All of a sudden, everyone had to stay home. That’s essentially what happened for millions of workers in thousands of workplaces around the country and the world. Remote work became incredibly common as people stayed home to try and help slow the spread of Covid-19 while still remaining productive. Businesses that had centralized office spaces had to immediately, without any warning, figure out how to keep everyone connected when they were all working in different places. That meant no impromptu meetings, no quick chats with the manager or owner, and no more asking your coworker a quick question before moving on with your day.
Not only did companies have to figure out the logistics, but they also had to figure out how to make it work once everyone was connected. Productivity is a huge concern when it comes to working remotely. Would everyone stay on task when there was almost no chance of being caught by a manager? Are there too many distractions at home, like pets and children? For some people, just working in a place other than the office could be difficult to deal with. To avoid issues, businesses had to learn on the fly how to keep their teams productive even with everyone being separated. Here are some of the best tips that experts have found over the past year. If you are still struggling with the productivity of your remote team, here’s what you can do.
Keep in Touch as Best as You Can
In a normal office structure, you can check in with your team or members of your team at any time. Whether you walk over to their desks, call them in for a meeting, or dial their extension to ask a question, they are always close by. When working remotely, it isn’t always convenient to have a quick chat. It may be important to set regular meeting times when everyone can give an update on what they’re doing and ask and answer any questions. They don’t have to be long, but regular meetings will help to ensure that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goal.
As a manager in an office, you can also often see when someone is struggling, whether it be emotionally or stress-related. You won’t be able to do this remotely, so take the time to check in with each one of your team members on a one-to-one basis to see how they are doing. This can be a scheduled thing, or just give them a call during the day and ask them. There is a lot going on in the world, and stress levels are through the roof, with 70% of workers saying they are more stressed since the Covid-19 outbreak started, so a check-in will be much appreciated.
Trust Your Team
There are a lot of business managers who like to be seen by their employees. They walk by their desks, check-in on their progress, and call employees out when there’s an issue. This is not always the best strategy in normal times, and is impossible when the team is working remotely.
However, too many managers have tried to continue to work this way or by micromanaging with the tools they have. Perhaps they are sending a lot of update requests to team members, or checking in constantly to see where they are at. The thinking is that since employees are at home, they may be watching television or surfing on their phones more than they are working. Micromanaging is a bad strategy, though. In fact, the opposite is true. Giving your team autonomy and trusting them to do their jobs is the best approach, as it increases productivity.
This is because employees respond to being trusted and valued. They are more satisfied with their jobs, and they get their jobs done. You still need to have deadlines, and you still need to have goals, of course. The best thing to do is to define those deadlines and goals, and let your staff meet them in their own ways. Everyone works differently, but they will respond and meet those standards if you let them be.
Never forget that working remotely is about more than just having a desk at home to work from. There are extra distractions, such as family, children, pets, and even the home phone ringing off the hook. This can be stressful enough, and a boss breathing down the neck will only up those stress factors. If a remote worker has to adjust their schedule to meet clearly defined deadlines, that’s okay.
Remote Team Building
Team building has long been a staple of a traditional office work environment. It can take many forms, as scheduled outings as a group, theme days, birthday parties, and even group games that help to build trust and help everyone bond as a team. Team building is effective because it helps with communication and cohesiveness, improves morale, and even helps teams be more productive. The bottom line is that keeping your team engaged with each other and with your business will make you more money.
The problem is that many of the team-building techniques mentioned above can’t happen in a remote work environment, or are at least tricky to do. You can modify some of them, however. For birthdays, you can arrange to have cupcakes sent to the homes of your team, or drop them off yourself, and have a meeting to share them. You can do something similar with team meals.
Online games are another way to keep your team cohesive and working together. You can do something as simple as having each team member send in a photo of themselves as a baby, and having everyone try to guess who it is. You can also get your team to sign up for online multiplayer games and practice working together and against each other to win prizes. If you have people on staff who may not be interested in competing directly, there’s always the option of seeing if they will play one-person games, such as Solitaired or Tetris, and compete for high scores and special prizes.
Make Sure You Have the Right Tools
When the outbreak first started closing businesses in the U.S., you may have had to scramble to get people set up to work remotely. Many businesses figured things out as they went along using makeshift methods to keep in touch and stay productive. However, after so much time has passed, there’s no reason not to use the best possible tools for your team.
Make sure that you are investing in what you need to make sure your team can effectively communicate, manage projects, and share documents. This might mean investing in one of the many work-sharing tools out there, such as Trello, Asana, and Slack. If your team is not comfortable working with these tools, then offer training and coaching. It is a new business world, and it is not unreasonable to expect your team to understand this technology.
Sharing documents has never been easier, and you can do it for no cost if you choose. You can have everyone on your staff sign up for a Google account and share documents through Google Drive. You can even create a Google Suite business account, which provides access to Google Hangouts for chatting and video conferencing, and increased tools to make remote working easier.
The key is that the tools you choose to use have to make sense for your team. If something isn’t working, then do not be afraid to switch things up. There is no point in continuing using a product that’s a poor fit since your productivity will suffer. Take the hit and make the change, and your business will be better off for it.
While you certainly want to provide autonomy and flexibility, that does not mean that you shouldn’t offer some semblance of structure as well. Structure, even if it is looser than it would be in a traditional workplace environment, is key to keeping your team on task and productive.
Start out by identifying, as a team, what your goals are. Both long-term and short-term goals should be cumulative and need to be defined and communicated to the entire team. This will give them the direction and focus necessary to push forward. For some teams, it might be valuable to provide daily or weekly to-do lists. You have a bird’s eye view of everything, so you can set those deadlines to make sure that certain tasks are completed on time to move forward.
You can also help your team with carving out a place to work at their homes. If there is equipment or furniture they need, then make sure that you provide them. Having a defined workspace will help them focus during work time. Lying on the couch with a laptop may only encourage them to do the things they normally do on the couch.
Remote working is absolutely a challenge for any business. However, it can work and is easier than ever with the technology we now have at our disposal. So many workplaces have gone remote since last year when the outbreak first reared its ugly head and the ones that thrived made sure to have the tools and techniques in place to help their teams succeed. If you are still finding that your team is struggling with remote working, give some of these tips a try to help get back on track.