Tips and tools to get you started
This week Ohio joined the handful of states already under the COVID-19 “shelter in place” orders that have so far affected 1 in 4 Americans… and left millions of U.S. workers suddenly working from home. Unfortunately, not all companies are currently set up for remote office success, and HR teams, managers and employees everywhere are scrambling to create a plan. Yep, it’s just one more reason to shake your head right now and join in the resounding chorus of, “Times are crazy.”
We can’t help you find toilet paper or solve a lot of the other pandemic-related problems, but On Now Digital can help with optimizing your remote office approach. As a small, agile software company, we’re hip to the whole digitalization thing and have a few key ideas to help your business get started. Take a look:
First things first
Although the U.S. has seen a 44 percent increase in remote work in the last five years, having the decision made for you by a global health crisis presents some unique challenges. Before we get into any specific tools or tech, here are a few general tips to help smooth your transition:
Set clear expectations for employees and projects
Schedule daily status meetings via phone or video to check in
If you can, measure productivity by tasks completed rather than hours worked
Remember you’re all human and in a crisis, so be patient and offer a lot of encouragement
OK, with that basic understanding, let’s move on to the technology must-haves.
Digital project management
Remember those clear expectations? Setting them is a lot easier with a digital project management solution that gives everyone visibility into current projects, important milestones, approvals, budget considerations and more. Most platforms come with file storage, activity logs, calendar views and a whole array of organizational acrobatics. There are both free and subscription-based tools for this, and if this is your first attempt at remote working, start with a free option to get a feel your organization’s day-to-day needs. Trello and Asana offer pretty decent free versions, Monday.com starts at just $39 a month, and the more robust tools like Basecamp usually offer free trials.
Pro tip: These tools tend to work best when there is a designated person to “own” the system. Who’s your company’s organizational guru? Set ‘em loose!
We’ve all been on the receiving end of an ambiguous email where you’re left wondering if the sender was being curt or was just distracted. We’ve probably also all been all conference calls where you only hear 20 percent of the conversation and never seem to find a way to jump in. Video conferencing rocks because you can actually see the people on the call. You can gauge facial expressions and body language, read lips if the audio is poor, and gesture when you’d like to speak up. It’s all terribly civilized – and effective. At On Now Digital, we’re doing all of our meetings via Microsoft Teams right now, and we love it (especially the screen-sharing option – clutch). Zoom and Google Hangouts are also great (free!) options.
Pro-tip: Allow an extra five minutes at the beginning of every meeting for attendees to call in and get settled. Also, mute your audio when you’re not speaking.
After waxing poetic just now about the value of face-to-face communication, we also need to point out that not every question needs to be a meeting… But, you should keep asking questions and passing info along to coworkers. One of the pitfalls of remote working is that it can stunt collaboration. Using a chat application like Skype or Slack can go a long way in keeping the conversation – and ideas – flowing. It’s also just nice to have a less formal way to connect. We actually use Microsoft Teams for this, too.
Pro tip: Avoid adding people to group chats that can easily get derailed. This can be a real distraction to everyone but the couple people who get carried away.
OK, OK, you probably already have a cloud-based file sharing system in place that allows employees to access shared documents while not connected to your internal servers. SharePoint, Google Drive, Dropbox – these are all well-known and highly utilized solutions. But this is a public service announcement reminding you to actually place all your files where they need to go! We’re all guilty of it. But leaving that report on your desktop or your personal Google Drive isn’t helping your coworker one bit.
Pro tip: Create a simple naming convention that makes it easy for everyone to find what they’re looking for without wasting 20 minutes searching.
Like we said, we think it’s beneficial – and better for morale – to track productivity in terms of tasks your employees need to complete rather than specific time logged into your system. At the end of the day, it’s all about getting the job done, right? However, we understand that different industries and organizations have different needs. If you feel better having some visibility into your remote workers’ time, or if you need that for certain benefit requirements, there are a lot of software solutions that can help. Tools like Time Doctor, Toggl and RescueTime offer time tracking, keyboard monitoring, distraction blocking and more.
Pro tip: If you’re monitoring the sites your employees are visiting, give them a heads up. No one wants to be spied on and trust goes a long way during uncertain times like this pandemic.
More than just work
One of the biggest challenges, especially for your extroverts, is simply navigating the isolation of working from home. We’re social creatures by nature. Save a few minutes at the beginning or end of video conferences to catch up. Think of fun ways to keep the team united. Send out a silly movie quotes quiz and compare scores. Institute a question of the day and answer via email or chat. Have virtual lunch dates. Just check in. Remember what makes you an awesome team.
We hope this crash course was helpful! And we’re confident you can be a super savvy, highly productive remote team in no time. But, if you do have hiccups along the way, feel free to reach out with any questions.