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Becoming a remote company overnight: Tips and tricks to pull it off

Now that many of us are forced to become remote companies overnight, here are some tips to help you get started on the right foot.

Development

Leen Sawalha

VP Product & Growth

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Becoming fully-remote is not an option for many companies – but for those who can, they should consider themselves very, very lucky.

We’re one of the lucky ones. Even more so than others because we’ve had a flexible work-from-home policy for over two years that allows us to be more equipped and familiar with the challenges it poses.

We’re aren’t claiming to be experts, it’s still a work in progress but we’ve learned a lot along the way. Like the difference between wanting to work from home and having what it takes to work from home.

We wrote this article to share our experience with remote work, give you some tips and tricks on what to look for, what to do, and what to avoid to help your teams be their best even as remote workers.

Now that many of us are forced to become remote companies overnight, we hope our experience can help you get started on the right foot.

Start off by Establishing Work-from-Home Policies

Simple general rules and guidelines that people can look for to understand what is expected of them and what to do in certain situations will go a long way.

This step is especially important for teams who do not have any experience working from home.

The policies can be super simple. In fact, we’re sharing some elements of the policy we have here at AtmanCo that we hope will inspire you to build one that works for you:

 

AtmanCo’s Work-from-Home Policy

At AtmanCo, we have 2 types of remote work:

  1. Occasional remote work: for reasons such as you feel sick or less mobile, dangerous weather, a client meeting or other appointment/obligation is closer to your home than the office, or there is a need for spontaneous isolation for concentration or sprint. This option is available to all employees (as long as it is not excessive and remains occasional).
  2. Recurring remote work (2 days/week): The recurring 2-day teleworking is possible 2 days per week, Tuesdays and Thursdays (or days confirmed with manager/team), except for weeks with one day off during which only one teleworking day is scheduled. For example, on Labour Day week, employees come into the office on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Why we offer remote work:

AtmanCo considers work-life balance and the quality of life at work for its employees to be a top priority and an important factor in contributing to business happiness. We offer flexible remote work options because we believe:

  • That work/life balance is facilitated by not having to travel to the office,
  • That technology allows calls and collaboration to take place no matter where the computer is,
  • That AtmanCo’s open-space floorplan, while conducive to open collaboration, interferes with the effective and efficient performance of certain tasks and responsibilities that require concentration (e.g. the drafting of documents, client calls and interventions, etc.)

That being said, AtmanCo’s remote work policy is a privilege that is based on honesty and merit.

The working hours of the remote workers are equivalent to the hours worked in the office in every way. Scheduled hours are 7.5 hours of work per day for a total of 37.5 hours per week.

Here is the precise list of expectations and characteristics of remote workers

  • Do not leave confidential documents in plain sight.
  • Plan ahead to ensure you have all the documents and material you need.
  • Have a functional workstation (reliable internet and telephone connections, as well as a chair and desk, set up ergonomically).
  • During a call or videoconference, please isolate yourself in a space away from children, pets, or other loud noises (especially when communicating with clients).
  • Make sure the ambient noise level in your workspace is at least comparable or lower to the one experienced at the office (wear sound-canceling headphones if necessary).
  • Beware of open windows and noise from trucks, construction and other activities.
  • Be as accessible as in the office (Phone, Email, Slack, Teams, and Zoom).
  • Request for approval of travel that incurs expenses.
  • Inform your direct manager of any personal appointments you have scheduled that day that requires you to be away from your workstation.
  • Do not hold confidential conversations in the presence of outsiders.
  • Although employees can recommend or favor scheduling client meetings and interventions on the days they are not working remotely, they may not refuse a client’s invitation on the sole basis of them “being at home that day”. Remote working should not prevent or significantly delay a meeting with a client.

 

As you can see, our work-from-home policy is quite straight forward. But setting expectations makes it easier for everyone to know what to do and how to react in most situations.

But this situation is anything but ordinary, so given that we are now “fully-remote” for at least the next two weeks, we’ve added a few additional guidelines/tips to provide us all with some stability amidst all this uncertainty.

Keep communication open and transparent

Conversations at the office happen anywhere and at any time. When working remotely, these spontaneous conversations are not documented, shared, or overheard – all of which can limit creativity, hinder collaboration, and build silos.

