In a perfect world, remote work should work without a hitch. But in an imperfect one strewn with procrastination, accountability, distractions, and unforeseen events, how to make remote working work is as disarrayed a strategy for the inexperienced as tidying up a cluttered desk for the first time–it seems easy but it’s not.
The good news is, we have the technology and best practices to guide our road to working from home. In this article, you’ll learn firsthand tips for both the manager and employee on how to sustain a remote work setup that is both beneficial to the company and its employees.
Despite studies that show remote workers are more productive than office-based employees, a work-at-home setup presents its unique set of challenges. The biggest remote work struggle, according to a Buffer study, is unplugging after work (22% of respondents). The other top issues include loneliness (19%), collaboration and communication (17%), and home distractions (10%).
Source: Buffer State of Remote Work 2020
In most cases, these challenges are symptomatic of poor remote work implementation. It all starts with a clear remote work policy, reinforced with the proper equipment and software tools. Today’s technology, after all, is cheap and accessible.
You have at your fingertips the best collaboration software tools and communication software that allow you to stay in touch with the team in real-time. Long before the pandemic has forced businesses to take a hard look at remote work, SaaS vendors have been vying already for the remote work market as a booming industry. So, getting the right tools isn’t that difficult. What is more challenging is how to implement remote work. You’ll be surprised at how little preparation many employees had faced when their companies introduced the work-at-home setup.
To circumvent this issue, we have prepared the best practices on how to work remotely and effectively for you and your employees.
A successful remote work strategy hinges on a top-down policy. As a business owner or manager, you take the lead in laying down the foundation of using the right remote work tools and protocols. This way, team members are on the same page, work is routine, and expectations are managed. Let’s divide the requirements into five essentials: software, hardware, protocols, culture, and security. You should require these from your team, as well as adopt them yourself for your work-from-home setup.
The good news is, technology today allows us to run a remote office in real-time and a cost-effective way. You have a wide array of cloud-hosted apps with minimal price entry that you can pay on a needs-basis, usually monthly or annually. As you build your remote work tech stack, make sure it allows you to collaborate.
The best products for working from home allow users to chat, managing files, tasks, and productivity, all in one place. In today’s SaaS model, collaboration software allows users from multiple locations to access the system via the cloud (internet).
Changes in the system are synced in real-time so everybody is using the latest data. And many tools have built-in analytics that gives you insights on your team’s performance and progress.
We can break down collaboration into the following software solutions:
The most robust collaboration software are usually project management solutions since they have all the built-in tools for chat, calendar, task management, file sharing, and more. Think of these solutions as your command control center, a crucial element in remote team management.
These solutions give you the bird’s eye view of the team’s tasks and activities, which enables you to track the project’s progress.
But while these tools are robust and work in real-time, you will still need stand-alone software for instant messaging, video conferencing, and quick file sharing.
Examples of reliable project or task management software:
These virtual team communication tools designed primarily to let stakeholders converse in real-time as if team members were in cubicles next to each other. You are probably already familiar with chat (Messenger, anyone?). What you need to know, though, is that today’s chat apps have evolved into solutions that are more than just for chatting; the top chat apps have incorporated project management tools like file sharing and analytics. However, the primary function is still to converse. Think of chat apps as your tool for office chatter, while project management software serves as your tool for formal discussions.
Examples of reliable instant messaging software:
It is recommended to get a separate tool for video calls, even as your chat app has one. The reason is simple: video conferencing apps are as superior to chat solutions. The key features to consider for a reliable video conferencing software include large meeting capacity, HD quality, desktop-mobile compatibility, and playback recording. You can also check free video conferencing tools if you only have a small team (10-20 participants).
Examples of reliable video conferencing software:
Your project or task management software may have a file-sharing feature, but it may likely be a bit clunky, compared to a true file-sharing software. File sharing solutions excel in features like versioning, in-document commenting, multiple and synced co-authoring, and integration with popular productivity tools like Office, Outlook, and Google Apps. Furthermore, file sharing tools usually have more refined security features like rules-based functions, content governance, expiry option, and permission levels.
Examples of reliable file-sharing software:
What is software without the right hardware? Having the right gadgets ensure your team can perform their tasks properly. Do not assume that everyone has the equipment at home and the resources to set them up. So, do a quick survey to find out who will need assistance to make remote work possible. This is one of the most effective techniques for teams new to remote work.
