Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 5.2% of Americans were working full-time from home, while 43% worked from home occasionally. Although there are no firm statistics yet, the current number of people working remotely is likely much higher than ever before due to the pandemic. For example, the collaboration software Microsoft Teams reported an uptick in use of over 500% since January 31, 2020, and online conferencing software Zoom was the most downloaded app on Apple over several weeks in March.
Are you considering moving your team online, or having trouble navigating the transition? We’ve gathered some tips for ensuring a successful transition from an in-person office to a virtual office.
1. Invest in Technology
Your people need the right technology from the start, including hardware, software and internet connectivity. Some companies are allowing workers to take what they need from their worksite, while others are providing a small stipend to stock a home office. Whatever your approach, have your managers meet with your people to ensure they have what they need.
Many employers already have Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) set up for employees who must occasionally work remotely. VPNs provide secure web connections, encrypt data and scan devices for malware. If your company has one, consider opening it up to everyone. If you don’t, you may have to invest in one. While they can be initially expensive, VPNs are a must for any company that needs to protect proprietary or confidential data, information or conversations.
Any major technology purchases should improve work flow or productivity. Cloud-based software is a useful addition, as it is easily accessible and provides some savings in a companywide rollout. There are plenty of free options available as well, but a small investment in a cloud-based office suite, as well as videoconferencing and project management software, will boost productivity and ease the transition for your managers and employees.
2. Establish Support
Meet early with your technology team to prepare for remote work. They can provide suggestions and recommendations regarding security and other big picture issues. Install a well-equipped, accessible virtual help desk, staffed by knowledgeable personnel and with the ability to remotely access employee workstations if at all possible. Nothing frustrates workers or shuts down productivity faster than a tech issue. Your people need the same access to troubleshooting that they have in your physical office.
3. Encourage Productivity — But Be Flexible
Set reasonable goals for your team and recognize that productivity may suffer as your people get used to the unavoidable distractions that accompany working from home. Every worker will also face a different work-from-home situation, as some will also be handling childcare duties while working, which may impact productivity during certain hours. The uncertainty of living in a pandemic will only add to the situation.
It is important to establish a clear line of communication. Ensure that your company and team goals are manageable and put them in writing. Be transparent with your employees about changes and challenges and encourage their questions. Openness promotes trust and trust is critical to successful remote working.
You can also provide software that promotes transparency and trust. Project management tools, such as Asana and Atlassian Confluence, can help organize your teams and allow you and your people to track and manage goals, tasks and deadlines.
Now is also a great time to provide online training to help ease the transition. Online professional development is an investment in your people and may be just what your company needs to navigate the transition effectively.
4. Create Checkpoints
Managers often struggle with the lack of visibility inherent in remote work, as they may feel hesitant to trust that their remote employees are working the same hours they would at the office. Remote employees, on the other hand, sometimes feel like they’ve been cut adrift without access to managerial support.
Insist on daily checkpoints between managers and employees and between team managers and executives to ensure everything runs smoothly.
Face-to-face options are the best way to handle these checkpoints. Manage your teams, troubleshoot and host employee or team checkpoints with video conferencing software such as Zoom, UberConference, Microsoft Teams or Google Meet.
There is a caveat, however. Many employees feel that frequent or lengthy meetings, especially ones that lack substance, are a waste of their time. Worse, they have difficulty ramping up productivity after. The solution? Set a time limit for the meeting and stick to it.
5. Manage Time
Along with managing your meeting time, you also have to manage your employees' work hours effectively. This can be a challenge for managers who can’t actually “see” their workers. The answer is quite simple — managers must trust their employees to work. Focus on the tasks and goals being completed overall. Workers who are juggling priorities such as childcare during the pandemic may find it easier to do their work at times outside the regular 9 to 5, but if they are still completing their tasks and being honest about the challenges they are facing, it shouldn't be an issue. Flexibility is crucial.
Avoid micromanaging employee calendars and caution managers about filling up spaces in those calendars. Every time an employee is interrupted by a meeting or call, productivity suffers on either side of it.
6. Encourage Collaboration
Remote work offers some unique opportunities to encourage collaboration between and within teams. Establish communication systems that promote both. Integrated communications tools like G-Suite or Slack allow you to set up areas for teams to work both collaboratively and independently. You may hear from team members who are generally less active in physical meetings but are comfortable speaking up in a virtual setting.
It may be beneficial to create a virtual water cooler, using Slack or a similar tool, for informal discussions that encourage creative thinking. This type of resource can also allow your workers to let off a little steam with some casual conversation, and reduce feelings of isolation.
7. Build Virtual Teams
If you already have team building activities in place, don’t give them up — instead, take them online. Social isolation is a problem for many remote workers, and social distancing regulations can worsen the issue. Over time, this can translate into a disconnect from your company.
Many companies are creating virtual team-building events to prevent this disconnect and give their people a chance to blow off some steam.
For example, scheduling platform Doodle reported a 100% increase in group meetings booked for virtual-only yoga, dance, and fitness sessions, a 44% increase in trivia and quiz nights and a 296% increase virtual-only happy hours during March 2020.
You can also continue to celebrate special events and team or individual successes online. Ensure that your managers offer personal encouragement and genuine praise whenever possible.
8. Establish Engagement Norms
Avoid bombarding your staff with unnecessary follow-ups and clarifications that will only serve to reduce their productivity.
Have your managers establish communication norms as soon as possible and convey them clearly to your staff. That might include videoconferences for daily check-ins, direct messages or calls for rapid responses and Slack or e-mail for general day-to-day conversations and clarification. Each method of communication has its pros and cons, and certain methods are better suited to certain types of conversations or tasks.
However, it is important to avoid rushing through communications. Brevity can be the enemy of clarity. Caution your managers to slow down and explain things, particularly in methods of communication where you cannot see your employees' reactions or hear their voices. A balance must be struck.
Finally, provide opportunities for feedback from employees on what is working and what isn’t. Successfully transitioning your office online is an ongoing process and may require some adjustments as you go. Acknowledge that, and you’ll get buy-in. More importantly, you’ll be working as a team.