Best Practices for Remote Workforce Management & Strategy
Driven by Coronavirus (COVID-19), the dynamics of doing business are shifting at hyperspeed and it’s forcing companies around the world to rethink how they get work done. For many, this includes a quick pivot to remote work—a strategy that can help keep businesses on track regardless of what’s happening on the ground.
Even if your company has already ditched the 9-to-5, it may not be ready to go fully remote. Many companies are beginning to face this challenge as Coronavirus escalates around the world:
- How do you maintain communication and a sense of connection?
- How do you support workers feeling isolated and excluded?
- How do you choose technology that helps, rather than hinders, collaboration and innovation?
- How do you keep business moving forward?
From strategic insights to day-to-day tips, here’s an overview to help your team adapt to remote work as quickly as possible.
5 questions your remote workforce strategy should address
Adopting a remote-first perspective means looking at every aspect of your business with the assumption that anyone may be remote at any time—whether it’s an employee caring for a family member or an independent professional whose skills are leveraged on an interim basis. In today’s environment, you don’t have the luxury of anything less.
1. Who does your remote work policy apply to?
Some types of work are better suited for distributed teams than others. As you craft a strategy, consider exceptions and guidance that can be provided in such situations. For example, you may need to:
- Adjust team or organizational priorities for the quarter
- Include protocols for anyone who may need access to the office in case of a shutdown
- Purchase new equipment to keep projects on track
2. How should managers set goals and expectations?
Remote work may mean a shift in how you measure performance. In an office, it’s easy to conflate time spent at work with results. However, when teams are distributed, value is largely driven by performance vs. face time.
A Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) puts the focus on what someone does, not how/when/where they do it. This empowers workers to get things done on their own terms, but it also encourages accountability: failure to deliver puts their value to the organization into question.
3. How will data be protected?
Workers need access to information in order to get things done and maintain workflows. But how do you protect your organization’s data when you have a tight timeline to get a solution in place?
First, remember that all data isn’t equal: Prioritize what’s needed now. Then rank the information by security level. It will typically fall within one of five categories: sensitive, confidential, private, proprietary, or public.
Once you’ve mapped out your data requirements, the systems that are already in place, and any critical data, consider security measures that can be implemented quickly—such as a virtual private network (VPN)—as well as longer term.
4. Do workers have the tools and space needed to get things done?
From a practical point of view, your employees may not be equipped to effectively work from home. Here are a few questions to consider:
Do employees who need a computer have access to one? There are several different ways to set workers up but for a more immediate solution, consider these ideas:
- Put a policy in place to cover the use of personal devices for work—particularly to establish expectations around safety and security.
- Equip teams with laptops or mobile devices at work, or make equipment available to loan.
Do employees have a place to work? Workers may not have access to an ideal workspace outside of the office—particularly if they’re frequently in meetings or on the phone. Encourage managers to find creative solutions for their teams, such as flexible work schedules, alternate workspaces, or adjusted priorities for the quarter.
5. How will distributed teams stay in touch?
Effective collaboration for a team that’s spread across multiple locations hinges on good communication. As an immediate solution:
- Identify how teams will stay connected and set expectations. A sudden shift to asynchronous communication can be jarring for anyone who’s used to real-time interactions. How will they get the information they need when they need it? Set expectations to help keep responses timely and predictable.
- Create opportunities to connect. Find ways for your organization to stay connected, share experiences, and celebrate even small wins. For example, Upwork hosts “All Hands” video conferences for important announcements and regular updates; these can be recorded and shared later for anyone unable to join in real time.
- Pay attention to team communication channels and stay engaged. At the best of times, good communication means clarifying and adjusting messages as needed to avoid misunderstandings. In a dynamic situation, it’s even more important for managers to answer questions, correct rumours, and listen.
Choose tools that are easy-to-access and reliable with a minimal learning curve. For the short term, platforms such as WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook, Zoom, and Google Hangouts, are widely used. For the longer term, using one full-featured platform across your organization, such as Slack or G Suite, might be a better option.
