How to switch your business and its processes to remote (step-by-step)
A month ago, no one heard of social distancing. Now, at the time of writing, I’m only allowed to leave the house when absolutely necessary. In the middle of this craziness, all of us are trying to adjust to this new ‘normal’ we find ourselves in.
For millions of people, that’s meant transitioning overnight from working in an office with all their colleagues to working from their homes on their own. As many are finding out, that can be a lot harder than just taking a company laptop home.
At Reply, we’ve been fortunate in that we were already a fully remote company, meaning there’s been very little impact on our workflow. However, having spoken to our customers, we know that many are finding the change hard.
Our hope is that we can share our experiences of how we originally overcame the challenge of running a remote business, and help you—as both employers and employees—do the same.
As an employer
If you’ve had to quickly implement a remote work policy, there’s a lot of pressure to get things running as soon as possible. However, there’s a lot more to remote work than just work. Here’s our step-by-step guide for setting your team up for success.
Establish communication channels
One of the biggest challenges when switching to remote work is communication. In a traditional office environment, it’s easy to talk with all your team and make sure they’re on the same page. Without that face-to-face contact, it can be easy for instructions to get muddled, points missed, and mistakes made.
To keep the communication running smoothly, don’t rely on phone calls and email to keep in touch. Instead, put a dedicated communication platform in place. There are plenty of options out there that’ll help you communicate effectively, enabling you to keep track of conversation threads, share files, and reply with that gif that perfectly sums up how you’re feeling. Many remote companies are using dedicated small business phone systems for seamless communication along with other communication tools. Good platforms to check out include:
Hold your meetings face-to-face
While the above options are great for quick messages and keeping track of what’s going on, most companies are going to need more. You need a way to hold effective meetings.
Many of you may have cursed the daily/weekly meetings in your office, viewing them more as a waste of time than anything productive. However, for remote teams, regular meetings are invaluable to keep the team synchronized and moving in the same direction.
The best option is to use a video conferencing solution. You’ve probably heard that most communication is non-verbal; it’s not just what you say, but how you say it. Video conferencing software helps by allowing all your team to see each other’s faces and hear each other’s voices on a regular basis, making that communication much more effective.
Consider implementing gamification
There seems to be this idea that work has to be something you endure. If you’re enjoying your job, you’re clearly not working hard enough. I think that’s rubbish, whether you’re working in an office or from home. In fact, with all the challenges that go along with remote work, motivating your employees and helping them enjoy their work is even more important.
One of my favorite ways to motivate teams in a positive way is gamification—applying elements of gaming to your work. So for example, you might assign points for positive actions, have a leaderboard showing who’s made the most sales, or ‘unlock achievements’ for top performers.
What’s the point? Shouldn’t employees just do the job they’re paid to do? Maybe, but gamification can help them do a better job, and add an element of fun to difficult tasks. Tying points and achievements (and even rewards) to certain actions can encourage people to do more of the work that matters, while leaderboards can add an element of friendly competition.
Create a knowledge base for your company
When you work in an office, you can get away with ‘unwritten’ rules. Whether it’s the correct way to file your work or where you should park your car, plenty of company policies and procedures are passed on verbally. Even if there is a company manual, in my experience it’s usually an old dusty file that only appears on day one of the job, before being returned to storage. All the real information is passed on verbally: “Oh, that’s not how we do that. Let me show you the right way.”
You might be tempted to rely on the communication methods you’ve already put in place (see above), but that’s not an ideal situation. Even with Slack and Zoom at the ready, you don’t want messages pinging back and forth every time someone forgets a procedure. Even worse, they may not ask, leaving you to sort the mess out afterward.
We’ve found the best solution is to have an official knowledge base for the company, with all the details for all the tasks anyone might have to do. Not only does it provide any guidance your team needs, but it’s also an excellent opportunity to review your procedures and make sure they’re still effective.
Even with all these methods of communication and regular team meetings in place, it’s easy for employees to feel isolated from the other departments in your company. If you’re not careful, this can lead to feelings of division between each department, severely hurting your effectiveness.
One way to prevent this is to ask your team managers from all departments (such as the CEO, COO, VP of Sales, Head of Support, Head of Customer Success, Head of Marketing, CTO, etc.) to write up a report every week with what their team has been working on over the last week.
This doesn’t have to be a long, complex report filled with boring graphs and KPI results. It could be a simple one-page overview of what they accomplished, cool updates, and awesome news, etc. This isn’t to impress investors or measure performance, it’s to keep all the separate teams positive and united. This way the whole company will know what's going on within other departments, celebrating each other’s wins and enjoying a sense of shared purpose.
As an employee
While it’s undoubtedly a massive challenge to transition a business and all its processes to remote-only, it can be just as difficult on an individual level. As creatures of habit and routine, this upheaval can leave many of us struggling. Here are some of the ways our team has switched to remote work and stayed happy and productive.
Manage your time wisely
Work/life balance has been a popular topic for a long time, but when you’re working from home that balance can be a lot harder. A lot of the following steps help restore that balance, but it all starts with managing your time appropriately. If you find yourself getting to the end of the day and not knowing where that time went, consider using a work time calculator.
