Our team’s 14 years’ experience: remote work tools, insights from pros and advanced time management for productivity when teams work remotely
8 Powerful remote work tools. 10 insights from remote work pros. And the advanced 5-step time management guide. We’ve put together a guide of 9 tips and tools for ensuring productivity when your team’s working remotely, based on our own experience in managing remote teams all over sub-Sharan Africa and Europe.
As you know, efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is putting a lot of pressure on people and businesses to temporarily rethink the way we live and work. We’re asked to consider self-isolation, major events and gatherings are being cancelled and employers are increasingly being advised to consider having employees work remotely where possible.
So, for a business who’s never done it before, the idea of your people working remotely can bring up some fears around productivity and deliverables. Now, apart from being experts in helping businesses manage complex change (see our organisational solutions), LifeXchange Solutions itself has also always been a very progressive company – see more about us.
And a big part of that has been remote work – we’ve been manging teams working remotely ourselves for over 14 years, across entire countries and now even across continents.
And, if you’re considering letting your team work from home but you’re a little unsure about how to effectively manage production, here are our 14 years worth of experience distilled into 9 points (+ a bonus one at the end):
9 WAYS TO ENSURE TEAM PRODUCTIVITY WHEN WORKING REMOTELY
1. START FROM A PLACE OF TRUST
Assume your people are working, even if you can’t see them physically sitting at their desks all day. Instead of freaking out about trying to keep up with what’s being done and who’s doing it and when, maybe show them trust and let yourself be surprised by how your people are delivering despite the challenge of working remotely.
2. FOCUS ON DELIVERABLES, NOT THE PROCESS
Now’s not the time to micromanage how people do things. Just focus on clearly outlining what you need done – or better yet, bring them into the loop of understanding the bigger-picture why it needs to be done. If you focus on explaining the outcome you want, let them figure it out how and when they do it for themselves.
3. BE PREPARED TO BE SURPRISED WHEN WORKING REMOTELY
You might be pleasantly surprised at how little time it actually takes to achieve outcomes that would normally have taken the whole day. With no need to waste time and look busy, your people could literally get through all their usual tasks by 10am. So be prepared for it, and don’t fall into the “look-busy” management trap of assigning them even more work once they’ve completed the day’s tasks. If someone did their job, recognise it and move on. Tomorrow is another day.
4. HELP YOUR PEOPLE MANAGE THEIR TIME
Now, if people are not used to working remotely, they might struggle to prioritise and focus on tasks. You yourself might battle outside of the formal office structure. So it’s worthwhile investing a little bit of time in some quick training. A great place to start is the Getting Things Done method by David Allen. It has 5 simple processes that you and your team can quickly absorb as part of your process of working remotely.
Here’s a video that introduced the basic 5 steps – how can you change your workflow to follow these tried and tested steps:
5 CONSIDER PAIRING YOUR PEOPLE INTO “CELLS”
One thing we from the benefits of mentoring in the workplace and just the social capital aspect of work, is that people actually love supporting one another. Maybe pair or group people into small cells that can support each other via phone or online communications. The idea is you mimic the work-buddy concept, but virtually.
People naturally want to run their thoughts, ideas and troubles past a trusted “friend” first before bringing it to the boss. Give them that even while working remotely – you’ll be surprised how much people can solve by themselves that way and keep problems off your managers’ plate at the same time.
6. NO NEED TO INVEST IN FANCY SOFTWARE
There are so many FREE software and tool options available. Your team can create and share text documents with all the functionality of Word and be able to share it with everyone and live-edit it all simultaneously with Google Docs, and the same for spreadsheets with Google Sheets and presentations with Google Slides. Plus you add video and image sharing (along with a host of other functions) for free with the whole Google Drive.
Track project progress, deadlines and tasks, with notes and comments from everyone along the way with Trello. Share ideas in a creative space with Slack. And have super fast conference-style meetings with Zoom. In fact, you can get an entire workspace management system for free that everyone’s already quite familiar with in the all-new Facebook Workplace.
7. NOW’S THE TIME TO RETHINK MEETINGS
Business and marketing thought leader Seth Godin created an interesting blog post recently about what online meetings can be like. He mentions Zoom and focusing on engagement across the board, moving away from meetings where just the boss is talking. He urges us to think of meetings as a place of conversation instead. Only have a meeting if it really needs to be one – if it can be a memo, send a memo instead. And then make sure everyone can participate, make it a productive conversation, otherwise, send an email.
8. MAYBE DON’T BE TOO STRICT ABOUT TRADITIONAL WORKING HOURS
Here’s the thing about working remotely: It saves you a lot of time, but there’s always the possibility of distractions. But they’re not distractions 24 hours a day. As soon as you start working remotely, people will realise quickly when their productive hours are – some people can get an amazing amount of work done at midnight, but not a stitch during the day because they have a screaming 2-year-old begging for their attention.
What helps, in this case, is to focus on the deliverables. This needs to be done by this time. And then let people work when and how they need to. If the deadline is tomorrow morning at 8, freaking out this afternoon at 5 is not productive, because the person still has 15 hours to complete it in, so be patient and trust in your team.
9. YOU MIGHT FIND IT WORKS REALLY WELL FOR YOU
If working remotely goes on for a while, be prepared to discover a new way of working with higher productivity as your people get through their tasks quicker and are happier for having the time to be themselves in their own environment.
There could even be smart new business moves in the future: Instead of spending a fortune on a central headquarters, maybe you can find ways to provide an allowance for staff to create their own home office instead?
BONUS: 10. YOU NEED TO APPROACH RELATIONSHIPS DIFFERENTLY
Humans are social. And there’s loads of evidence that shows the relationships that develop between people are what drives a business forward. But without the office chit chat or bumping into people while waiting for the printer, you won’t have those same “social capital” moments when working remotely.
So, how can you keep your people connected? Think creatively. Can you organise online sessions where the goal is just to connect as people, like playing a game together? Can you provide allowances for your people to connect over coffee outside of the office or at home?
NEED SOME ADVICE OR COACHING?
As we said, we at LifeXchange Solutions have been managing our teams working remotely for over a decade and a half now, so we know our stuff. And we’re more than happy to share our experiences and even offer some coaching where needed. So, please, if you’re considering a work-from-home scheme and can use some advice, contact us.
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