Remote Workforce

Have you done a health check on your remote workforce?

April 2, 2020
Thought

Whether you're using preexisting procedures or you've tried to introduce new ones, people have probably already adapted the process to their own purposes. That's okay. It happens when people are in the same office, too. Now, more than ever, it is important to know where information is and provide access to that information.

We believe the way the people in your organization work directly impacts culture and your capability to deliver value. As you have shifted to a remote workforce, your capacity to deliver value may have shifted as well. Our health check is built around maintaining productivity toward your business goals to preserve your organization's culture.

You better check yourself before you wreck yourself - or your culture.

Check 1: Is your information centralized?

So you've changed up some communication methods recently. You've started using Slack or Microsoft Teams for coordination, and you might still be using remote desktops to access shared drives. Add to these the emails, texts, and instant messages across other platforms and you've likely got a lot of places where organizational data is flowing. Centralized information is critical to productivity, collaboration, oversight, and continuity.

Tips:

  • Check in with each team of your remote workforce to see how they are handling the data for their functional area.
  • Don't force the entire organization to follow the same end-to-end procedure.
  • Use extensions in your email client to send documents to task managers - ClickUp and Asana allow users to create tasks right from email and can copy the email and attachments
  • Share links to documents instead of sending attachments
  • Don't forget version history in your document manager! You don't want your work overwritten unintentionally by colleagues.

A remote workforce could exacerbate the risk of losing access to information if someone gets sick or quits. Try not to micromanage compliance, but make sure you're covered (See Check 5). Allow people to work the way they are comfortable, but keep checking in to see if there are new ways of working that could be shared with others.

Check 2: What are your most effective channels of communication?

As your teams have adjusted to new ways of communicating, the channels have shifted. Get a pulse on how teams make business critical decisions so you can improve the communication across those channels. Keep in mind that flow of communication from leadership and managers may overwhelm employees, or worse, provide mixed messages.

Tips:

  • Adjust workflows for any approval processes to make use of new communication channels.
  • Establish guidelines for communicating sensitive business information.
  • Integrate your team's communication tools with those of your clients, partners, and contractors. Mio integrates chat between Slack and Microsoft Teams, allowing collaboration regardless of the platform.

Communication channels will continue to evolve as new tools are created for the remote workforce. Adjust corporate policies to allow for flexibility. Don't forget to let teams provide input for communication improvements.

Check 3: How are you encouraging team-building?

Don't veer too far from the path! To maintain the culture of your organization, people should still interact in similar ways. This means that people should find ways to replicate sitting next to each other in the office. Remember that the relationships between employees are an important component of your organization's culture, so it's okay to encourage some idle chatter.

Tips:

  • Use video calls as much as possible.
  • Hop on calls with colleagues without an agenda to just work together.
  • Hold video happy hours or conduct mini games every week or so.
  • Get company leadership on calls within their business unit and across others to provide some connection to the larger organization.

Remember, your organization is a team of teams. A remote workforce can still be cohesive. While the org chart doesn't need to be rewritten, leaders need to engage beyond the leadership team.

Check 4: Are meetings getting in the way of team productivity?

How many meetings are you having each day? If you're like a lot of teams that have shifted to a remote workforce, your calendar is more packed than ever. While it's important to maintain portals to continue collaboration (see Check 3), these shouldn't make you unavailable to teammates, managers, or other teams. It's hard enough to get answers and collaborate in offices when people are tied up in conference rooms or on calls.

Tips:

  • Ensure people have guidelines for when a meeting is appropriate.
  • Set clear agendas and assign someone to be the facilitator to make sure meetings yield outcomes and not just additional questions.
  • Allow individuals to block out time on their calendars to get work done. Be sure to honor that time, but remind them to keep channels open for time-critical communication. (See Check 2)
  • Check out this Freakonomics podcast audio/transcript for more ideas

As organizations adapt to the remote workforce, time management is essential. There have been plenty of studies showing that multitasking is detrimental to productivity, so people need to be engaged in any meetings they are required to attend. Respect the time of your colleagues!

Check 5: Is micromanagement limiting productivity?

Oversight is important to any operation. As people adapt to the remote workforce, managers may be concerned that people are taking advantage of the circumstances. This kind of change can certainly test the quality and integrity of employees, but realize they're still adjusting and there are a lot of stressors right now. Productivity may be lower, but micromanagement will only introduce additional hurdles for your employees.

Tips:

  • Don't require detailed status reports. The last thing someone wants is to write a report and then have to defend it. Use a video message tool like Loom for quick updates.
  • Call team members once a day without an agenda to see if they have questions.
  • Make sure to get feedback from them about anything you can do to remove barriers to productivity.
  • Leave the (virtual) door open with office hours a few times per week where anyone can join a video call or use a tool like Calendly to show available time slots for office hours.
  • Give grace with compliance issues and performance plans as it will go a long way with team motivation.

"I don't care if they're having a beer at 3pm as long as they're getting their work done." - our wise client

Be visible to your employees. However you choose to maintain communication, make sure you set clear boundaries and expectations, because you don't want to make employees feel like you're cutting them off when you need to turn your attention to something else.

Check 6: How are you encouraging remote work collaboration?

In a new remote workforce environment, it can sometimes feel like there is no support or ability to collaborate. It's usually best for employees to propose solutions when escalating problems. Given the circumstances, the rules have to change a bit.

Tips:

  • Schedule work sessions
  • Invite team members to a tool like Miro or Mural to whiteboard
  • Provide access to a centralized task manager where teammates can add comments and chat (did we mention ClickUp and Asana?)
  • Explore new collaborative problem solving methods with design thinking

Empower employees to bring up problems before they become big issues. The more you encourage collaboration, the quicker you can uncover and address small issues that could become big problems.

Key takeaways to improve remote workforce productivity

The common thread across all these health checks is this: don't forget about your people! Timely feedback, consistent communication, and encouraging words will go a long way. As a manager, get input from teams about what is and isn't working.

Continue to try out new collaboration methods, leave time for people to get work done, and be sure information is centralized. It's always been important to avoid living in a reactionary state, and there's a lot that still needs to be accounted for, but we encourage you to be proactive as you continue to adjust to the new normal. While you should take efforts to maintain the culture of your organization, you should also evaluate the viability of your Business Model to make sure your organization is still delivering value to its customers as the landscape shifts.

As a strategic design firm, we want to share what we've learned about working remotely and solving transformational challenges. Let's chat about how you can improve productivity and collaboration.