If you plan to move your team from the office to remote work, there are processes you can put in place to avoid major disruptions. After all, the work still has to get done. How you do that work, however, has to change fast.
As the CEO of an online meeting productivity company, I belong to several networks of technologists and trainers who support effective remote work. We're all hearing from lots of panicked team leaders. Panic, of course, doesn't make this challenging situation any easier.
To avoid the productivity hit and prevent unnecessary drama for a team that's suddenly gone remote, schedule these three meetings to get everyone aligned and operating smoothly.
1. Create a remote working team agreement.
Most remote work problems can be traced back to bad assumptions. Assuming someone would be online to answer your question. Assuming you'd get a reply to your email right away. Assuming that work-from-home is basically the same as in the office, except you're on the phone more. (It's not.)
Teams that create working agreements know what to expect so they don't have to make these assumptions.
At a minimum, your team should discuss and agree on:
- A message-to-medium map
What kind of information should people send in email? What goes into chat? What do you discuss in meetings? Brainstorm a list of the information you all need to share, then agree on how and when it's shared.
- Working hours
Some remote workers may flex their working hours around supply runs, children, and other real-life necessities. Successful remote teams honor this flexibility, but also commit to some time together every day. Your team should select one or two hours when everyone commits to being online at the same time.
Beyond shared hours, agree on how you'll signal your availability. Many teams use the presence indicators built into their software (those green circles that light up when people are online) but at times, these indicators continue to say "here" long after someone walks away. Before you assume, make sure everyone understands how to set their status and what those status indicators mean for your team.
- Response Times
Group chat can easily turn in to an all-day gabfest. Then nothing gets done. Prevent that by encouraging everyone to block out time for focused work. Then, set expectations about how quickly people should expect replies.
For example, in our team we expect chat replies within an hour for people with their status set to "available" and email replies within a day. If we need someone right now, we call.
To make this meeting run smoothly, ask everyone on your team to come prepared with:
- A list of the information they need to get the job done
- Where and how they expect to share that information
- Their expectations about response times
During the meeting, your team can compare these lists. Find everything that you all agree about and write this down first. Then, spend the rest of your meeting settling on a "good enough for now" strategy on the rest.
You'll revisit this agreement at the end of the week, so no one has to worry about getting locked forever into a bad deal.
2. Run daily check-ins.
It's easy to feel isolated, ignored, or abandoned as a remote worker. Daily check-in rituals help everyone know what's going on that day and that they're not alone.
Run your check-in as a 10-minute virtual meeting or via group chat. For example, my team members check-in via chat when they come online, sharing:
I'll be out at...
I need help with...
This single message does triple-duty, letting us know when someone's working, what we can expect from them that day, and how we can help unblock anything that's dragging down their ability to get stuff done.
3. Plan to innovate.
Run a quick action review at the end of the week. Teams like the Navy Seals and elite athletes use action reviews to quickly learn, adapt to new situations, and adjust their strategy. Your team will use the action review to quickly innovate your approach to remote work. In these meetings, ask everyone:
- What happened this week?
- What worked well that we should keep doing?
- What needs to change?
- What one or two specific changes should we try next?
Follow these steps to go from zero-to-functional. Then start looking around. All-remote workplaces are more common than you think, and we're all ready to share what works.