Working remotely is not easy—especially if your team is used to working in close physical proximity. Remote work means more potential misunderstandings and more need for discipline, but fewer time-consuming meetings and less socializing.
As the corona virus spreads across the world, we will see more people working remotely. Many companies will be forced to send their employees home, or encourage them to work remotely to cut office costs.
Advice Number 1: More Planning, More Discipline
It is no easy task to work remotely, especially if you aren’t used to it. But if you start out with good discipline and thorough planning, you raise your chances of success. That means things like well-scheduled conference calls with your colleagues, and sticking strictly to your schedule. If people don’t “arrive” at a scheduled conference time, things get unnecessarily complex and everyone’s time is wasted. If it looks like a conference call will run past the time allotted—so much that it will interfere with people’s other important tasks and obligations—you may have to schedule another call later on.
Nadia Nielsson, founder of DigitizedDNA, says, “When I’m at the office, there are coffee breaks, interruptions, socializing—that doesn’t happen at home. My work involves solving complex problems, so it’s quite counter-productive to be interrupted during the day.”
Make sure you schedule in plenty of non-conference time for pure production. Otherwise too much of your precious time is going to be eaten up in conferences, and that can ruin your productivity. One easy solution is to schedule no-conference days.
Nadia adds, “I like to socialize and help others solve their problems. Working remotely doesn’t mean you can’t do that; it just happens in a more planned way, like in conference calls or precise e-mails.”
Advice Number 2: Use Good Communication to Keep Your Team Aligned
For some people and teams, verbal communication and physical meetings work better than written communications. But in most teams, you need to talk a little more when you don’t see each other in person on a daily basis. Sometimes a phone call is a better choice to solve an issue or to align actions, where an email could easily be misinterpreted. For example, what does “fine” mean, in response to an email? Does it mean, “Fine, I agree—problem solved, let’s move on?” or is it more like “Fine. I understand what you’re saying, but I disagree, and I have no intention of following your stupid order!” Or is it simply “Fine. I get it.” Simple words or too-brief messages are often insufficiently explicit. There’s another crucial factor in play, too: non-verbal signals (such as voice tone and body language) can convey as much as 70% of what mean to communicate. Something to keep in mind when reading texts, emails and documents from others, and when crafting your own.
To keep people aligned, it’s a good idea to hold brief, scheduled update meetings. Dan Rose, CEO of Paperflow, suggests “… a smart team begins each workday with a conference call, so everyone knows what everyone else is up to, and for the social comfort of knowing the team is all available.”
Advice Number 3: Know Your Team Well
Whether working remotely (and at any time, really) a major element of team success is familiarity. Familiarity on three levels: as individuals, knowing each other as colleagues; as leaders, knowing each of those we lead; as sub-teams, knowing each other sub-team’s needs, responsibilities, etc.
At our company, Successteam, we monitor four key parameters to ensure the team works seamlessly at each level:
By tracking these parameters, the entire team gets a much better feeling for how everyone is doing. Without this information, it can be extremely difficult for any team larger than about five to work smoothly. And it becomes even more difficult if team members don’t have the chance to get together in person.
Advice Number 4: Be Clear, Simple and Explicit in Your Communications
When you’re not working in the same space, you need to make sure people clearly understand assignments and requests before they begin working on them. Working remotely means asking more questions. Like, “Could you explain this assignment back to me, so we’re both sure we understand what’s wanted?” And “When can I expect you to begin, and how much time will you need for this task?”
Working remotely, it’s also important to keep emails brief and simple. And when a matter is unavoidably complex, insist on a conference call or follow-up meeting where those involved can ask questions, and give and get clarifications.
Advice Number 5: Guard Your Health and Keep Moving
Working from home can be pleasant and efficient, but that easier home environment can lull you into dropping out important health measures—and that can lead to real trouble. For example, it’s been found that remote workers tend to eat less varied and less healthy diets. Just as important, when they don’t have to travel to and from a workplace (with all the motion that involves), they can “settle in” and forget to move around. So, eat healthy, varied meals and snacks. Stay away from junk foods and sugary drinks. And move! Take breaks for a bit of exercise. A quick walk, some simple stretches and exercises—any motion is good motion.
Top Pros and Cons of Working Remotely
For sure, there are many advantages to working remotely. The ones most often cited are schedule flexibility, free choice of work environment, and more time to concentrate.
On the other hand, there can be downsides. For one, with no in-person interaction or team dynamic, home work can feel lonely. Discipline can also be an issue; with no team around you, it can be too easy to “bounce off” work tasks and get caught up in other activities and distractions. The increased need for clear, disciplined communication is another crucial challenge.
In the end, working remotely is not a “silver bullet” that solves every issue. But it can have a significant positive impact, when people learn and follow the rather simple rules outlined here.