And encourage teams to avoid putting things off until they’re “back in the office.” Timelines are unpredictable so adapting to new circumstances, whatever they are, is essential to meet objectives.
How to manage your team from a distance
When team dynamics are forced to adjust on the fly, mistakes are inevitable. Be patient with yourself and your team. In order to succeed, distributed teams need trust: Trust that each person knows how to do the work, that they’re accountable to each other, and that they’re doing their best in uncertain circumstances. Consider these tips to help support your team as you all move forward:
- Be available. Communication is pivotal to your team’s success—and that includes creating space if someone needs to talk. Sometimes, people just need to feel heard, whether they have a conflict with a colleague, struggle with working on their own, or are anxious about news in their community.
- Create a sense of community. Working from home can be isolating—something that can impact wellbeing as well as productivity. Find ways for your team to stay connected on a regular basis. A daily “coffee break” can give everyone a chance to catch up and talk about their day. A weekly team meeting can help everyone share successes and stay in the loop.
- Use video calls to keep your team engaged. Meetings have different dynamics when you aren’t sitting around the same table. Circulate an agenda ahead of time so your team can be prepared, and call on each person so everyone has a chance to speak. Pause frequently so there’s room for questions that may come up.
- Err on the side of overcommunication. Particularly while everyone adjusts to new working arrangements, share frequently—whether it’s updates from the executive team or a progress report on current projects.
- Set clear expectations, roles, and responsibilities. Reduce duplicated efforts and cross-communication by defining individual roles and responsibilities. For example, you might be the only one with remote access to sensitive customer information; another person may liaise with IT to troubleshoot tech problems.
- From HBR: Getting Virtual Teams Right
- From HR Technologist: 6 Tips to Simplify Life as a Remote Team Manager
- From Upwork: Managing a Remote Team Effectively
Tips to adjust to working from home
Working from home has its benefits, but it isn’t all smooth sailing and people often struggle with the transition. Consider these ideas to help you get started.
- Create a workspace. Ideally, try to carve out a dedicated space where you can focus and get things done. But that may not be an option—and going to a nearby coffee shop, library, or coworking space may also be off the table. Finding a solution might take some creativity. For example, you could create a work schedule with others who share your space, plan to work while your kids are asleep, or invest in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
- Create a schedule. Even if you don’t follow your usual schedule, it helps to keep some routine in your life, such as waking up at the same time every day, planning a lunch break, and making time to stay in touch with other people.
- Stay professional. Leaning into video calls, such as Google Hangouts, can be an important way to keep face-to-face interactions in your day. So be prepared: dress appropriately and do your best to minimize background noise (or mute yourself when you aren’t speaking).
- Take a breather. Since you don’t need to commute, take advantage of the extra time to stay healthy! Catch up on sleep, build exercise into your day, or cook healthy meals from scratch.
- Socialize (safely). Working from home can be lonely so find ways to be proactive about staying social. Make connecting with your team a priority, even if it’s just five minutes to see how they’re doing. Don’t hesitate to jump into a video call—it’s more personal than IMs. Pair up with a “productivity buddy” to stay focused. And if you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Make an effort to get ready for the day as you would if you were to go into the office. It’s important to continue the face-to-face interaction as it can help increase productivity, so be prepared to utilize Google Hangouts for any meetings you may have. Circle around an agenda prior to the meeting so your team is prepared and ready to discuss the meeting topics. It’s important for the meeting leaders to guide these calls more carefully than they would an in person meeting. Be sure to pause for any questions somewhat frequently. During “roll call” type questions, call out on each employee in an effort to not talk over one another and avoid awkward pauses. We get that there may be some noise distractions while working remotely – a barking dog, roommates blasting music, building construction, etc – be sure to mute yourself while you are not talking in an effort to not take away from the conversation.
Change in the midst of a crisis is never easy—especially one like Coronavirus, which hits as hard at global markets as it does at life around our kitchen tables. But you can use strategies to respond effectively and continue to deliver against your business goals.