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Working remotely: Managing a remote team

Currently, teams around the globe are considering a shift to a remote work environment to protect their staff and communities due to the threat of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). We’ve put together a guide to help you and your team navigate the ins and outs of working remotely to maintain workflow, whilst keeping safe and healthy.

6 Mar 2020 by Rocco Brudno

Working from home used to be an exciting opportunity any team member would jump at the chance to get. Companies have begun offering remote work opportunities, as the conventional “office space” shifts to digital environments. Unfortunately, it seems remote work is gaining greater appeal to companies pre-emptively combating the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

As no surprise to newsreaders, teams are now considering the benefits of remote work for employees’ health and safety. Businesses across the globe want to do what they can to protect their staff and communities. Remote work can dramatically reduce the chance of contamination—tech giants like Slack, Twitter, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook have already begun transitioning their entire staff to work remotely.

At Coassemble, we strongly believe that with the right training and support, nearly any role can be served remotely. Our CEO Ryan Macphereson gave some tips on what leaders managing remote teams can do to drive engagement. Being a strong remote team leader is essential to your team's success.

We know now more than ever that the ability to enable your employees to work remotely is paramount to preventing the spread of this virus. Whether you’re transitioning your team to full-time remote work or just creating a temporary space during the outbreak, we hope this guide helps you and your team navigate remote work.

Have we already left physical office workspaces behind?

Though offices are clearing out over the virus, the transition to remote work has been going on for over a decade. The amount of employees that work remotely at least once a week has grown by 400% since 2010. This is a monumental shift from the traditional in-office model of work environments.

It’s no surprise really. The benefits for the business and the workers are numerous. According to Global Workplace Analytics, the main benefits of working remotely are:

  1. Improved work-life balance: Workers can organize their time to balance family and work commitments that benefit everyone.
  2. Stronger Relationships: Employees and managers have a deeper sense of trust and respect for one another. We've found that even during the recruitment and online training process, this trust is built stronger.
  3. Improved Productivity: Generally, remote workers enjoy what they do when working remotely. This results in higher morale and engagement in the business.
  4. Reduced Costs: Employees can forget about the cost of commuting to work (both in time and money) and the lunches out. This is also beneficial for the business, as there will be reduced costs in the office

The downsides of working remotely

Despite the perks, there are some challenges that remote teams face that can negatively impact the productivity and morale of the team. These are only exacerbated by the effects this crisis is having on the transition. Below are the three challenges that affect remote workers.

Loneliness

Remote workers are removed from social interactions, which can leave them feeling isolated and lonely. This negatively impacts your employee’s emotional and cognitive functioning. Every individual is different, but understanding the needs to balance them can help your team adjust to the new routine.

There are many ways to combat loneliness when managing remote teams. Adopting a routine (set check-ins, video calls, etc) can lessen the chance of feeling lonely on the job. Below are a few examples we’ve found effective with our own staff.

    • Don’t just work from home: Managers should encourage employees to work outside of employees' homes such as shared spaces like co-working offices, parks, cafes, etc. In times of crisis such as the coronavirus, remote teams can still find secluded spaces outside their homes. Our two favorite options are private studies at libraries and coworking spaces that offer private room rentals.
    • Stay connected: Staying connected throughout the day using an online dialogue space like Slack. Having routines like weekly check-ins or social channels to share favorite pet pictures can replace the "water-cooler chats" for remote people.
    • Embrace the community: Encourage your team to check out meetups or attend conferences and events in their area to meet other professionals. We love features like slack's donut buddies that pairs you with random team members to meet and chat on a regular basis.
    • Find time to meet: With any team, face-to-face time is invaluable. Managers should try to get the team together, as often as possible, to do a mixture of business and socializing. It’s becoming more common for organizations to organize corporate retreats and holidays for this exact reason. Even a weekly lunch and learn or pizza party over video can go a long way to bringing everyone together.

💡 Pro tip: send this list of 7 tips for working remotely to your team for even more ways to get them online (we're positive they'll benefit from tip #7).