Essential hardware includes a laptop (or PC), a headset, a wifi connection, and a backup setup.
Ideally, go for laptops as they lend users flexibility in finding an ideal working spot. Laptops can be handy, too, in case of power interruptions or home distractions. The employee can simply look for a coffee shop or co-working space to continue working.
The more powerful the laptop, the better, the following minimum specs will do:
You get what you pay for here. As a rule of thumb, do not skimp on headset quality. The cheaper ones will undoubtedly give you audio issues, if not at once, later. Go for reliable headset brands like Bose, Audio-Technica, Sennheiser, Sony, Philips, and Beyerdynamic. Likewise, go for headsets with a built-in mic instead of having a separate microphone, which can be clunky. You should look for these key headset features:
Any basic broadband or DSL connection will work. However, the higher the bandwidth, the better you can move files, conduct large-group video conferencing, and run cloud-hosted apps simultaneously.
This simply means having a redundant setup to continue working in case the main setup fails. For example, you have two internet connections (one can be mobile pocket wifi), two laptops, and two power sources (one can be a diesel generator set). Obviously, this entails extra costs so it can be an option or requirement, depending on your resolve on how to do remote working work. At the least, key employees like team leaders should be required to have a backup setup.
Having a clear remote work policy eliminates assumptions and miscommunication that can lead to potential issues down the road. A remote work policy puts both managers and employees on the same page so that rules are followed, and expectations are clear. Think of the remote work policy as your road map to successful remote team management.
So what should a remote work policy contain?
It can be a folder of single-source-of-truth documents no different from any other corporate policy with rules set out for the following:
Clearly state whether employees have the benefit of flexible hours, or they should stick to specified working hours. Be clear also about rules on the number of work hours per day, break time protocols and policy on absenteeism, leaves, payroll cutoffs, and offsets.
Guidelines with actionable assistance and penalties should be in place. Employees must know the steps to take to meet the software/hardware requirements and other protocols, and the repercussions should they fail.
Without the benefit of body language, remote work communication is somewhat compromised. But you can lessen the incidence of miscommunication by standardizing communication best practices, such as acknowledging tasks or conversations directed at you, greeting the team at the start of the shift to announce your presence, @mentioning the specific individual you are communicating with, and framing replies by starting it with a rephrasing of the question. You should also designate specific tools for specific communication types. For example, a chat app is best for casual or urgent conversations, while a task management channel is best reserved for more formal conversations like assigning or submitting a task. Likewise, video conferencing is best for meetings or clarifications so participants can see each other, the next best thing to being next to each other.
Play it by ear if you must to come up with a fitting communication policy for your team. The important thing is to have a single document that everyone can refer to.
Nurture a proactive culture where team members are encouraged to ask questions or suggest ideas. Have a routine of buzzing the team daily, even just to drop a ‘hi’ or greet someone for a special occasion. You might want to create a group chat specific to casual team conversations. This creates a sense of team, something that is easy to lose when you work alone in a corner of your home.
Even if you don’t deal with confidential data, consider putting in place a security policy. To a determined hacker, a seemingly innocuous document like an email attachment can open the door to the company’s server. Of course, more security should be put in place for IT and accounting teams. In general, the following tips greatly reduces the risk of a cyberattack:
Have a pocket mobile wifi instead if you must work in a public space.
If using public Wi-Fi is unavoidable, get a VPN to encrypt your files and conversations. A VPN software is also a must even at home if you deal with confidential data like payroll and contracts. Some of the reliable VPN services include NordVPN, ZenMate, ExpressVPN, Perimeter 81, and Cisco AnyConnect.
Ideally, assign a work laptop for each employee to separate work from personal use.
Having a device passcode prevents non-employees from accessing work files. Furthermore, should you lose the device, you give yourself enough time to change your web accounts like social media, bank, and cloud apps.
If you need a flash drive, buy one that is dedicated to your work laptop to limit the incidence of virus infection.
Disable access or change the password to your cloud accounts should you need to send the device for repairs.
As we’ve specified above, using cloud apps allows you to access your files and data or change the passcode in case of device theft or loss. Imagine saving your payroll data as an Excel file in your laptop that you’ve misplaced. With cloud accounting, you can change your account access, and payroll data is securely hosted in the vendor’s server.
The above ways on how to make remote working work apply to both employers and employees, but they are geared more towards a manager’s perspective. Below are more tips specific to employees:
Assign a place at home as your office. It can be a corner, a room, or even an entire floor where available. This allows you to create rules that delineate home from work so you can focus on work and tune out of it easily.
