The modern workforce is increasingly remote, and that’s significantly changing the way teams and leadership interact, solve problems, and get the day’s work done. Trying to run remote work as a traditional office will not only introduce a wide range of barriers to your projects, but it can also frustrate your team and obliterate the benefits and trust that remote offers.
Whether you’re increasing your roster of freelancers and contractors, letting teams work from home to save on office rent, or trying to snag the best talent from anywhere on the planet, flexible work needs to be treated as its own beast.
To help, we’ve put together seven of the best tips and tricks to running a modern workplace that encourages employee participation and dials the perks of remote work up to 11.
1. Clarify Communication Tools and Practices
One thing that’s nearly impossible in remote work is over-communication. People need to know as much as possible and have access to that information at any given moment so they’re less likely to get stuck. Access to information isn’t about always being in meetings, but it is about creating company processes and documents so that everyone knows how they need to perform their task and communicate when it’s done, or when there’s a problem.
Your best bet is to create clear communication channels and specify what tools are used for what activities. Slack channels are comfortable because they can be named, and you can limit who has access to which ones. So, not every person gets the HR channel, but they can all direct-message the HR lead.
If you have reporting requirements for projects that differ by a client or other considerations, but those practices and standards in centralized documents. There are a few extra steps that can help you get this right:
- Tell everyone what’s expected of them.
- Show your team how to find out what’s expected if they forget.
- Create a clear channel for asking questions, plus define who is responsible for answering them.
- Hold people accountable but offer forgiveness when someone makes a mistake.
- Review policies with your team to ensure that expectations are clear and reporting is easy.
At CloudApp, we’re big believers in visual communication, but that has its place. Your team might not need to use visuals at every moment or may have some needs where they’re not appropriate. If you’ve got a telephone line or standard call-in meeting, visuals could mean that not everyone gets to participate. Demographics also impact how people communicate, with the requirement or use of heavy visuals making 20% of Baby Boomers less likely to collaborate.
Keep your tools and practices clear so that no one gets left behind, and everyone is sure of how to operate.
2. Create A Personal Schedule
Routine can greatly simplify daily life, and that makes it easy for remote workers to get started on their projects and tasks. Simple things from having your morning coffee or walking the dog at a certain time to playing specific music or podcasts on certain days of the week can all help you set your own internal rhythm.
Having routine elements in place can make it easier to build out a more robust work schedule too. Getting those things together will make it easier to dive into your hardest tasks. And yes, you should tackle those first, according to recent data. Knocking out troublesome projects earlier in the day will help you avoid working on them when you’re feeling fatigued.
Building in breaks is also a smart way to establish a routine that works best for you. With remote work, you don’t always get “traditional” breaks — if you’re on the East Coast, but the firm is on the West, that 12-noon lunch might get shifted a few hours.
Establish the routine and rhythm that you need, and then it becomes easier to work with the company and team schedules. It can also help you cope with the fact that remote workers tend to put in more hours.
3. Build Company and Team Schedules
If you’re leading a remote team or have a manager who is open to sharing ideas, it’s time to build a set company and team schedule. These give everyone designated times to be online and available, which is essential for any remote work that involves collaboration.
This is more than just having to be online or on Slack at a certain time. You’ll want your teams to leave specific hours open for meetings and calls. These office hours make it easy to ask a quick question with whichever tool your team prefers, instead of always having to email or leave a voicemail. It also ensures that projects remain dynamic, where a simple question doesn’t turn into multiple emails and a two-hour wait.
Team schedules are also a great way to keep everyone aware of what’s happening on the team. Not only can you note what projects people are working on, but they can highlight when someone is out or in a meeting.
Being able to see all schedules is one of the best virtual equivalents to peeking your head in the door to see if someone is at their desk — because we’ve all forgotten to update status after lunch or turn off a chat program when stepping away for a minute.
4. Lean on Fellow Remote Workers
Collaboration is a major part of modern work, and remote staff should prioritize it. Here, it serves a dual purpose.
Working together helps divvy up the work and keep things moving faster. You can also check on projects and use management tools to support each other. Having a buddy on a project who offers a hand before you get overwhelmed — and being that buddy yourself at times — can reduce stress around projects and deadlines.
In a virtual environment, these communication tools can help you also interact socially with coworkers. Video calls and chat programs make it easy to hang out and talk about non-work items in the middle of the day when you’re feeling stressed. Slack channels dedicated to the fun or weird also allow team members to post content without asking for an immediate response. They can become a great repository of fun for people to access when they need it.
