Before you start working remotely at your company, you need to ensure that you have the basics right. Read about the most important factors of a successful remote work experience.
There are plenty of reasons to cultivate a remote-work culture in your company. Be it for hiring purposes, public health concerns or cost-related topics. Some very popular companies have built their success on a remote workforce. Among them are: Zapier, Gitlab or Automattic (the makers of Wordpress). Styles of remote work are:
Partially remote systems ("Satellite" and "Remote employees") are difficult to make work, as in-office discussions risk sidestepping the established conversation guidelines. On the other hand, systems that are remote in their foundation ("Fully distributed" & "Remote first") incentivize and essentially force people to adhere to the established remote processes.
Still, either style can be successful – if you put the work in groundwork and double down on the right processes.
1.) Defining actionable goals
Before the Space Network, NASA astronauts and spacecrafts could only reach mission control less than 15 minutes every hour and a half.- NASA - talk about remote
Here's the thing: Remote work requires your people to make decisions on their own since communication cycles are far longer – just like with NASA. How can you make this happen? By taking measures that each individual takes as much responsibility in their realm as possible.
The first step is to define a proper strategy that fits your team. This is not the classic "Bring happiness to the world" (Coca Cola), rather something more actionable. At Grape, we've broken it down to a "napkin plan" – a plan that fits on a napkin and describes the individual efforts of each team to contribute to the greater goal. The example below shows Uber's great napkin plan, one that the company used for a while:
If your company/department struggles with conflicts like people colliding on the question of who's responsible for a certain customer's request, this method can help segment your greater vision. It also makes it easier for people to reach out proactively to other divisions without the need for supervision (e.g. "Hey, you are in charge of new sales prospects, I could handle twice as many presentations – what can we do to increase the rate?").
2.) Making progress visible
We've established that remote work is about employee empowerment. But with great ownership comes great accountability. The team needs an efficient, reliable system that allows you to define individual goals and track them easily. At Grape, we work with Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) that help the team members keep their goals in mind without needing to constantly communicate with a manager.
To create true accountability, you need to define key objectives for your individual teams and connect them with measurable KPIs. These OKRs are usually set for a full quarter, ensuring that your team can focus on execution. With Grape, you can create automatic reminders for your teams to establish a routine of filling out the Key Results each week.
3.) Meeting flow
Meetings are the topic of another article but in this context, it's all about brevity. As previously mentioned, remote work is better for iteration than for innovation. This also means it takes less time to bring people up to speed.
To get the most out of remote meetings you should:
- shorten average meeting length: from 1 hour to 15- or 30-minute chunks,
- reduce stakeholders: to the minimum number of people (technical issues tend to slow progress),
- have the webcams on: let the speaking person know that you are not browsing cat pictures,
- never (!) have meetings without a proper agenda: attention dies fast without tangible progress,
- and move all meetings to one half of the day: morning or afternoon (depending on your business).
4.) Managing data and knowledge
With goals, streamlined reporting and efficient syncs, your team can look forward to a great future collaborating remotely. But in the first weeks of remote work, you'll notice one thing becoming harder to maintain: knowledge silos. In-house teams can rely on expertise being in the same room. Recording processes and guidelines is key to tapping expert knowledge that hasn't yet been made accessible to the rest of the team.
You'll need everybody contributing to a knowledge and process management base. Choose one of the countless services like Confluence, SharePoint or Notion.so but remember, the most important aspect is the process they facilitate. Every person must follow one style of documentation and actively improve on it.
How to establish great knowledge coverage:
- You need a template so that all entries follow the same style. It's critical to make it easy and follow and ideally, fun to use.
- The first article of the base should be a description of how to build knowledge base articles and how the base is organized.
- Focus first on what gets asked on a weekly or daily basis. Using Grape's Natural Language Processing (NLP), for instance, you can browse all the questions asked in a project. While there is always room for improvement, focusing on pain points achieves better buy-in from your team.
- At least one OKR for each team that touches the documentation topic.
- Occasional cross-team stress-tests of your knowledge base.
5.) Building culture and staying sane
"Culture eats strategy for breakfast," said Peter Drucker the godfather of management. When you are in the same location it tends to evolve organically. With a remote-first team, you need to make a bigger effort to establish great team culture. While every company's culture is different, you can take some measures to keep the engine running. For Example:
- Engage via tools that allow people to be social.
- Get anonymous feedback from your team through a monthly poll.
- And combat loneliness by having regular 1-on-1s.
The selection of your communication tools is an important factor, as your team will digitally build all the aspects of an in-office company into them. Make sure that everyone is onboarded properly and use your first month to establish virtual routines from check-in in the morning, over joint lunch breaks (maybe a "share your lunch"-channel) to afternoon fun-posts, to make the digital workplace feel like home.
Loneliness is a key challenge in modern society and it can suddenly happen to some of your most social coworkers, once they start working from home. You need to actively seek out feedback from your team (monthly feedback forms are automatically sent to our employees), discuss that topic in one-on-ones, establish routine and help your peers stay social.
6.) Using the right stuff
Your team needs the right equipment to work from home. Do they have a laptop or work station that can run your office tools? Is all your company data available to them from their home network? Do they have proper chairs, an ergonomic table and (if their remote location is their home) a separate room where they can work undistracted? All these things are important if you want efficient teams that can contribute to your company goals the right way.
On the tool side you need to cover:
- Internal Documentation (Knowledge Base)
- Communication (Grape)
- Goal Management (OKRs)
- Automation Tool (to establish routines)
- Meeting-System (Grape)
- Cloud/Internet-Accessible File Storage
Are you ready?
Download our checklist and see how close you are to a fully functional remote team. No matter if this is a temporary phase of your company or you are going full-remote, your team will definitely profit from the measures above.
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This article was created for our Month of Remote Work in March, 2020. We will constantly update this page and extend each section with a focused article.
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