouraged to be dependable and consistent. Generally, people want to do good work that provides them with a sense of accomplishment, and a culture of trust can create huge rewards
- Encourage connection: Lots of people are finding it lonely out there right now, so encourage people to connect, play games, socialise and interact with each other via technology.
- Recognise employees: Praise employees publicly, and encourage them to reward each other to maintain motivation and a sense of achievement.
- Hire the right people: If you are in the fortunate position to be hiring right now, hire people who contribute positively to your company culture and remote working.
When it returns to normal
Companies around the world, big and small, have been making the switch from office-based employees to partially or fully remote workers. Flexible working has been shown to improve productivity, employee satisfaction, save money, and increase the diversity of the talent pool.
More and more companies are taking on remote workers, often based in different parts of the world across time zones and cultures. The way team members work together, communicate, and build relationships has evolved, and so should the way we approach building company culture.
As the world begins to be able to interact with each other again, reflect on what you learnt during the period of remote working, and consider if you want to maintain any of the best practises or allow more frequent remote working in the future- it has a hosts of benefits, and if your great people have been able to successfully collaborate during a pandemic, just imagine what they can do without that worry!
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