In the wake of the coronavirus, many companies around the world are encouraging employees to work from home. Business leaders are having to think creatively to adapt and while coronavirus may be fueling the global shift to remote work for some, In Marketing We Trust has lead a remote workforce since it’s beginning in 2013. As experts in remote work, we’ll share some strategies and tips for businesses just starting out, how to successfully manage a remote workforce and how to work from home.
What we’ll cover:
- How the Largest Companies are Preparing Amongst the Panic
- How to Prepare for a Global Shift to Remote Work
- Coronavirus: Government Recommendations for Workplaces
- How In Marketing We Trust Mastered the Remote Workplace
- How to Successfully Manage a Remote Workforce
- Coronavirus: How to Work From Home
How the Largest Companies are Preparing Amongst the Panic
Twitter has strongly encouraged all their employees around the world to work from home if able. While not mandatory for employees outside of Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea (due to government restrictions) Twitter asked their 5000 employees to work from home just days after cancelling all non-critical travel and events.
“Our goal is to lower the probability of the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus for us and the world around us. We are operating out of an abundance of caution and the utmost education to keeping our Tweeps healthy.”
– Jennifer Christie, Head of Human Resources, Twitter.
Concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus have had widespread effects across the global workforce with some of the largest companies in the world asking their employees to stay home. While Twitter’s policy is one of the most cautious, other large companies are requiring employees to work from home, including IBM and Sony. China Daily reported that more than half of workers in Beijing started working from home after the Lunar New Year break. Time magazine dubbed it “the world’s largest work-from-home experiment.”
Beyond asking employees to work from home, businesses around the world are cancelling travel and events. Twitter and Facebook withdrew from attending SXSW before it was cancelled and Google and Microsoft have cancelled conferences. Mobile World Congress, Facebook Developer Conference, Game Developers Conference and the Geneva Motor Show have all been cancelled.
Many companies are also switching their events to online with Google morphing it’s Google Cloud Next conference into a streamed event. Similarly, at In Marketing We Trust, we have cancelled our Google Marketing Platform events in Singapore and will be switching to holding webinars for the near future. Our Sydney meetups are going ahead as usual.
How to Prepare for the Global Shift to Remote Work
While Twitter has encouraged employees to work from home amid the Coronavirus, they also highlighted the fact that they have been developing ways to work from home for some time. Christie stated:
“While this is a big change for us, we have already been moving towards a more distributed workforce that’s increasingly remote. We’re a global service and we’re committed to enabling anyone, anywhere to work at Twitter.”
While Coronavirus may be pushing more companies to shift to a more distributed team, two recent surveys by CNBC report that more than one-third of companies have workers they describe as being “stranded” away from work for extended periods.
According to Owl Labs State of Remote Work 2019, 42 per cent of remote workers have plans to work remotely more often over the next five years than they do now. The study also states remote workers are putting in 40+ hours a week because they enjoy what they do when compared to onsite workers.
Similarly, MIT Sloan School of Management’s Executive Education Department stated in their Quality of Life Survey that when an employee has a supervisor that’s open to flexible (i.e. partially remote) work, that employee is more likely to stay with the company.
62 per cent of the CFOs who took CNBC’s Global CFO Council survey said their companies have allocated more resources to virtual work as a result of the coronavirus.
The shift to a more remote workforce is nothing new but many companies behind the times are struggling to keep up with the recommendations, meaning coronavirus has the potential to bring about lasting workplace change.
Coronavirus: Government Recommendations for Workplaces
On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organisation, declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. The Australian Government has issued this health alert as ‘Active’, based on the latest and best medical advice.
“I don’t think most companies are prepared. We’re seeing it begin to impact the world and health authorities are recommending employers review their remote work policies. There are huge implications from legal and HR standpoints in terms of doing the best thing for employees.”
– Maria Ursente, People Operations Manager, In Marketing We Trust.
