Lockdown. Shelter-in-place. Social distancing. There are a lot of things happening right now - and for good reason - but the end result is the same: you and your team are stuck at home. So what are you going to do about it?
For a lot of people, the answer is the same: work remotely. While that’s become common and even necessary in bigger organizations, it isn’t something that small businesses have always been readily willing or able to accommodate. But with COVID-19 taking the decision out of people’s hands, there are a lot of small businesses that are nervously dipping their toes into remote work for the first time.
Here at ElementIQ, we know a thing or two about getting things done remotely. It’s something that our team has been taking advantage of for years; different countries, different time zones – you name it, we’ve made it work. Armed with that knowledge, we’ve put together a rundown of habits, tools, and activities that’ll keep your team on their toes no matter where they are.
Remote Working Tips from Our Team
Keep People Accountable, But Don’t Be Big Brother
Mr. Zuckerberg? Mr. Putin?! Nope, it’s just your boss.
You don’t need people giving you status reports every hour, but you do want to keep people securely moored to their professional obligations. For us, that means meetings: a daily morning meeting for 15 minutes, an hour-long weekly review, and one-on-one meetings whenever we need them to get things done. The daily morning meeting, especially, is a must-have for making sure everyone is on the same page and has the support they need to complete their tasks.
Create a Structured Schedule (With a Bit of Wiggle Room)
The truth is that there's no such thing as too much caffeine.
Nothing is more useful for staying on track than organization, so that’s a habit you’ll want to start building right away. If you’ve got a workday morning schedule, stick to it – as the days go by, it’ll be your anchor for staying professional and in “work mode”. Ditto for the end of your day; tidy up your workspace as if you’re leaving for the day. Use your phone calendar to set reminders for meetings and deadlines at the start of each week, and make sure you have achievable goals to complete every day. Things will inevitably come up, but structure and a schedule will make it much easier to slot in new tasks and prioritize them.
Define Your Workspace
They may look innocent, but they’re actually remorseless productivity killers.
The trick here is to have everything you need within arm’s reach so you won’t wander and get distracted. Now, that won’t be much help if distractions start coming to you, so make sure your boundaries are your family’s boundaries too. That might mean doing a little extra planning in advance – like getting up early to tucker out your pupper or planning an activity schedule for your kids – but whatever it takes, stick to your guns and ensure that the boundaries of your workspace are respected.
Take Breaks for Your Mind and Body
Contrary to popular belief, it is indeed possible to meditate without yoga pants and a sports bra.
All these tips on staying focused, and now we’re telling you to break your concentration? Yes! Of course, if you’re in the zone and working at peak productivity, that’s probably not the best time to take a break. But if you’re feeling fatigued and notice yourself getting distracted by your phone or other family members, that might be a good sign that you should call a timeout to let your mind and body get their bearings again. 10 minutes of meditation (you can call it a brain break if the M-word scares you) or a quick stretching routine will do wonders for your ability to focus.
Recreate Your Workplace Atmosphere
Not that we’d know from personal experience or anything, but be careful about leaving your webcam on if you’re fond of singing or dancing at home. Just saying.
Certain folks just flourish in a communal environment. If that’s you, some of our team members recommend setting up a group call to work alongside friends or family for brief periods over the course of the day. Even if nobody’s actively speaking, just having the ambient sounds of a keyboard and mouse or shuffling papers can be a great way of preventing yourself from feeling overly isolated. And if you don’t know anyone who’s keen on leaving a video call on, there’s a huge selection of background sound videos on YouTube for places like coffee shops and offices.
The Digital Nomad Starter Kit
Communication and organization are always important, but once you make the switch to working remotely, they become absolutely crucial. Since every organization has different needs, there’s no universal toolbox that’ll work for everyone; that’s why it’s so essential for you to take time to pick tools that’ll support an optimal workflow for your team instead of just rolling out the first approach that seems like it can get the job done. With that in mind, here are the tools that work for us:
Nothing makes distance disappear quite like video calling, and that’s a big plus when you’re accustomed to physically sitting with your colleagues. It gives messaging that human touch, and with intuitive tools like screen sharing, it’s phenomenal for recreating those quick, get-things-done collaborations that make every workplace tick.
If Zoom replaces power meetings and the boardroom, Slack basically fills in for all the other internal communications – workplace banter included ;). Whether it’s one-one-one messaging or team-wide client updates, Slack can keep you organized and up-to-date. For us, that means separate channels for each client, plus a few other app integrations like HeyTaco! – which recognizes good work and keeps things light – and G Suite to streamline document sharing. And speaking of G Suite…
If your team can’t access the files they need remotely, it’s safe to say they’re not going to be getting much work done. That’s why we love Google’s G Suite lineup; by putting all the essential productivity tools online, it makes the process of creating, sharing, and reviewing documents completely seamless. Coupled with Zoom for instant communication, we’re able to work together just like we’re sitting side-by-side.
How far along is this project? Who’s doing that task? When is it due?
Getting clarity about those questions isn’t easy when everyone’s in the same place, and it can be doubly troubling when teams are spread across different cities and countries. Thanks to Teamwork, though, our team always has an easy way to stay on the ball with our projects. Since we’re often working separately, we use it to centralize our workflow into projects and tasks. From there, it’s easy to keep track of progress and make sure that any documents and collateral are clearly tied to specific tasks.
Experiment to Keep Things Exciting 😉
By the time this is all over, you and your team could be finger tutting masters.
The thing about going to a physical workplace is that there’s so much more to it than just projects and meetings. All those moments of camaraderie in-between tasks are the mortar that holds great teams together. We don’t have a perfect formula for capturing that magic from the other side of a screen (yet), but we’re certainly going to try to find one!
One of the things we’d like to try is team matinees. That could be in the form of watching a TED Talk together, or even just getting everyone online for a Netflix Party.
We’re also going to kick the tires on group wellness sessions – right now that looks like it’ll be focused on meditation and 15-minute lunchtime workouts, but it feels like that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Last but not least, we’ve mooted the idea of dabbling in a bit of virtual team-building with group activities like scavenger hunts, costume challenges, and Jeopardy. There’s no two ways about it; we’re a competitive group, and with no sports on air right now, we’ve decided to pick up the slack ourselves.
Who doesn’t love a good motivational wallpaper?
Making changes isn’t always easy, and even if you’re following guidelines and best practices from experienced remote workers like ourselves, you might still have some hiccups. Which is okay - like climbing any learning curve, it’s just about making those iterative improvements and discovering what works best for you, what works best for your team, and how you can harmonize both sets of needs.
It might be COVID-19, a financial downturn, or some hotshot upstart dropping their disruptive innovation into your industry’s lap, but obstacles are bound to come up from time to time. When changes are coming fast and often - as they are right now - a successful business needs to be agile and versatile to respond, and with our tips and tools your team will be well on its way to creating a remote work routine that lets your business thrive.