How to start working remotely as a team?

Many teams were forced to start working remotely due to the pandemic. You might have liked aspects of working remotely and are interested in giving it a more planned try. But how? Do you send everybody home for the week?

How to start working remotely as a team?
Photo by Sigmund / Unsplash

Many teams were forced to start working remotely due to the pandemic. You might have liked aspects of working remotely and are interested in giving it a more planned try. But how? Do you send everybody home for the week?

This article will give you an outline and tips on how to start working remotely with your team.

Share your plans.

When sharing your plans on starting an experiment with working remotely, you might get a two split. Some people will love the idea of working from home again, while other people's experiences weren't that great and rather keep working from the office.

Now is the time to ask yourself, do I want to force everyone to work remotely, or do we plan on keeping the office? Whatever your answer is, be open and honest with your team. "We'll see after the trial" isn't an answer when sharing your plans with your team.

However, an excellent way to decide how to move forward is to take an anonymized survey within your team to figure out how many people:

  1. Don't want to participate in the trial, and thus rather stay working from the office.
  2. Want to work from home full time for the trial.
  3. Rather have a couple of days working from home and a couple of days from the office.

The majority wants to participate.

Time to get everyone in a room together and share your plans on the next steps of the trial!

The majority doesn't want to participate.

If most of the team doesn't want to participate, however sad this makes me, it might not be as good an idea to start the experiment. You could always get the team together to talk about this openly, check if there are any concerns that you can resolve that might allow the trial to move forward.

Some people want to participate, and some don't.

Again, talk about this openly to resolve any concerns. Since the survey was anonymized, thread carefully since you don't want to share any information that might lead back to a person.

After you've shared the plans that you think take away many of the concerns, run another survey to see if everyone's on board.

If there are still people who don't want to work from home, it's time to make a decision, which I can't make for you.

Do you want to continue with the experiment, close the office(s), and force everyone to work remotely? Consider the impact this will have on the people who don't want to work from home. Their morale will drop, and in the worst-case scenario, they might consider looking for another job.

But you could think about adopting a hybrid approach to remote working. But please, don't take the horrible popular hybrid approach where you say, "You work three days a week from the office and two times a week from home."

An excellent hybrid way of working is; "Work remotely if you want to, and we'll provide you with a place to work from / meet whenever you'll need it." This way people who still like to work from the office can do so.

If you have multiple offices, working hybridly might still allow you to close some of your offices (if that was one of your goals) since fewer people will work from the offices.

Prepare the home offices.

Look, your home office might already be the equivalent of the NASA mission control center, but it's nothing more than the kitchen table or the couch for many people.

So before you send everybody home, ask everyone if they have the proper equipment to get the most out of their working day. For some people, you might need to relocate the desk from the office to their homes, while others might need a more powerful computer to get the job done.

But remember that it's a trial, so with facilitating a computer, I don't mean "buy everybody a $4000 new MacBook," but also think along the lines of relocating their desktop from the office to their homes. And if someone isn't tech-savvy, have someone help them set it up at home.

At this point, it's not an option to tell people that they can't work from home. Bite the bullet and provide the proper equipment.

For more information about creating a home office, check out this series!

Think about communication beforehand.

Now that you've made sure that everyone is equipped and ready to work from home, it's time to look at the thing that arguably has the most significant impact on the success of your remote work trial: communication.

Gone are the days where you can walk up to someone's desk with a question (and boy are those moments productivity wasters for the person who's getting pulled out of their work).

It's time to adopt "asynchronous communication" methods.

Asynchronous communication means that real-time communication methods like meetings or zoom calls are considered a last resort. Use tools like Slack or even email and normalize that people can determine their own time to answer any question.

This will take some getting used to, and to help you out; here are two posts that will help you guide your team move towards asynchronous communication:

  1. Communicating in an asynchronous office
  2. How to manage all those notifications

It's all about trust and the feeling of being trusted.

To make asynchronous communication work, you must create a culture of trust.

Trust that people will do their best work in their own time. Please don't fall into the trap of more micromanagement because you are worried about whether people are putting enough time into their work.

As mentioned many times on this blog: focus on output (performance), not on input (time).

Then onto a point, that is less obvious; keep your jokes to yourself.

If you are in the first months of working remotely, please (and I can't stress this enough) keep your work from home jokes to yourself.

If someone is going out for groceries in the middle of the day, likely because they start to feel comfortable with working their own set hours, encourage it with a comment along the lines of:

"Thanks for letting me know! However, it's perfectly fine to update your status to "away/busy" next time."

If you comment with "already slacking huh 😉," even if it's with the best intentions, you are making someone feel uncomfortable (and worst-case scenario stressed) about if they should stay behind their computer for the sole reason of staying available.

Gather data on performance.

It shouldn't take data to trust your team, but it sure helps determine some metrics that help you decide how working remotely (or hybridly) impacts your team's performance.

What metrics are essential to your business? What were the numbers before you started the trial?

Don't be discouraged when the metrics go down for a little while. After all, it takes time to get used to working from home. However, be vigilant if the numbers worsen by the week; this might indicate that you need to improve specific processes because they are ineffective when considering asynchronous communication and a remote team.

If this happens, my advice would be not to blame it on working remotely / distributed, but rather celebrate that you've found something that needs to be improved.

Track people data.

When you manage a remote/distributed team, it's crucial to gather data on how people feel. I get that this might sound a little corny to some, but realize that you no longer see people every day. You won't notice if someone looks stressed or tired, and you also won't notice someone glow.

For that reason, it's essential to run regular check-ins with your team. In short, check-ins are a way for the team to share their work, successes (personal or work), and concerns.

These check-ins can also be asynchronous and often happen before or at the end of a workday.

From my experience, you get better insights from running check-ins than working alongside people in the office. So even if you don't decide on giving remote work a try, look into doing check-ins.

For more information on how to perform check-ins, check out my post on check-ins.

Don't forget about the office.

Sometimes you have the feeling that you didn't accomplish much during the day. You got a sick kid at home or just didn't feel that productive.

Please don't blame it on working from home, and realize that you also have off days when working from the office.

Take a day for yourself and get back to it tomorrow.

Evaluate, and draw your conclusion.

Now that you are at the end of the trial, gathered and processed all the data, it's time to bring the team in and share the results.

What did the metrics tell you? And more importantly, what did the team think of this trial period?

Is it worth a definitive move to remote/hybrid work? Or do you need to extend the trial for another month?

Whatever you decide, you can now back it up with the data and the experience to show for it.