The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that employers have strategies in place to protect their workforce. It also recommended reviewing possible work from home policies and flexible schedule options. The health authority stated that there would be possible “significant disruption” and that health officials may implement “workplace social distancing measures”, including “replacing in-person meetings with teleworking”.
“Obviously, you can’t require an employee to take Family and Medical Leave if they don’t need it. That’s why employers need to take a close look at their flexible work policies and start amending to ensure their employees and their families are as safe as possible. Many employees refuse to take time off when unwell for fear of not getting promoted or looking slack. This needs to change and offering a flexible, remote working solution could combat that.”
How In Marketing We Trust Mastered the Remote Workplace
In Marketing We Trust has always been a team of remote workers. We’ve grown around the technology and thankfully, it’s only getting easier.
“As a service provider our most important assets are expertise and experience, meaning our people. Based in over 15 countries our employees are recruited based on their abilities – not drive time to the office. That’s why we have a more skilled digital marketing team, because by not factoring in location, we’re able to choose the best people for the job.”
– Frederic Chanut, Managing Director, In Marketing We Trust.
How to Successfully Manage a Remote Workforce
If you don’t currently have a work from home policy in place, you’re going to need one. The shift to a more remote workforce isn’t going to go away when the panic dies down. There’s a global movement to more flexible work arrangements, including working from home. Don’t get left behind.
“I find communication is overused these days. Communication breakdown is blamed for most of our woes. The truth is we judge others by their actions. Yet, we judge ourselves based on our intentions.
Quality Communication matters greatly when dealing with a remote team setup. You realise how much can be lost when you are not sitting next to the people you work with. The subtlety of tone or the lack of context on both sender/receiver can really make matters worse. When the topic is of importance or likely to be misinterpreted, call your teammates, don’t send them a slack message. This is especially important for fellow millennials. I know it feels uncomfortable at first but your voice, your tone and emotions beats hands down any well crafted message.”
– Frederic Chanut, Managing Director, In Marketing We Trust.
Communication is Your Top Priority
Communication is always a top priority in the workplace, but it’s absolutely imperative to get it right when managing a remote workforce. You won’t be able to check-in whenever you feel like it to get the latest status update for a report you’re waiting on. Instead, you’ll need to set clear guidelines from the start and have dedicated times to check in with your colleagues.
Set Regular Meetings
Set up regular meetings to check the progress of your team. Depending on the workload and priority this could look different for each project. We hold dedicated weekly scrums to check in on progress, have daily, weekly or monthly client meetings and hold fortnightly get-togethers for the entire team. This keeps everyone abreast of the latest developments and creates a culture of communication.
Remote teams can feel disconnected if not managed properly. Encourage your team to connect with each other in professional and non-work ways. Some of the ways we do this is by having meetings where team members are connected with others they don’t often work with so they can get to know one another. We also still do all the normal office celebrations too, like celebrating birthdays by signing a digital card.
Don’t Over Rely on Email
One of the biggest challenges when starting out managing a remote team is to over-rely on email. Email can be overly professional and easily misunderstood. This isn’t a good way to connect with your team. While it may seem convenient, it’s often better to simply pick up the phone or schedule an online face to face.
Actually Get Face to Face
If you’re going to be managing a remote team full time, it’s a good idea to schedule a once yearly catch up. At In Marketing We Trust, we hold a yearly get together for the team called Trusted Conf. Each year we travel to an exciting location for one week to discuss company goals and celebrate our awesome team.
Share Your Calendar
While it’s important for any workplace to share their agenda with team members so everyone can schedule communication and work, this becomes even more important in a remote workforce. With a fully distributed team, you’re likely to have colleagues in different time zones which can lead to serious miscommunication if not tackled head-on. Ensure your team knows when it’s acceptable to schedule meetings by sharing work calendars and displaying normal working hours for each team member.