Look for opportunities to use one tool to accomplish standard work as well as letting employees have a little bit of fun by engaging with each other. We see a lot of that with our CloudApp. It was built for screen recording, video annotations, and image building for teams like marketing and sales. However, we have a lot of users who use the GIF maker to build silly things of their day (especially pets being their strange little furry selves) and share them.
It creates and encourages a connection, like a virtual water cooler. It’s entertaining to see and share, helping your team feel like a cohesive unit. Our internal data also suggests that sharing and engagement around lighter topics make teams more likely to ask for help when they need it and rely on each other for support when it’s time to get a project wrapped.
5. Automate Internal Tools
Marketing is heavily emphasizing the rise of AI for websites and customer-facing interactions. Chatbots are a leader, and they make it incredibly simple for anyone to get a quick answer at any time. That fact makes them perfect for helping out your team, too.
Chatbots can speed up how customer service agents use a knowledge base or give your sales team access to the most up-to-date pricing and plan information. However, one fascinating area of potential for chatbots is in Human Resources.
HR is complicated, full of paperwork, and its work impacts every single employee in your company — even many freelancers and contractors. So, just like you do for customer FAQs, turn chatbots onto the HR knowledge base and let them play. These tools can answer many basic questions, link to information such as the most recent insurance plan, and set up meetings for complex issues.
HR chatbots are also playing a growing role in the hiring process by interacting with candidates and navigating them through application processes. Handbook training and onboarding can be handled by bots too.
Remote teams get an extra benefit from these tools because they may be working outside of traditional HR hours. So, if someone needs to file paperwork or has a question about insurance, they can get assistance when they need it. No more emails followed by a night of worry or confusion.
6. Transition Etiquette to Meetings and Virtual Environments
Most employees know what is expected in an office environment. Handbooks and social norms cover many things, from how to dress and groom to appropriate topics and how to report when you feel unsafe. These norms and practices may not be as clear in a virtual environment.
For instance, if you’re a remote-only office and you need to reach out to HR, can you be sure that your boss isn’t able to read emails or your chat messages to others? If the company doesn’t have dedicated phone lines, how do you make an anonymous report? Is it okay for Jerry to always wear cutoff jeans and stick his feet on his desk during client service video calls?
Go even simpler: When do you need to turn on your video for a meeting, and when is voice-only okay if you’re always using meeting software that supports video?
The old rules don’t have a one-to-one corollary that your team will naturally be able to intuit. Teach them standard business etiquette (you’re still going to have some in-person meetings) and how the protocols for your other interactions. Put things in a handbook.
Cover as much as possible and relate it to your employee’s daily activities as well as company values. If you want to create an inclusive, diverse environment, that might mean you avoid gendered language both in your marketing materials and on Trello cards.
Remote work is leading to teams that are located around the globe. In these cases, social norms and customs may not always be the same. Establishing company cultural rules and enforcing them can go a long way to avoiding misunderstandings, minimizing HR complaints, and not creating liability for the company.
7. Promote Self-Care
Broadband Internet speeds are making it easier for remote employees to work directly from their homes. For many, this is a relief — and you do not always have to shell out for coffee to get access to Wi-Fi — but it can start blurring the lines between the office and the house.
When employees feel like they’re “always-on,” it can start to increase stress and reduce their overall well-being. Their work is just one of many things that will suffer.
To help avoid this, it’s up to leadership to be the cheerleader for self-care. When you trust your team to get their work done, let them know it’s okay to take 15 or 20 minutes when they need it. No one should work when they’re sick — being at home doesn’t mean you no longer need to rest to get over a cold.
You can tackle self-care in a few different ways. Daily routines can include time to take a walk or stretch. People can be given the flexibility to grab a coffee or snack later in the day without worry. Hard boundaries between work and home time can also make a big difference in helping avoid burnout and other worries.
Celebrate the Perks Together
Remote work is a beautiful thing. Its prevalence is growing, and more people are demanding it each year.
The flexibility of being treated like an adult means people can take care of their families, get work done, and be in an environment they control (no more thermostat wars), which many works find to be major perks. There’s also the chance to work from new and different locations, travel while still being part of a team, and address emergencies without needing to worry as much about the logistics of the office.
To encourage your team to use these benefits, and feel the value of the perks, leadership should take the initiative and use them. Demonstrate their worth by taking the dog for a walk and posting a nice photo or grabbing a cup of coffee. Then, send your team a $5 gift card to use on their snack of choice.
Or, after a project goes well, reduce the number of mandatory check-ins, and invite your teams to simply come to you if there’s a problem. Give them flexibility on deadlines and work, specifically telling them they’re getting more room because you trust them. You still need to manage and lead, but use the opportunities you have to treat your team with respect and encourage them to thrive in a remote environment.
Written by: Joe Martin – Readwrite