As the coronavirus pandemic deepens, more and more businesses are having most or all of their employees work from home. While this change inevitably creates short-term disruption, maintaining a strong sense of teamwork and high productivity is still possible.
Here are six tips that business leaders need to know for managing a remote workforce.
1. Establish Clear Communication
This is first for a reason: Nothing derails a business faster than poor communication.
With in-person meetings no longer an option, it's imperative that you as the business leader make it clear from the beginning how you want your team members to communicate — with each other, vendors and clients.
Obviously, you'll need to use online communications. Chances are, you've been using some intra-office communications system anyway, whether simple email or a more specialized messaging or work-sharing platform. Be sure all team members have the latest version of the app and are fluent in its use. (Some probably used it considerably less than others at your workplace, so don't assume everyone is up to speed.)
Also, confirm that everyone who needs to access different data or documents can do so. Key team members being denied access to parts of the system can create frustration and costly delays.
2. Stay on Schedule
If your workforce observed regular hours onsite, be sure to set the expectation that they remain available during those hours while working remotely. Online notifications should be enabled to provide meeting reminders or prompts if you need to reach someone quickly. If a team member habitually fails to respond promptly enough to notifications, find out what's driving the delay, and then work together on a solution.
Many team members may now be in the position of managing child care (including homeschooling) or elder care at home while also working. Be empathetic to this situation, and encourage them to communicate if their schedule needs to adjust and when they can and cannot be online.
3. Use Videoconferencing Whenever Possible
Even if your team can't meet face to face, they can still see each other's faces via videoconference. And that can have a morale-boosting effect beyond that of a conference call or companywide email.
Again, it's important for you as the business leader to set the tone. Dress appropriately (in other words, the same way you would in the workplace), and pick a clean background. A key to good online etiquette is to test your camera and review your visual background before your meeting.
4. Set up Shared Documents and Files
It's critical to keep your team members on the same page, even if that page is no longer a sheet of paper. Research the various file-sharing apps, and select the one that best suits your team's needs. It's a good idea to get feedback from your team before making a decision.
Prior to rolling out a file-sharing platform, test it with a couple of your more tech-savvy colleagues and determine processes for file structure and document updating. Look for a tool that allows for multiple users to update content simultaneously; it's vital to avoid having four team members working on four different versions of the same file or document, for instance.
5. Establish Guidelines for Working With Clients Remotely
Thus far, all our tips have applied only to intra-company communications. Many of the same rules also apply when interacting with clients, so you should establish and convey guidelines to your team for client communications as well. This includes defining the style and tone you'd like your staff to use.
If you and your team used to interact with clients in person, videoconferencing is a great alternative. You can continue your regular meetings — just online instead of in-person. The guidelines for dress and background in Tip 3 apply to videoconferencing with clients as well.
Remember that a quick response time is still king. When the model moves from on-site to online, clients may suspect you're no longer thinking of them. Make it a point to touch base as regularly as you would have if you were visiting their location (assuming that was your prior practice).
Cloud-based collaborative tools work well for sharing information with clients. Some tools have features that will enable you to share updates and specific data with clients.
6. Institute Cross-Training
Finally, bear in mind why all these measures are necessary. In a pandemic, large numbers of people are going to become ill, some with serious enough symptoms to incapacitate them. Make sure to cross-train your team so that all key responsibilities are accounted for in case there's a staff shortage. That includes you. Have you outlined a clear succession plan should you become unable to lead the company? (This is something you should do regardless of how long this pandemic lasts.)
For your team, create what's commonly called "desktop procedures," step-by-step written and visual clips of a process. They can be shared and used when someone takes over a process from someone else. Practice by having someone unfamiliar with the process follow the steps; this will help you pinpoint where to enhance clarity and make it a better document.
Go Big and Go Home
With the potential for disruptions that could continue for months, it's crucial that you as a business leader approach working remotely as if it's business as usual.
For more remote working tips, see:
Clio's How to Work Remotely as a Lawyer: A Guide
How to Ensure Good Client Communication When Working Remotely
How to Prepare Your Business for Coronavirus (COVID-19) Impact