Feelings of Exclusion

Not all roles can be done remotely in a company. In teams where only some members work remotely, a divide occurs between how employees feel recognized for the work they do. These remote individuals can feel excluded and left out.

Employees feel invisible from missing the socializing that happens with the in-office team like birthday's, drinks, or just the general daily conversation. They feel as though their work is less exposed to bosses and colleagues. They feel like they're not on anyone’s mind because they aren't physically present.

There are a plethora of methods that can help prevent or resolve this exclusion from occurring. Let’s look at some ways that managers can tackle feelings of exclusion in their teams.

  • Find time to meet: Bringing remote team members into the main business workspace when possible is crucial to allow for face-to-face time with their colleagues and managers. When this isn’t possible (whether they’re separated by continents or there’s a travel crisis like what’s happening now), video messaging and conferencing apps are your best friend.
  • Schedule meetings: Organise regular team video catch-ups - this could be weekly or once a month, but should occur as often as possible. You can include social aspects in the calls, like games to kick-start conversations, team bonding activities like fitness challenges, or creative tasks.
  • Use a Project Management Tool: These tools allow for everyone in the team to have visibility over what their team is working on. Recognize and celebrate the achievements of teams throughout the whole business.

April 27th, 2020: Something important to remember is that even though many teams are getting thrown into remote work for the first time, this might not be the last. Once you begin understanding what your team needs to thrive remotely, it's important to create a process for them. Repeatable action plans can help enable temporary or permanent transitions for teams working remotely. The remote work experts at Toptal put together an incredibly detailed remote work playbook to help teams adapt during COVID-19. Check it out to learn how you can help your team adapt their roles for the remote workspace.

Communication

Verbal communication can be broken down into 7% text, 38% tone, and voice, and 55% body language. However, when working remotely, communication is mostly just written words. This means that we are missing voice, tone, and body language cues, often resulting in misunderstandings. This not only creates friction but is the main reason remote workers fail when compared to in-office employees.

We have a near-infinite number of options to communicate and bridge the gap created by distance and time. Messaging and video have taken the lead, but let’s review the options you have available to talk with remote workers.

  • GIFs and Emojis: Managers can encourage their team to use emojis or GIFs when communicating to provide context and tone.
  • The ‘assume positive intent' mentality: This means that whatever anybody writes, says, or does, you should assume that their intent is positive. This will change the way your team interacts (especially if your team is fully remote!)
  • Utilize video chat: According to Liam Martin, to keep your team’s communication healthy, you should always attempt to use video chat first, or audio when video isn’t possible, then online chat, and lastly—email.

Remote work technology at your team’s fingertips

There are thousands of tools designed to enrich the communication and collaboration of remote teams. Below are some of our favorite companies that our team used over the years.

The Coassemble team constantly floats between our AU and US offices as well as working remotely. Being able to stay on track between several time zones is critical to our progress and success.

Technology stacks can differ widely depending on your product or service, brand goals, sales process, marketing strategy, and so many other factors. This is especially true when considering what’s needed to enable remote workers to thrive. Having a software toolkit that offers flexibility for where your workers are located allows access to a balanced work environment for all team members.

If you're interested in how to get started with remote work options for your team, these apps are must-haves to succeed. All of them offer scalable solutions whether you’re a team of 5 or 5000. Many of them currently have solutions to combat the virus crisis until it’s resolved with free or heavily discounted entry points.

The technology to succeed with remote work

💡 Pro tip: For an in-depth guide on what's needed for working remote, check out our article on the best tools for working remotely.

The health and safety of your teams and ours is a focus now more than ever during COVID-19’s continued spread. Washing your hands, delaying travel, and working remotely are actions that can protect you and your team. Enabling team members that haven’t worked remotely before is essential to preventing further disruption in their workflow.

Below we have linked to a short online course we created to help your team get started with how to work remotely. Feel free to share this with your colleagues and reach out to our team if you have any questions about creating a remote work environment for your team. We’re here to help!

Click here to access the course

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