Have a Quarterly Review
Reviews are part of any good business and that shouldn’t change when you’re managing a remote team. Have team members review and rate themselves on your business’s key assets and goals. For example, at In Marketing We Trust, we review:
- Getting stuff done
- Curiosity and creativity
- Independence and teamwork
- Humility and honesty
We then get their closest colleagues and managers to review on the same terms and see how they stack up. This creates a constant cycle of learning and development and helps the team to see key areas of improvement with learnings that are implemented before the next review. Don’t forget that as Manager, you need to get feedback too.
How to Ensure Goals Are Met
Ensuring goals are met, KPIs are delivered and projects are completed by the due date all comes down to your processes and communication when managing a remote workforce.
Set Clear Expectations
Set clear expectations to ensure goals are met. This all comes down to communicating well with your team.
Communicate your expectations and availability daily by using a service such as Slack or Teamwork. We use Slack channels daily to communicate expectations and workload. KPI meetings are also held monthly to ensure each employee is hitting their targets.
Focus on Goals, Not Activity
While knowing what your team is up to is important, you must focus on goals and output if you want work to be delivered. Concentrate on what is being accomplished for a more productive, goal-oriented team.
Connect Your Goals
Increase engagement and performance by connecting your employees goals to your company’s goals. If they’re interested in upskilling in a certain area, embrace it. Setup a development plan with each team member and connect your goals in fortnightly or monthly KPI meetings to improve performance.
While you may want your team to stay in communication with you as much as possible, ensure you’re doing it in the best way to avoid distraction. Distractions are often an unknown when managing a remote team.
Encourage your workforce to stay on task to be more productive and manage their time more efficiently, than if they were to go back and forth between multiple projects, emails, etc. While this is encouraged in the office too, it’s even more important when managing remotely.
Create a Culture of Shipping
When shifting to remote work, you’ll need to create an even greater culture of shipping. To do this, we recommend keeping project teams small. To get the best out of everyone, for each client we have a Pod Leader (Account Manager) and delivery team.
The Pod Leader is in charge of maintaining communication with the client and delivery team and ensuring work is shipped. We build our pods around experience and skill, not location to ensure each client gets the best possible results.
Create a Culture of Accountability
Many businesses won’t enable their employees to work from home out of fear they won’t get anything done. Create a culture of accountability in your workforce by using tools like Teamwork to track time and project deliverables. We have daily huddle channels on Slack where we communicate our schedule, KPIs and workload each morning.
Create Clear Processes
Ensure goals are met by creating clear and foolproof processes. Don’t assume your standardised processes will transfer over to a remote workforce seamlessly. You’ll need to document your systems and processes clearly to ensure work is delivered in the same way. We use Slite and Google Docs to document our processes to ensure everyone follows the same guidelines.
Celebrate your remote team’s achievements to encourage a culture of shipping, accountability and goals. At In Marketing We Trust, we celebrate our team often. Some of the ways in which we do this include Tap My Back, a Slack extension that allows teammates to thank each other publicly.
We also have a #Winning channel on Slack where we celebrate big achievements, milestones and client and sales wins. Managers also choose a team member at each fortnightly team meeting to celebrate with an Ethos Award, where the employee is thanked and awarded an Amazon gift card.
Technology We Use
If you’re just starting out offering a more flexible, work from home setup for your employees, you’ll need to think about how you can support your team with the resources and technology they need to communicate effectively and access essential resources.
We use loads of applications to help manage our remote workforce but we’ve gradually added technology to our arsenal over the many years we’ve been a remote team. To get started, we suggest implementing our most used tools.
LogMeIn is a remote access company we use regularly. They are currently offering free three-month licenses to health care providers, schools, local governments and not-for-profits. President and CEO, Bill Wagner stated they were “making it a top priority [to help] the critical service providers in our communities who are on the front lines.”
Google Drive is one of the many ways in which we create and share files remotely. While we do use other tools, this is what we use internally as our standard.