Try to have as many conversations as you can in open, transparent channels. We use Slack at AtmanCo, we are encouraging every department to communicate through their public, department-specific channel. Regardless of your communication tool of choice, opt to over-communicate.

It may feel overwhelming receiving so many messages at first, but it’ll prove to be the best choice moving forward.

Any and all meetings should happen with video whenever possible

Even if it’s a 2-minute conversation, turn that camera on. Seeing faces and communicating with spoken words instead of written ones will help your team feel more connected and heard.

Just because we’re practicing social-distancing doesn’t mean we should be isolated.

Ask for feedback on how it’s going and act on it

Ask your team to monitor how they are doing with their new remote status, and solicit their feedback on what’s working and what’s not. Then, act quickly.

If your videoconferencing tool isn’t doing the job, quickly search for a new one and implement it. Communication feels lost, create a set of guidelines to help centralize everything or allow a budget for an effective project management tool. Someone’s microphone is not clear enough for an effective phone call? Give them the go-ahead to buy a new one.

In this day and age, there are an abundance of tools and technologies that help you be as productive and efficient working from home as at the office. And you don’t have to break the bank either – there are hundreds if not thousands of tools out there at varying costs, and many of them offer a free version or at least a 2-week free trial.

Check in often

As a leader, your role is more important than ever now. Even if it’s not your MO to check in so often, make it a point to touch base with your employees as often as possible – daily is ideal.

A quick, 5-minute check-in call every morning can ensure your team stays connected, feels supported, and keeps on track with their priorities and objectives.

Some of these tips can be even more important to implement based on your team’s DNA. Here are some personality traits and characteristics that may require a little extra attention when everyone is suddenly asked to become a full-time remote worker:

Extroverts who thrive on social relationship

Some people gain their energy and drive from having social interactions or even just being around other people, even ones they don’t know. Asking these individuals to practice social distancing and work remotely can have an especially drastic impact on their energy levels and wellbeing.

It’s probably not hard to spot who in your team or company is an extrovert, so pay special attention to them. Try to conduct every meeting or conversation via videoconferencing. Invite them to video lunches – It’s not the same, but it’s better than nothing. Maybe even consider shifting their focus to tasks that are more collaborative in nature; do you have a project or idea you’ve been wanting to tackle for a while? Collaborative brainstorming sessions (via videoconference, of course) can offer your extroverted employees the social interactions they need to better cope with the isolation.

Spontaneous individuals who thrive in ambiguous situations but are not the world’s best organizers

When these spontaneous individuals are suddenly asked to work from home, they probably won’t feel too off-balance. After all, it’s one of their strengths to adapt to new situations and manage a sudden change of plans.

But it’s a little bit hard for spontaneous people to create a structure and have more discipline regarding their schedule – which is what they’ll need to do to be a successful remote worker. For these individuals, your daily check-ins will come in very handy. Ask them how they plan on organizing their day and what they would like to accomplish. Use project management tools and create a checklist with them so tasks and details don’t slip through the cracks. Don’t be too rigid in your approach though – just try to provide that little bit of structure that they need but are not experts at creating.

Individuals who find it easier to detach from commitments than others

A blessing and a curse – individuals who find it easier to detach from commitments are better equipped to seize opportunities and shift gears quite quickly. But that also means they may find it more difficult to persevere through challenges and complete their goals when faced with obstacles.

If these individuals are not used to working remotely, it would be helpful to check-in with them frequently, help them assess their situation and priorities, and provide them with the support they need to power through any obstacles they may be facing.

These are only a few traits and behaviors to look out for in your team when they abruptly become a remote team. If you want to learn more about how to manage this sudden change of pace and plan, you’ll find this article helpful. It discusses the challenges your team will face during unprecedented situations, and offers even more tips on how to manage them.

This is all a lot to take in. But now, more than ever, is the time to stand together, understand one another, and focus on providing the right environment for our teams to get through this stronger than ever.

We hope these tips will help you navigate these turbulent waters. If you have more questions, please don’t hesitate to ask – we’re here to support you and do our part.

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