Working from home: 5 key considerations for enabling remote teams
During these volatile times, most organizations have been faced with enabling their employees to work from home. Social distancing and mandatory office closures have made companies scramble to figure out how to make working remote work for them. Having worked with a small team spread out globally for the past few years, which requires primarily working remotely, I have found there are a handful of important considerations to effectively work outside the office. Here are 5 key areas to consider in this transition from working in the office to working from home.
1. Leveraging automation
Not all business processes require a person in a chair to execute them every time they need to be run. Automating tasks frees up team member time and effort that can be used on other important business processes that do require human interaction. Many system-related tasks can be automated using functionality that you already own or features for which you are already paying. Key to successfully implementing automation is to identify what processes can be automated and research whether you can use existing tools to do so or decide if new tools should be explored. Reach out to your team members to see what ideas they have for automating processes for which they are responsible.
2. Using defined tasks and responsibilities
Task- and assignment-based responsibilities, rather than hours-in-the-seat expectations, are much more conducive to effective remote work. I’m not referring to micromanagement; this is about unambiguous communication of duties. Do your employees have clear responsibilities and job descriptions? Without the 8-hour, in office workday, do your employees know what is expected of them so they can continue to provide value to the organization? Have measurable tasks and assignments been given to team members? Are they clearly articulated and have you made sure to avoid “busy work”? All assigned work should be essential to the business, and your team should not only know what is expected of them, but they should also know why it's important. Provide feedback to your employees on their work, check up on their progress and give them a platform on which to ask questions and become better educated on the organization’s processes.
3. Addressing bandwidth limitations
Both at the office and at home, limitations of internet speed and bandwidth can hurt your team members’ ability to provide valuable work from outside the office. Not all employees have ready access to high speed internet. Explore what your organization can do to help provide that access or help offset employee costs for the service. Is your network ready to handle the incoming traffic of near 100% remote access? Does your organization have enough support staff to handle the potential ticket volumes when more people begin to work remotely? Now is a great time to update your documentation on how to connect to your VPN and validate that your security processes are sufficient as well.
4. Using clearly defined workflow and business processes
It is important to have clearly defined, and understood, business process flows. People need to know from whom to request approvals and which teams are responsible for each process in which they are involved. Educate team members on the process. In an office environment people could easily walk around and find the right approver, developer, or functional expert. In a remote environment, searching for the right resource can waste valuable time and negatively impact the team’s overall performance. In addition to training individuals on essential business processes and process owners, it can be helpful to set up a virtual message board or forum. Use a team messaging tool that is visible to everyone. Such a forum will allow team members to post questions or reach out for help and advice, and in turn others can provide guidance and support.
5. Supporting the social health of your team
While it makes sense to give priority to business processes and efficiency when considering remote work, team members also need social interaction to feel a connection to each other and to the organization as a whole. In an office setting these interactions happen organically throughout the business day. Unfortunately, even some of the most experienced remote workers find it difficult to connect on a personal level with other team members outside of an office setting. This can lead to them losing a personal association with the organization and they can begin to feel disconnected. Schedule virtual social gatherings that aren’t work-related, so teams can socialize and discuss things they would have normally talked about in the break room or around the water cooler. Encourage virtual interaction among team members and management across the organization. Encourage other social interaction too, like online gaming, fantasy sports, social media watch parties. Activities like this can help your team members develop personal connections with each other as well as give them a stronger bond to the organization.
As companies adapt to these dynamic times, accommodating work from home will likely become a long-term trend. It is important for businesses to prepare for employees to work primarily away from the office. Addressing these key areas within your organization will help you, as they have helped me, to more efficiently support remote teams who in return can better support the business.