Many companies were afraid to let their employees work remotely. And probably they would never have accepted this type of work, but due to the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, they were often forced to switch from the office to home-office. But in some cases, that fear hasn’t gone away.
We all want to believe that coronavirus will disappear and everything will go back to normal. But we have to admit that the pandemic has changed the world forever. In fact, even if COVID-19 never showed up, all analyses show that more and more people want to be a remote worker.
From an OWL Labs article “State of Remote Work 2019” (so before COVID-19) we get the information that:
- 83% of survey respondents agree that the ability to work remotely would make them happier
- 81% of survey respondents agree that the ability to work remotely would make them more likely to recommend their company to a friend
- 71% of them checked that the possibility of remote work would make them more likely to choose one employer over another in their next job
What is also essential is that, in the last decade, the number of people working remotely has nearly quadrupled, as we can read in this GetApp article.
Fortunately, at Tooploox, working remotely is nothing new, and so the pandemic wasn’t so hard for us because of that. We are always delighted to share our knowledge and experience, so if you are still afraid of managing remote workers, just read a few of our tips for managing a remote team.
How to manage remote employees and be up to date and on the same page with all team members
Managers are often afraid that if the whole team doesn’t work in the same building, the project will fail. This is simply not true. All you need is a calendar, a tool for video calls, and a plan. Essentially, you only need to create an online space to imitate the shared workspace.
First of all, it’s crucial to keep all tasks for each team member in one place. A lot of management tools can help you with that: Trello, Asana, Redmine, or even Google Sheets, if you want. To avoid chaos, create a guide of how to name tasks, how to describe them, what materials should be added, etc.
Thanks to this, everyone will be well informed about what the other team members are doing, if anyone needs help, what the deadlines are, and what the next steps are. It is also very important to choose tools with which all team members can work simultaneously, like Google docs, instead of documents in Word sent via email. This is because if anyone wants to add something, the number of materials for one single task will grow enormous and the chaos will spread faster than COVID-19. Better to keep it all in one place.
If a team works in a company where the working hours are flexible, it is extremely important to share info with coworkers about starting hours and the end of work, as well as any possible breaks. For scheduling it, you can use a calendar or inform the team of changes on a team chat platform e.g., Slack, Google Hangouts, or others. More about this by Iza Piotrowska – Project Owner at Tooploox – in her article about how to be a remote employee and remote team manager.
The easiest way to stay up to date is simply to meet and talk. The decision about how often these meetings should take place is up to how often team members change their tasks or update them. If most of the team members say “no update” on the team daily meetings, it is clear information you don’t need meetings so often, and it is ok to have meetings weekly.
But it is not enough to just schedule meetings. They will be useful only when team members will see the sense in them and will stay focused.
Effective management of remote teams during meetings
It’s not a secret that we are less focused during online meetings than those in the office, especially if it is not our only meeting that day. That is why it is essential to know how to be a facilitator of these kinds of meetings. Here are a few guidelines:
- Stick to an agenda and distinctly go through each item. You can ask for regular updates on if everyone understands which part of the meeting you are in.
- Use visualization tools (e.g., presentations, Miro board, Mindmesiter)
- Keep timeboxes (you can use a timer)
- If chaos creeps in or things get too messy, you can ask participants to write their comments down on slack or in a chat
- Ask participants to not hesitate to admit that they are distracted or if they don’t understand something
- Turn off notifications (slack, emails, etc.) and ask all participants to do so
- Enter the rule “only one person speaks.” At Tooploox we put a “.” in the chat when we want to say something
- Ask participants to mute themselves when they’re not talking
A good atmosphere in the remote workplace and how to support remote employees
But meetings have another significant advantage besides keeping everyone up to date. Thanks to them, work can be more human, and team members can grow closer to each other. Fortunately, more and more managers understand how a pleasant atmosphere in the workplace is important and how big of an impact it has on the success of their projects.
Why is that? Employees in the IT industry are not factory workers. Often they don’t just work from 9 to 5 and then don’t think about their work afterwards.
They need more – to feel the sense of their work, to see they are creating something, and simply to feel good. To accomplish all of this, team members must know they can trust and talk to each other. When you like your coworkers, you are more open to listening to their problems in projects and to want to help; when something goes wrong, you try to solve it, rather than starting an argument, and just feel you are a part of a group with one, unified goal.
As we read at Business News Daily – 70% of respondents said maintaining relationships with their coworkers was just as important as their jobs. This is crucial information, for a very simple reason – if you have a good employee, you don’t want to lose him or her, and people don’t want to change their work if they feel good, which being close to other coworkers can provide.
At Tooploox, we put the atmosphere at work at the very top of priorities, especially when the whole company went remote due to the pandemic. If you want to know more about things we do to keep employees close to each other, you can read our article about online social interactions at work.
Trust your employees and build trust
In the end, we should overthrow every manager’s biggest fear – that when people start working remotely, their productivity will fall. Fortunately, the pandemic shows us this thesis is entirely wrong. In June, the New York Times published an article with the title “Are Companies More Productive in a Pandemic?”
And yes, companies are more productive in a pandemic, because the employees are more productive when they work remotely. In the article, we can read about a lot of examples, and Cisco, Microsoft, or Deutsche Bank are just a few of them.
So, our advice is just to trust your employees. Don’t give them extra work like writing tons of reports, don’t force them to tell you about every small activity. Just be a human, and they will be human as well – and humans need to work, to develop themselves, and to create.