Zoom is our preferred means of communication at In Marketing We Trust. We use it to hold team meetings and we even use it for webinars.
Slack is our go-to form of quick communication within the team. We use it daily and have separate channels for each project.
Teamwork is how we communicate and track specific projects and tasks. We also use it to track time and milestones.
LastPass is our password solution to working from home. Without a dedicated network that all our employees use LastPass is essential for sharing login information for the many tools we use daily.
Google Calendar is essential for our team to manage and schedule meetings across different time zones. With team members in 15 different countries this is how we share our availability.
Coronavirus: How to Work from Home
If you’ve been asked to work from home due to the spread of coronavirus, or you’re just starting out in a remote workplace. Here are our top tips for effectively working from home.
Set Your Goals for the Day
Get started early in the morning. The transition from bed to desk can be quite jarring when first starting out working from home so grab a coffee and fix a routine. The best way to start your workday is to create a list of priorities so you know exactly what you’ll be doing and you’ll be less likely to get distracted.
Pro tip: Keep yourself accountable by sharing your list with your colleagues in a dedicated daily huddle channel on Slack.
Structure Your Day as Normal
It can be tempting when working from home to schedule your day so that you can achieve all your goals as quickly as possible so you can make the most of the daylight hours left. But without scheduling breaks, you can quickly burn out. Structure your day as you would if you were working in the office. Give yourself a lunch break and schedule meetings outside of your most productive hours to break the day up.
Pick a Time to Log Off
Make sure you know what time you’re finishing for the day and how many hours you plan on working. When working from home it’s possible to lose track of the day and end up working more hours than you had planned. Make sure you don’t burn out by setting regular hours and let your teammates know when you’ll be at your desk and when you won’t. This will not only help you to not accidentally work overtime for nothing but also help your colleagues know what to expect.
Track Your Time
Make sure you’re tracking your time each day, not just how much time you spend in total but how much time you spend on each project and task. This will help you to set realistic deadlines and plan your day. You can use dedicated timekeeping software like Toggl, use a project management application like Teamwork or simply use a Google spreadsheet.
Create a Dedicated Work Space
Create a workspace so that you can clearly separate your home life from your work life. This will make switching off after work a lot easier and you’ll be less tempted to have one last check of your email before going to bed at night.
Pro tip: If you set up a room as an office and buy new or used furniture, books or equipment for the space, you’ll be able to claim it on tax.
Stretch Your Legs
It can get easy to spend a whole day sitting when you remote work. Ensure you’re taking enough 1-5 minute breaks by getting up and stretching your legs, taking a walk around the house or just getting yourself another cup of coffee. When we don’t have to get up to go to a meeting or chat with colleagues, we can often forget to move for extended periods of time. Get up and stretch or by the end of the day, you’ll regret it.
Avoid Distractions at Home
Avoid distractions by ensuring you have a clean workspace and distraction-free zone to work in. If you’ve got pets make sure they’re well-fed and hydrated and think about walking the dog during your lunch break or after work only. Yes, those big puppy dog eyes can be tempting but ensure you stick to your schedule. If you’ve got family at home, ensure you set clear boundaries and expectations.
Pro tip: Set up a lock on social media on your computer and phone so you’re not scrolling when you should be working.
Avoid Distractions at Work
Not only will you need to avoid distractions in your home, you’ll also need to avoid regular workplace distractions like constantly checking your email. Batch your work, set and stick to a schedule and make a dedicated task a few times a day to check your messages. It can be tempting to leave your inbox and other notification channels open throughout the workday but this leads to distraction and inefficiencies.
Get to Know Your Colleagues
It’s easy to forget your colleagues when you’re not around them but it’s important to maintain a close connection. Your manager should help you by facilitating regular water cooler chat with video conferencing, dedicated chat Slack channels and other means to ensure the team stays connected and you don’t feel left out. If your manager isn’t facilitating this, email, reach out and ask for a catch-up and shoot them this article so they can better help you, help them.