For instance, the kids can’t cross the line to your workspace. Or, for that matter, you can’t be expected to do household chores if you’re inside this workspace.
Moreover, you should be able to isolate the workspace from audio and visual noise during meetings. In many instances, a simple divider and a noise-canceling headset work.
If you’re allowed flexible work hours, assign yourself a routine. Routine disciplines the employee in you and steers you clear of procrastination. It creates structure in a busy schedule, reminds you of important tasks, and, overall, makes you more efficient.
Furthermore, it helps you plan out the tasks and predict their outcomes with more accuracy. If you work from 8-5 hours a day, for instance, and a task requires 32 hours to finish, you can confidently place a due date on the task down to the hour.
When creating a routine, prioritize the more important tasks. These can be subtasks to the task of another employee or team, designated high-priority, and time-sensitive tasks.
Having a designated workspace and routine doesn’t automatically give you a clear boundary between work and home. You need to set your own remote work protocol at home.
Explain to the kids and your partner the nature of your work, the schedule when you’re most busy, and the reason why you need their cooperation.
Likewise, we usually talk about home distractions to our work, but the reverse can be as detrimental–work distractions to home. Be mindful of your work time to ensure it doesn’t infringe on quality family time, just as your family is mindful of not disturbing your work hours. This is important especially as many work from home productivity studies indicate that remote workers struggle to achieve work-life balance.
Should your manager create a group chat, use it to greet others at least every start of the day. Participate in discussions. Share ideas or best practices. Acknowledge tasks, replies, or @mentions to you even with a simple emoticon. Be on time during online meetings.
The bottom line is, do not isolate yourself in a corner. It is easy to lose one’s bearing and get demoralized working by yourself. By reaching out to others, either casually or professionally, you instill in you and others a sense of belonging.
Furthermore, by staying in touch with the team and especially with your boss, you are showing leadership traits of accountability and teamwork, factors that can pave the way to a promotion down the road.
We already touched this tip above, but let’s add more ways to effective communication from an employee’s perspective.
If you expect a delay, tell your manager and the reason why. Your task is likely a part of a bigger task. By keeping your boss in the loop, he/she and the team can make the necessary adjustments.
Barring sudden death, emergencies can easily be reported to your manager with today’s technology. At the least, send a text to your manager that you cannot report for the day due to an unforeseen event like a power outage or medical emergency. Or, you can ask a colleague to brief your boss about the emergency. These simple gestures lend to you accountability and plus points in your boss’s eyes.
Do not assume that classic reason for many an avoidable trouble. If a task instruction is vague, ask for clarity. If a task owner is not stated, ask for the designated person. Before you do something, make sure the steps and requirements are clear.
Of course, ask only after exhausting the means to find the answer. In many instances, a company guideline has the answer to the question bogging you down.
This goes to sticking to the remote work policy developed by management. Follow the protocols for communication, security, and corporate culture. Likewise, make sure to meet the software and hardware requirements set by the company.
Be mindful of even the trivial and seemingly useless details like how to phrase a reply in chat conversations or acknowledging a task with a like. They may, at times, be annoying, but skipping them can snowball to ignoring the entire remote work policy. Besides, an employee who disregards company policy exhibits contempt for management. Why join the organization in the first place?
Finally, just because your sitting alone in the private corner of your room doesn’t mean you throw out the window all manners of proper grooming. Take care of your appearance as you would reporting to a physical office. How you look affects how you feel and that impacts your work.
You may work in comfortable clothing but not in your jammies. You may skip the makeup, but do wash your face. You may opt not to take a bath, but maybe just occasionally. At the end of the day, grooming is giving yourself the respect you’d want others to give to you.
And one more, what of a sudden video call from your boss or client and you’re not wearing anything?
In a nutshell, how to make remote working work is all about treating it professionally. It is no different from your traditional office. In essence, you subscribe to the company policy, use the right tools, be cordial with colleagues and managers, be accountable for your tasks, and practice proper communication.
The only difference is the environment. But once you take into the habit of remote work best practices, you’ll find the dynamics familiar.
Take to the task of learning new tools if you’re not into technology. Specifically, understand the different collaboration software tools we’ve discussed above so you can maximize your remote work experience. It shouldn’t be a big problem. You can start with this collaboration software guide and work your way up to learning each product by reading our reviews.
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