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Sustainable Remote Team Success: A Checklist

Jamie Davidson May 11, 2020
Man working from home on video conference

As a result of the COVID-19, many teams were forced to rapidly transition to remote work. This presented a colossal and unprecedented challenge for businesses. While your team may have quickly patched together the resources needed to keep operations afloat for the immediate future, the business implications of the crisis are likely to be felt for months and years to come. This means organizations must work towards establishing robust – rather than piecemeal – remote work systems in order to maintain productivity, employee engagement, and efficiency.

In some cases, teams may be able to return to “business as usual” more quickly than expected, easing the pressure on businesses to manage distributed teams. However, it’s also possible new arrangements made due to COVID-19 restructuring will have given some employees an appetite for remote work. Consequently, organizations may find themselves continuing with their new remote work policies, even when workers are given the green light to return to the office.

The implications of implementing such policies are far-reaching in the long-term, especially for businesses that have previously adhered to a more traditional working model. Working from home – or, at least, having the option to do so – may become the “new normal” for employees of businesses that, until now, had avoided dipping their toe into the waters of remote work.

Given all of these different considerations, it’s vital that business leaders and managers plan an approach that ensures remote work is sustainable in the long-run, rather than simply fighting to continue to deliver products and services in today’s environment.

Revisit Your Virtual Collaboration Tool Choices

If you made “heat of the moment” purchasing decisions about the tools you’re currently using to facilitate remote collaboration, invest the time into re-evaluating your choices. The right tools for your business will make all the difference when it comes to productivity, employee engagement, and efficiency, saving you time and money in the long run. Consider the following:

  • Do your chosen tools have the functionality you need?
  • How has the uptime/performance been?
  • Is the tool intuitive to use and user-friendly?
  • Do members of your team like the tool?
  • Is there a more cost-effective alternative?

Asking these and other questions will help you find the right tools – not just the ones you encountered first, and potentially panic-bought when you initially transitioned to remote working.

Assess Security Needs

As the use of remote work tools has increased, security issues have popped up in news headlines. Including everything from failures in encryption to data breaches. Even before the shift to global work from home policies, high-profile data breaches had damaged the reputations of many companies, leading to a loss of trust amongst clients and consumers.

Given the potential damage data breaches can cause, it’s of the utmost importance that you protect your company’s sensitive information to the best of your ability. This includes doing your homework on which remote work tools are secure and striking any that don’t meet your requirements off the list.

Further, review the individual features of each service you use, making sure the privacy options attached to each one are set to your privacy needs. This could include actions such as password-protecting virtual meeting rooms, locking meetings to unauthorized phone numbers or email addresses, and controlling who can speak and/or present in meetings and when.

Update Team Policies and Procedures

Many companies have put their standard work policies and procedures on hold to accommodate the various disruptions caused by COVID-19. For instance, with many children out of school, some companies have been forced to grant employees extra flexibility when it comes to their schedules. As the dust settles and remote work becomes our “new normal,” this is a good opportunity to revisit team policies and procedures in order to define and adjust the rules and regulations to which you hold your employees.

A few key areas to explore include:

  • Communication/meeting expectations
  • Scheduling
  • Responsiveness
  • Collaboration
  • Sick leave
  • Vacation
  • Behavioral code
  • Flexible working rules

That said, in order to retain high levels of employee engagement and productivity, it’s important to be reasonable with your expectations and to include caveats for exceptional circumstances. Even as they’ve fallen into a new routine, many of your team members will still be severely impacted by the current situation and may still be unable to return to work in the same capacity they previously did.

Expand Cross-Coverage and Redundancies

Given the potential for ongoing events to continue to impact business – with team members possibly becoming ill or being required to take care of others – it’s essential that you ensure your organization is well prepared to take the hit of a lower head count. Focus on building redundancy into your team’s operations to ensure that business can continue as normal, even when you have little to no notice of absences. Ask:

  • Are there any tasks that only one person on the team can handle?
  • Could team members easily cover for another employee who goes on leave unexpectedly?
  • How many employees do you have who are trained in the skills and technical programs vital to keeping your business going?
  • Can everyone access the tools, systems and information needed to provide coverage?
  • In the case of simultaneous absences of people who perform the same tasks, are there still employees who could provide coverage?
  • Can you use freelancers, and if so, do you have a healthy pool of freelance workers available to pitch in at short notice?

Completing the following tasks will also help ensure your business’ production is secure in the event of employee absence:

  • Make sure all processes are written down, with full instructions from beginning to end, as well as the minimum skills and qualifications an individual needs to perform the role
  • Ensure all documentation is shared with managers, who can share with the individual covering the work in the case of absence
  • Ask managers to walk through individual processes with the team members who would be expected to jump in as needed, so that potential roadblocks can be identified early on
  • Have each employee write down and share a list of tasks they must complete at the beginning of each week, so that no task slips through the net, should they be unable to work every day
  • Ensure that a minimum of 2-3 people are trained to perform each role, even if it doesn’t fall within their usual job description
  • Provide training to widen your pool of people with skills that are vital to your business
  • Carry out regular pre-emptive handovers amongst managers to make sure teams won’t go unmanned in the case of management absences
  • Ask managers to hold regular one-to-one meetings with team members (if they don’t already) so that they can get a better idea of how each individual is doing and whether they may need to take time off
  • Implement a robust, fully compliant policy for hiring freelance workers, in case they’re needed to provide coverage
  • Develop a pool of freelance workers who are available to pitch in at short notice should you need them, and ensure they are set up on your system ahead of time

Provide Managers with the Support They Need

Managing an on-site team and managing remote teams require different skills. Of course, there’s plenty of overlap; organizational and people skills remain vital, for example. But to effectively make the transition to virtual management, managers may require extra support. Technical capabilities should be first on your list. Train managers to use the collaborative and communication tools you’ve implemented for remote working so that they can educate the rest of their team.

It’s also important to consider what employees will be missing while working from home so that managers can plug these gaps. Just because face-to-face meetings where both parties are physically in the same room can’t happen, that doesn’t mean one-to-ones should fall by the wayside. Support managers in continuing to give the same level of attention to employees working remotely that they would in person. In many cases, it may even be appropriate for them to increase their level of communication to make up for the lack of informal communication that would naturally occur in the workplace.

Encourage them to increase their volume of team meetings or one-to-one meetings to ensure employees don’t feel disconnected from the business. Empower them to continue to exercise their problem-solving capabilities with an “open door” policy and frequent communications. If their team is accustomed to participating in shared social activities, give them the resources to continue to hold virtual social events.

Finally, make sure managers have a number of touchpoints at the senior level of the business they can come to if they’re struggling to manage remotely. They may need help, for instance, enforcing regulations surrounding working hours, or carrying out a disciplinary procedure online.

No matter how significant the changes needed to excel in today’s remote-forward landscape, assessing your business needs early will allow you to set up operational processes and procedures for long-term success.