When EMyth went fully remote last year, we had the benefit of time to support our transition—time to research, develop and implement an action plan so we could be as successful a remote team as we were an on-site team. In this current moment of the coronavirus crisis, when remote working has become at least recommended if not mandatory, your business might not have that same luxury. That’s why we wanted to share our learnings and takeaways to help your company fast-track a transition. By focusing on these two practical factors for setting up a remote team, you can foster a smooth shift that will keep your business going and your employees engaged.
Get your tech in place
The choice to go partially or fully remote is still a question for some business owners, but in either case, the call for social distancing will require some degree of video conferencing as we eliminate cozy conference meetings. So, with that in mind, here’s how to quickly implement an effective video conferencing strategy.
Set a 2-day rollout goal
Get together with your IT team—or tech-savvy members of your team—and make some choices. What services will you use for video conferencing, task management and calendaring? (Keep reading for our suggestions.) What equipment will each team member need to work remotely? Who on the team can triage tech support needs? With this action plan, you can easily assign setup, training and rollout responsibilities.
Establish your communication sources
Set up a video conferencing plan
Choose what video conferencing system you’ll use. The current market leaders are Zoom (limited free plan with subscription upgrades), Google Hangouts (free) and Bluejeans (subscription with a 30-day free trial). Create your account and set up login credentials for every member of your team.
Create a shared calendar system
Your business may already use a cloud-based calendar system, but if you don’t, get one set up ASAP. Google Calendar and Outlook are both easy-to-use options that will help your team share their availability.
Choose a communication platform
The key to a successful remote team is re-creating how you would do business on-site. People need a way to connect easily and get answers fast. Email won’t always fill this gap, so think about a good messaging platform that fits your team’s needs and how you like to work together. We use Slack, but here are some other options.
Link your systems
For a cohesive company experience, you’ll want to integrate your shared calendar and messaging platforms. For example, we’ve integrated Zoom with our Google Calendars so we can create meeting invites with unique Zoom meeting links embedded inside that allow teammates to join meetings directly from their calendars. If you’re just going remote for a one-time event—like an annual company meeting—you don’t necessarily need to worry about this. But if you’re taking your whole company remote, make sure to confirm your systems are compatible and can integrate. (Most of them will also have a mobile app that adds even more flexibility.)
Make sure all employees have high-speed internet
Most of your people will already have in-home internet, but they’ll need a plan with enough data to support video conferencing. Since you’re requiring them to take on a business expense, set up a monthly reimbursement amount—say up to $80—to cover it, and ask that they upgrade quickly, since there’s usually a wait time with internet providers. If their connection still isn’t stable enough, have them directly connect with an ethernet cable—this is really important when you’re trying to support video.
Note: To protect your company data and information, discourage your team from using public internet unless they use a password-protected private internet provider or a VPN.
Provide the necessary equipment
At a minimum, each employee is going to need a computer, headphones and possibly a camera. Many people will already have their own headphones they can use in a pinch, but if you have team members whose roles are primarily customer facing, you may want to invest in some good headsets that block out surrounding noise and are comfortable to wear for long periods of time. We use these at EMyth.
Offer training and support
Some of your staff may not know how to use technology, so expect that—and get ahead of it.
Select a strong and willing leader to manage the rollout
Elect someone with the tech and communication skills to create usable resource guides and provide a team training on each system. Have them create easy-to-use instruction guides for setting up your new systems. Most of these services have detailed set up/troubleshooting instructions in their help centers that you can use as a starting place.
Set up a buddy system.
Ask your tech-savvy staff to educate nontechnical people. Partner your new “IT Support Staff” with team members who need coaching.
Develop an internal messaging line for support
Create a specific channel for tech support in whatever communication platform you use and designate a point person or group to manage it. (Slack, for example, allows you to have multiple channels for different teams or topics. We have one specifically for support questions.)
Launch a test call
After your setup and training period, schedule an all-hands video conference. You’ll be able to see in real time who’s on and who’s not, and who’s having tech issues. This will help you figure out who may need some one-on-one help.
To make sure your team feels clear and secure with the new tech, start with extra IT support until everyone is mobile.
Have a backup support plan
If there’s anything we’re learning in this moment of fast and unexpected change, it’s to have a backup tool available. If you can't find or hire someone to provide in-house support or fill the IT role full time through the rollout and beyond, you can contract a managed service provider (MSP) to fill that role. Since an MSP has a whole company dedicated to IT support, they can be a more impactful, financially viable option.
Offer guidelines for a productive home work environment
You want your team to be productive and focused—not distracted by what may be happening around them at home. And even though we’re in a disruptive time, that’s still entirely possible. According to a recent study, “85% of businesses confirm that productivity has increased in their business” because of the greater flexibility that comes from remote work. So help your employees design a space that they feel good in. Their space should aim to meet these standards:
Be set apart (as much as possible)
In a period of stability, having a good at-home office is about ergonomics and setting boundaries, where you have a comfortable, closed-door space with equipment that’s suited to how you work. But in this moment—when people are quickly trying to manage unexpected change—this kind of space is a huge challenge. Maybe you have a situation where both parents are working from home and kids are out of school for an indefinite period, and you’ve created a makeshift office in your basement storage room or garage to create some sense of separation. Do what you can with what you have.
Signal that you’re working
Try to set some visual cues that tell the other people in their household: I’m unavailable at the moment. This could be, “When the garage door’s closed, I’m working and can’t be interrupted,” or, “When I’m wearing headphones, that means I’m on a call and can’t talk, but I’ll help you when I’m finished.”
Support a clear line between work and life
Ideally, your home office is a space that doesn’t interfere with the normal activity in your home—and can be put out of sight and out of mind at the end of the day. This prevents burnout from being “always on." Again, this is challenging when you’re trying to quickly fit a workspace into your home. It's best to set whatever boundaries you can and commit to walking away from work when your day is over. Sometimes the biggest challenge of working from home is not being distracted, but unplugging.
If you’re looking for more in-depth reading on how to make this shift successful, some of my favorites books on the subject have been “Work Together Anywhere” by Lisette Sutherland and K. Janene-Nelson and "Remote: Office Not Required" by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.
Best of luck managing the practical steps of shifting to a remote workplace. As we move through this period of change, we’ll all encounter our own unique challenges and come up with some exceptional life hacks. If you have any tips, ideas or stories to share, I’d love to see them in the comments section below.