5 Tips for Successfully Working Remotely in the Long Term
Surefire practices to effectively manage teams working from home.
It’s been about two years now since teams were forced, almost overnight, to shift to working remotely. While many companies worried that things would fall apart, most found that business continued smoothly. And, that there were actually benefits, including saving money, boosting productivity and improving employees’ quality of life. As a result, as the end of the pandemic appears to possibly be in sight, leaders are beginning to contemplate whether or not to make a shift back to working in-person.
Not surprisingly, many companies, including my own work, are opting to make a shift to at least some amount of remote working for the long term. Mark Lobosco of LinkedIn notes that, “[n]ow that companies have built the framework — and experienced the cost and time savings associated with it — there’s no real reason to turn back.”
Suresh Kumar of Walmart supports this sentiment by acknowledging that their team has not only coped but they’ve “actually thrived.” Kumar says that they are now “more focused on the things that have the greatest impact for [their] customers, associates and the business.” Working remotely has led to “great momentum [that they] need to figure out how to carry forward.”
As working remotely becomes a shift that isn’t a short-term, reactionary one but instead is a long-term, strategic change, leaders need to focus. They need to make sure their teams are getting the most out of it and that they have all of the right tools and systems in place to be successful.
To help leaders do that, here are five tips to help make your team more successful while working remotely.
Focus on communication
In a 2020 study that looked at the State of Remote Working, the biggest challenge reported by employees was struggles with communication and collaboration. At this point, most teams have some routines and systems for communication in place. However, it’s an area that leaders should regularly be evaluating, adjusting and improving.
In improving systems of communication, it’s helpful to keep in mind that with many different channels of communication available, it can be hard to know what channel to use when. For example, when should employees use instant messaging, email, project boards or video chats.
Providing clear expectations of when each channel should be used can help to avoid both miscommunication and duplicative communication. Plus, it helps everyone feel more comfortable and confident when connecting with team members.
Finally, when considering communication, make sure that you’re allowing for regular check-ins with team members and that you’re creating space for informal check-ins. This is something that is often lost when teams are working from home. Check-ins can help to improve relationships and can ensure that all team members are on the same page.
Be thoughtful about scheduling
In that same study noted above, employees reported that the opportunity for a flexible schedule is the greatest benefit of working remotely. But, while flexible scheduling offers many positives for employees and teams, it can also make it challenging for team members to connect.
Leaders should be aware of this tension and think through ways to deal with this issue. There are a variety of options including scheduling blocks of time each day when all team members are available, having team members always set their status to away or active or having employees calendar their schedule and make it available to the entire team.
There is no one right way to do this and it largely depends on the needs of each team. Leaders should proactively address scheduling to ensure that it doesn’t become a point of tension or frustration.
Make sure all team members understand their role
When working remotely, it’s easier for tasks to fall through the cracks or for employees to focus on the wrong things. Managers can prevent this by working to ensure that all roles are clearly outlined. Some tips for making sure this becomes second nature include:
Always ending meetings or emails with specific action items assigned to a team member
Clearly defining and assign any new tasks or projects
Have regular check-ins with all team members that include a clear task list and updates on ongoing projects
Use a project board or project management tool where projects are assigned and tracked
Despite the best efforts of good communication and check-ins, the reality for many leaders is that they simply don’t have the same opportunities to evaluate on-going work from their team when working remotely. Working in person means regular collaboration, informal check-ins, the opportunity to see and respond to body language and more natural accountability.
To compensate for this, managers should prioritize data and documentation. This serves as a way to track progress, evaluate productivity and ensure that teams are using their time and resources as effectively as possible.
Heather Wilson of TaxJar, a company of 160 employees that are completely remote, advises that, “a good rule of thumb to consider for working remotely: if it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.”
Find ways to enable all team members to connect
A final tip for leaders is to find ways to make sure their team is connected. One of the greatest risks of working remotely is that employees feel isolated and lonely. Leaders should work to combat this by creating opportunities for all members of the team to connect and to build personal relationships.
There should be opportunities for entire teams to get together, to celebrate the work of teammates and to share out-of-work interests. John Furneaus, the CEO of Hive, shares some of the ways his team has successfully found ways to connect, “[t]he most important keys to remote work at a startup have been weekly stand-ups. At Hive, we all get on Zoom once a week to chat and give shoutouts to the team.”
The reality for many companies is that working remotely is here to stay. And, while that comes with a number of benefits, it also presents some challenges for leaders. Rather than simply falling into habits that have emerged from a sudden shift to working remotely, leaders should take the time to make sure their teams are getting the most out of working remotely. These five tips will be a good start to guide you through this process.
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