Even though we might be able to go to our offices again soon, many teams might have gotten a taste of remote work and might want to stay that way. Before you rush into it and close down your office, this is how you can prepare for the switch.
If you have been doing the 'work from home' thing for a while, you might have realized that there are positives and negatives. Especially when that change was somewhat forced and hectic, some things might be bumpier than they should be. However, if you did see some of the benefits of this way of working and might be looking at making it a bigger part of your routine, these are the steps you can take to make things smoother.
Put all work and knowledge online
There is nothing worse in an organization than having a single-point-of-failure. In an environment where messages can be ignored or simply left unread for a long time, having something like that is a time-waster. Before you consider going fully remote, make sure that there is not a single person who owns all knowledge of a certain system, customer, contract or project. You can prevent that by investing more time in documentation, making sure that you have a great internal wiki, a handbook for your employees and rigorous technical documentation.
This is a lot of work and usually something that people do not like to do and don't take seriously, but if you are thinking a few months into the future, the time investment on this will pay off in multiples.
The key point is that you need to unblock people, and the most blockers stem from lack of information. Be it on support issues, technical details or unclarity when it comes to the PTO policy: Having things written down and discoverable saves you time and also makes the onboarding of new team members a lot more simple.
There are multiple tools that you can use to make this a reality:
- A popular way is to make use of the Git protocols and therefore make the documentation open for collaboration.
- Using Google Drive or Dropbox Paper, documentation can be searchable and yet collaborative
- Something like Jira can give you a fully-fledged intranet, although that may be overkill
Choose one, and get people to document their work for a month or two! Make sure that system, documentation and work are accessible online and that there is more than one person who can give access to those systems.
Re-think your meetings and face-to-face time
Meetings at your typical local office are a standard part of the day. They are used to get synced, to get information, to discuss future steps, to do the planning and sometimes they are even the main output of our work. Even if your team stays in the same timezone after the transition, meetings will never be the same, so re-think how you use them.
The worst mistake that many teams now (and maybe even you?) are making is to keep the meeting schedule up and dragging people on video calls for hours. Not only is this rarely effective, but it also gets rid of a lot of positives that remote work brings with it, namely the ability for people to work when they are most productive.
Communication is best done asynchronously in remote teams to have a record of everything that was discussed and give everyone the ability to take part. If you can, turn recurring and static meetings into async form. That involves daily standups (the information is much better preserved in a written medium) or discussions that need thoughtful input from a variety of people (spending hours on a video call feels draining).
If you succeed with that, you need to seriously watch out that you don't fall into the other extreme: Missing out on quality face-to-face time. It can be good to schedule meetings regularly with the main purpose of face-to-face time. Those sessions could include:
- Casual cross-team hangouts
- A team-call once per week
- Company all-hands (be sure to record it!)
- 1-on-1s between managers and employees
- 1-on-1s between teams
Isolation is the number one reason why people dislike working remotely, so don't let it become a real threat to your productivity.
Make sure that everyone is on board
Remote work is not enjoyable for everyone. While you might like this way of working and collaboration, people who get most of their energy from working and interacting with peers might not. Be sure you know how your team feels about the situation and map out who feels good or bad about it.
Your team needs to be on the same side here. Especially if you have a larger group of people who would rather work from an office you are running into the dangers of segregation, and a lot of the remote-first principles that you read may not hold up anymore. If multiple people end up working from a shared location – may it be an office or not – then documentations go out-of-date quicker, people are left out of the loop, isolation gets worse and communication could break down, don't let that happen!
Even if you have a few members who may not be on board, you can implement goodies and perks that may be able to convince them:
- A fixed budget to work from a co-working or to pay for coffees at a coffee shop
- Team lunches and happy hours on Zoom
- Gaming nights
If you have a larger part of your team that is against this, you might need to ask yourself whether your company culture is built to thrive in remote work, maybe not!
Lead by example
So, you have your documentation in order, you started your async communication strategy, got rid of some meetings and made sure everyone is okay with this change. Now it's time to send your people home and close down your office, that's all, right?
Taking the plunge is a great first step, but certain risks come from transitioning to remote work from an office and as a leader you should call those signs out early and lead by example.
Overworking is the easiest thing to do in a remote team, so don't let your people fall into that trap. You have your laptop at home, your work is accessible online and thanks to async communication, you don't have to work the regular 9-5, so why not work after dinner as well? And then get up a little earlier to work in silence before the kids wake up, and then work the whole rest of the day as well?
When it comes to overworking, the best thing is to call it out: When e-mail come in at 5 am, and calls are taken at 9 pm, let the people know that it's okay to shut down the computer for a day and play some video games or something. The most important part: lead by example, let work be work.
It can be discouraging to be ignored by your team and have issues go unnoticed. Async communication and lack of meetings are no excuse to let people hang and go silent! Even if you have a lot on your plate, don't ignore chat messages just because they are online now. That being said, also don't treat them like the disruptive coworker coming to your desk and needing your immediate attention!
Finding the balance is key here, and may need a bit of experimentation on everybody's part, but if you can do it, so will your team.
As already mentioned, isolation is the number one reason why people dislike remote work. A big part of people's social lives are co-workers, and not having a physical watercooler can often put an end to that. Additionally to the strategies already mentioned, make sure that people make use of their newly won time and spend evenings and weekends with families, friends and their social circle. Show that you are making a consistent effort to socialize and having a great time yourself, and your team will follow.