Original Article Featured in Forbes.
Our society has been disrupted by the novel coronavirus. Around the world, airline flights have been grounded, communities have slowed to a crawl and countless lives have been affected. In the U.S. alone, we’ve harbored more than 2 million COVID-19 cases. It’s no wonder numerous companies (such as Twitter and Square) are encouraging or asking employees to work from home. Despite how scary times like these can be, business must go on.
Working remotely offers a promising avenue to keep teams functional and businesses in business while infectious diseases are dealt with. The mobile app development firm I co-founded consists of a team distributed across different time zones and continents. Remote work allows our team to stay resilient and adaptive to ever-changing circumstances. Here’s how you can start moving toward a productive distributed team that can roll with the punches of any unexpected event that comes your way.
1. Plan For The Unexpected, And Adapt To New Conditions
If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail. Obviously, hoping that the virus stops spreading doesn’t count as planning. But neither does handing your workers laptops and telling them to work from home. Start planning your remote work strategy by evaluating and analyzing exactly how things will be done. Think about your daily tasks and those of your employees.
It’s important that you also account for different scenarios. To increase your chances of remaining operational, plan for as many employees as possible to work remotely. Categorize which duties necessitate a physical presence in the office, and then challenge these assumptions — experiment to see if there are methods that would allow employees to do these remotely as well.
2. Establish Communication Protocols
To truly optimize your remote work strategy execution, you should be able to keep your team members in the loop and abreast of new circumstances. Take some time to set up communication protocols that allow for seamless collaboration.
Consolidate all contact information so that everyone can be easily reached. Agree on primary communication channels. Slack and email work wonders for my team. Discuss how customer-facing employees are expected to interact with clients and leads.
Last but certainly not least, it’s vital that you establish how and when your team can meet and coordinate. Meetings often take up a big bulk of many employees’ days. Luckily, the rise of teleconference software means meetings no longer have to be in person. Zoom is our go-to platform. And it seems that many others are turning to remote conferencing; Zoom has reportedly already added more users in 2020 than in all of 2019.
3. Streamline Your Software Stack
To simplify remote work for your team members, give them the right tools to succeed. For this step, focus on auditing your available software. Then close any identified gaps in access and adoption.
Assess the comfort level and effectiveness of the applications your team uses every day. This includes communication software such as Slack, as well as workflow tools like Jira and Basecamp. Each piece of your “productivity puzzle” should aid in coordinating deadlines, holding team members accountable and keeping work transparent.
If there is room for improvement, provide training and practice to get your team up to speed. Alternatively, consider other applications to replace the weak links in your software stack. This may seem like more work, but it’s better to take care of this now.
Remember, your software stack should give your staff the ability to work efficiently from anywhere, even on their personal devices if need be. That last part is especially crucial. Clarify which “bring your own” devices are acceptable. Keep data security top of mind, and encrypt all information and interactions via a virtual private network (VPN). This can help ensure your business assets are adequately protected when employees access them remotely.
4. Cultivate A Remote Work Company Culture
When going remote, some team members may feel a sense of isolation. Company culture can go a long way toward combating this issue by reinforcing cohesion.
If your company is new to remote work, it can take a while for employees to adjust. Create a supportive environment that nurtures progress toward this goal. Give your workers extra time to learn the skills and tools they need to succeed. Help them by periodically sending out educational content and opportunities regarding remote work.
In meetings, make sure everyone’s voice is being heard. Open inclusion and participation are two prime avenues to accomplish this. Each team member should regularly have the opportunity to discuss their opinion, whether it’s about the pace of a project or personal dilemmas stifling productivity.
Lastly, don’t forget to be human. We all desire connection. Unfortunately, one of the biggest downsides to remote work is the disconnect it often causes. Bring levity and lightheartedness to your meetings. Everything shouldn’t be serious all the time. If you have new team members, gamify some meetings, and introduce icebreakers so that they feel comfortable building relationships. These endeavors may seem silly, but they can be key to establishing trust and catalyzing meaningful collaboration.
Embrace Remote Work — It Could Strengthen Your Business
Situations like the novel coronavirus can be scary for everyone. And they can be detrimental for businesses. Preparing your company for remote work can let you eschew many of the issues that could arise from future disruptive events.
Plan ahead now to stay resilient in ever-changing circumstances. Even if the current situation doesn’t change, at least you will be organized, flexible and ready to rise to any future occasion that threatens your business’s operational continuity.
While Flexjobs found that it makes up less than 5% of full-time jobs in the U.S., I believe remote work is the future of work. This figure will likely grow with time as more businesses embrace the benefits of working remotely. And if you want your company to be a part of this future, it’s important that you adapt with the times.
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