The coronavirus has abruptly thrust thousands of businesses into the strange waters of full-time remote work with little advance notice or preparation. Setting up remote working might sound easy in theory: after all, everyone has a computer and a phone. But as you try to organize a daily routine, your team might have trouble coordinating. All those opportunities for in-person communication have disappeared. Expectations for when and how you work have changed. You begin to realize that remote work really does require new tools and a different set of rules.
KBS CFO was created as a virtual organization more than 15 years ago, an early adopter of the remote workforce concept. Over the years I’ve learned the hard way which practices work and which don’t. Below are some of the tips I’ve picked up:
- Be Flexible, but not Too Flexible
Many employees love the freedom that comes from working at home. They can wear their pajamas, sleep in, and avoid the commute. But the informality of working at home can be misleading. Distractions lurk everywhere and it is easy to fall out of a work routine. You should establish from the start what hours you expect your employees to be available. Your team needs some core hours in the day when you can trust that your emails will get answered or you can schedule a conference call.
Similarly, there’s such a thing as too much flexibility. Team members might not have set routines of meetings and business hours, but the schedule of deliverables is the same. While you don’t want to give your employees the idea that you distrust them, you should make it clear that you expect them to meet deadlines just the same way they would if they were in the office.
- Get the Right Technology
Remote work is only possible if you have the right technology in place. It’s not enough to have email and a phone. Remote work forces require greater comfort and proficiency with technology adoption than their in-office counterparts. Data protection and cyber security are of particular concern when you don’t have an IT department to set up a protected network. Be sure to develop cyber security policies and review them regularly. Make sure your team is using VPN technology and virus protection to keep your company’s information safe and confidential.
In addition, everyone on your team should be properly established so that all files are being completely managed within a secure file storage solution, such as Citrix Sharefile, Egnyte, or Box. Our company policies include prohibiting the storage of company or client files on the individual’s local hard drive. This protects against single computer failure, promotes team back up and support, and allows for a true “access anywhere” environment. Of course having this technology in place also addresses the current reality facing your team; in the event someone gets sick, it ensures others have access to their work.
- Build a Communication Infrastructure
An effective communication infrastructure can make the difference between a functional remote team and a disaster. From the outset, you must establish which different communication methods (messaging apps, email, phone, etc.) are best for your team and how quickly you expect them to respond to messages. GotoMeeting, Zoom, RingCentral, and UberConference are all widely used video conferencing tools that allow attendees to share their computer screens and view one another. At KBS CFO we have found that requiring “cameras on” during our virtual meeting is vital to fostering the connectedness and effectiveness of virtual teams. Being able to see others’ facial expressions and body language helps us notice subtle social cues and communicate more effectively.
- Keep the Water Cooler
You may want to institute formal, regular means of communication—from shared calendars to regular team meetings. But it’s also critical to establish an opportunity for informal communication.
When you leave a physical office, people often mourn the loss of a water cooler (whether it’s an actual water cooler, a break room, or some other location). These are the places where you can have a casual chat, learn about your coworkers’ lives, and get informal feedback on an idea. An informal online channel allows colleagues to ask for opinions on the new advertising slogan, give reminders about the time for the conference call, or share funny anecdotes.
Similar to text messaging, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Flock, and Glip are all software products that provide opportunities for real-time conversations and brainstorming among members of a team. We have a channel on Slack called “Virtual Water Cooler” where we chat about the happenings in our lives that the lack of an office would otherwise prevent us from sharing.
Complimenting the communication infrastructure is developing policies for how your company will use its communication tools. KBS CFO has a strict policy of not using emails to communicate internally within the team since other tools are much more effective than email.
- Track Those Projects
One of the first things you will notice if you’re just starting to work virtually is that email is a terrible tool for keeping track of projects. By virtue of its linear nature, email always shows you the newest items—which might not be the most relevant. Combing through your email inbox for the information about an urgent project can be laborious and time intensive.
Based on the situation, other modes of communications are preferable for internal team discussions. We rely on Slack for scheduling and informal communication, and we use workflow software to track our projects. Such project management apps are specifically designed to allow you to track multiple projects (and individual tasks within each project) from inception to delivery to the client. They have their own email functions which permit you to tie each message to its specific project and allow you to visually track each task from person to person. You can’t walk down the hall and ask for the status of a project, but project management software is the next best thing. There are many choices to help manage your workflow, including Asana, Wrike, and Teamwork. We have been using Asana and it has proved to be invaluable.
At KBS CFO, our core focus is turning business dreams into reality, and our niche is providing future-focused financial solutions for growing businesses. Along the way, because it has been such an important element to running our business, we have been glad to assist companies address remote work opportunities and challenges. Feel free to reach out with your remote work best practices or let us know if you have any particular challenges that you are facing.