The Show Must Go On: Running a Team Remotely

7 tips to help your team work well from home

Tech Talk

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Ready or not, COVID-19 has forced many businesses to make the leap into working remotely. But, even before COVID-19, an increasing number of organisations could be seen to be moving towards a more distanced and flexible way of working together. US Tech company Zapier, for example, has an entirely remote-based team across the globe.

The modern-day challenges of childcare, over-crowded trains and roads, and environmental concerns, has left businesses looking for ways to offer more flexible working options. Luckily, the rise in these issues has coincided with the improvement of technologies which enable us to work well away from the office. But it’s still early days, as anyone doing battle on the M6 of a morning can testify.

So, now we’ve all been plunged into the world of remote work, ready or not, how do we make the most of it? Here are a few tips we’ve got for you…

1. Help Your Team Set Up a Good Working Environment

BuildEmpire Staff working from home 1

Perhaps the most obvious, but important step. Talk to your team members about the work environment they have at home. Do they have a peaceful space with the necessary equipment? If not, how can you help them turn this around? Does anyone need to borrow equipment? Or maybe it’s more a case of discussing flexible working time to balance baby-sitting with a partner? Make sure your team have a set up they can work well in, whatever that situation may be.

At BuildEmpire, we are all pretty used to working at home occasionally, so most people were well set up. For the people who needed to borrow odd bits of equipment, a time was arranged for individuals to come in and collect what they needed (in a socially distanced way) before heading back to their homes.

2. Have Daily Stand-ups/Meetings

Keeping the team on track and all pulling in the same direction can be challenging when the team are working miles apart from each other. That’s why a daily stand-up (whether you work using Agile or not) is a good idea. Team members get the chance to briefly say what they managed to tick off yesterday and what they will be focussing on today.

Done first thing in a morning, this not only makes sure the whole team is up and working on time, but it helps focus the individual on the day’s work ahead. It also means that everyone knows what everyone else is doing that day, limiting the chance for individuals to fall behind or go off on an unnecessary tangent.

BuildEmpire has always had stand-ups on a morning, but I’ve become particularly grateful for this practice now we are working remotely. Not only for the chance to see my colleagues’ shining morning faces but it adds focus and structure to my day ahead.

3. Give Opportunities for Social Interaction

Conversations around the water cooler might be an old-fashioned stereotype of office working life, but there is something valuable in this. Working remotely (especially during the current period of social isolation) with no-body to talk to except the cat can be difficult. Make sure there is the chance for co-workers to interact on a social basis, all-be-it digitally. This could take many forms, from an online pub-quiz after hours, to a group chat designed to take the place of lunchtime banter.

At BuildEmpire we use Slack, so communication is easy and frequent throughout the day. One of our slack channels is devoted to ‘random’ comments, posts and conversations, in other words – if it’s not to do with work, stick it in random. Those who are having a busy day can choose to ignore the random channel, whereas those who need a bit of cheering up can dip in for some social interaction. It’s the digital equivalent of a breakout area, and our Giphy integration with Slack is the icing on the cake.

4. Use Video Calling

The old cliche of working from home is that one does not have to wear pants. While it is, of course, up to the individual what they wear to work from home, using video calling tends to encourage people to get dressed and present themselves properly. Studies have shown that getting dressed for work can help people prepare mentally for the work ahead and help them keep work-life and home-life separate when working from home.

I once read about someone who got fully dressed in a suit and tie every workday morning before walking around the block (to simulate a commute) before returning home and settling down to his day’s work. As legend has it, he did the reverse of the walk upon finishing work in the evening, before returning home, this time to get changed and settle down for the evening. Ok, I have no proof this is true. But, good morning routines which help get you into ‘work-mode’ can be useful, rather than working in your PJs all day. Personally, I find putting my make-up on as if I was going into the office a good ritual, makes me feel like my game face is on and I am ready for the day (and the afore-mentioned video calls).

In terms of video calling software itself, we tend to use Zoom with clients and Slack for internal calls, but there are tons out there, so if you’re not getting what you need from one piece of tech, have a look at what else is on the market.

5. Ensure Everyone Has Access to the Right Systems

Having the infrastructure to support remote working for your employees is vital. Which systems will your workers need regular access to? How will they do that? Is the software you use in the cloud? Or do workers need a VPN to access their tools?

Running your department or company remotely will likely highlight any legacy systems which are not up to the job. Pretty much everything we use at BE is Cloud-based. From our Kisi access system to YouTrack and GitHub, with Google Drives in the middle. If you’re struggling to access certain tools, then maybe this is a good opportunity to re-assess what tech is holding you back and might need replacing.

6. Re-assess Security

If workers are going to be able to access their systems remotely, what’s to stop hackers from being able to do the same? Do you have all the security measures needed in place? Some simple things you can do to improve security, if you haven’t already done these, are turning on Two-Factor Authentication on social media platforms and Google accounts. Another simple one is to check staff have anti-virus software on their devices, as they may not be using the usual device they do in the office.

Whatever measures are needed for your particular business, a security training refresher is worth considering too. At BE, our Data Protection Officer (aka Captain ISO) was fast to create a new eLearning course to refresh our team about security standards specifically relevant to working remotely. (If you are curious about an easy way to create eLearning content, we are using for this, then hosting on Totara.)

7. Use Cloud Storage

Sharing and saving work can be equally difficult, when working from home, to accessing the right tools. If Jim (fictional character) has been saving all his work down to his hard drive, and then he suddenly has to work from home on his laptop, he’s going to have issues. Alternatively, those who have either had the foresight to back-up all their files in the cloud, or simply save straight to the cloud, are going to be laughing.

At BE, we save all our important documents on our Google Team Drive. For individual files, we are all free to choose how we save, but none of us would consider saving files only on our hard drive. We have individual Google Drives, Drop-box, and One-drive at our fingertips to choose from. Google Drive File Stream is a popular choice, especially for those of us who regularly switch between devices.

To Summarise…

So, whether you are working from your home ‘office’ surrounded by 5 monitors and an espresso machine, or whether you are working from the sofa, trying to balance a two-year-old plus laptop on your knee while refreshing your internet connection for the 5th time in the last half an hour, I hope the above has given you some food for thought. Why not see this as an opportunity to refine remote operations. Have a good day’s work and remember, when the going gets tough, at least you’re not having to commute.

A big thank you to all the team members who took a selfie of themselves working from home to add some colour and personality to this blog. Keep it up team, you’re doing great.