More importantly, keep a divide between work time and home time. If you find yourself working in front of the TV, you’ll likely find your brain struggles to either work or relax, meaning you get the worst of both worlds.
Have different spaces for sleep, work, and play
Continuing our theme of work/life balance, it’s important to physically separate your work from the other areas of your home life. I’ve known of people who’ve tried working from their actual bed, but it typically ends badly. People spend their work time wishing they were asleep, then staring at the ceiling at 2 am going over the latest work problem. It has become the major cause behind the unhealthy sleep routines of remote workers, resulting in making them less productive.
The best solution is having a completely separate room where you go to work, a place where nothing else happens and with no distractions. Many find the act of keeping the office door shut while they work further helps create that clear divide between work and play, both for you and anyone else you share your home with.
If it’s not possible (or practical) to have your own separate room, it’s important to still make sure there’s a clear physical distinction between where you work and everywhere else. That might mean having a small corner of a room, a specific desk, or even a different computer set aside for work.
Have different clothes for work and home time
One of the joys of working from home is you get to decide the dress code. No more uncomfortable outfits, hooray! In fact, most people go celebrate this by spending the first week or so working in their pajamas.
As amazing as that sounds, in practice it leads to confusion and lack of productivity, for the same reasons we recommend not working from bed. Without the clues from the office that it’s time to work, we need to make sure there are other clues at home.
Having a work outfit can help you mentally shift into work mode. It doesn’t have to be a suit and tie or designer dress (although it can be), but it should be different from your loungewear. Save the sweatpants and hoodie for when you clock off.
Always have a plan
I was amazed when I read how little productive work the average office-worker actually did in a day—2 hours and 23 minutes. Even in the office environment, people were more likely to be distracted by news websites and social media than to be doing their job. If workers are that distracted in the office, imagine how easy it is to get distracted at home.
To fight these distractions, you need a good plan. If your to-do list just says ‘work,’ it won’t take much to knock you off course. Instead, you need to plan out exactly what you’re going to do with your day and week.
It’s important to be reasonable and realistic when you’re writing up your plan though. It’s way too easy to fill that to-do list, underestimating how long each task will take, until you’re overwhelmed and burnt out trying to get everything done.
Add some meditation to your day
Now, I know this might sound a bit ‘woo-woo’ to some of you, but seriously, meditation helps! Changing your work processes (not to mention watching the news) can be stressful enough. Whether you're a believer or not, the facts are clear: meditation is good for your brain.
Meditation has been shown to decrease stress, depression, anxiety, pain, and insomnia, as well as increase quality of life. Even if you don’t have time to spend hours every day meditating and mindfulness, a little bit done regularly can have a significant positive effect. Make it a habit and enjoy the benefits.
Make time for work and play
If there’s one thing I learned from The Shining, it’s that all work and no play is a very bad thing.
No one wants to be a ‘dull boy’, so remember to relax and unwind. Take regular breaks.
Make time in your schedule for things that you enjoy or relaxing activities when you’re off the clock: listening to or playing music, exercising, playing video games, reading, bingeing on Netflix, perfecting your karaoke, taking French lessons—whatever you want.
Just make sure it’s something you love doing and makes you happier
Establish your work rituals
We’ve already mentioned the importance of mentally preparing your brain for work, both by where you work and what you wear. However, it shouldn’t stop there. Going to work usually means more than just going to the office in the right outfit. It might mean stopping by your favorite coffee spot, picking up a newspaper, or listening to a podcast on your commute.
Since you don't actually ‘go to work’ anymore, it's incredibly helpful to have a daily ritual that helps you switch to work mode, rather than just throwing open your laptop and waiting for work to magically happen.
For me, it's making my hair into a ponytail and drinking a nice cup of herbal tea. Other people I know enjoy listening to a particular piece of music or doing a round of squats. Have fun, experiment, and see what works best for you.
Go easy on the stimulants
When you’re bleary-eyed and trying to hit deadlines, it’s an easy fix to reach for a dose of the world’s most popular drug, caffeine. However, while that cup of coffee or can of Red Bull may be great for a short-term energy boost, but will likely lead to slump later on.
There can also be worse effects in the long-term. In the most extreme cases, too much caffeine can kill you (although that’s incredibly rare). In any case, carefully consider what stimulants you use, and weigh up the pros and cons before you rely on any—legal or otherwise.
While we’re currently being instructed to practice social distancing and more people are having to self-isolate, this doesn’t mean you have to cut yourself off from everyone. Now, I’m definitely not encouraging anyone to ignore the advice we’re receiving. #stayhome.
However, more than ever, it’s important to look after our mental health and keep communication open.
Even before Covid-19 came along, working from home could be a lonely experience. If you can't talk to someone in person, pick up the phone and talk to a friend. Go through your online contacts and start a chat. If there’s no one around to talk to, why not try one of the many online communities around? There are even online bars you can go to now.
Even while we can’t go out, there’s no reason to feel that you’re dealing with this on your own.
Transitioning from a traditional office to a fully remote team is a challenge, for both employers and employees, even at the best of times.
However, you can make it easier by following some simple steps. When employers ensure there’s sufficient communication and when employees manage their work and life balance properly, it’s possible to enjoy the advantages of remote work.
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