Coronavirus crisis

8 tips for managing a remote workforce

No one expects a pandemic, but those who created contingency plans are easing into the transition. For the rest of us, here are eight ways to keep things running smoothly while ensuring your approach reflects the reality of the epidemic and gauges how your employees are faring during the crisis.

Zoom video conferencing  >  One user connected via laptop showing a grid of remote participants.

Coronavirus crisis

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Few companies could have predicted the need for sudden, widespread remote computing, but those who created contingency plans are easing into the transition, while others continue to struggle with remote standups and near total reliance on collaboration tools.

Tech pros say keeping things running smoothly requires a mix of the right technology, while maintaining your office’s culture even at a distance. Also, some of the usual check-ins, now frequently by video, need to reflect the reality of the epidemic, and how employees are fairing during the crisis. 

So here’s how to maintain your technology and your sanity in your now distributed office.

1. Don’t skimp on security 

All devices connecting to corporate resources need malware protection and scheduled scanning, says Julie Branc, national director of client experience and Strategy at All Covered, Konica Minolta’s IT division.

“Now is the best time to deploy a managed security awareness training program,” Branc says. “COVID-19 Coronavirus phishing emails are on the rise. Unfortunately, there weren't many companies ready for the abrupt call to lock down nor the aggressive timelines to move all employees to work from home. A major challenge and focus remains to be security and compliance of the end points that now live outside of the protected corporate network.”

2. Communicate your strategy

Rishon Blumberg, a managing partner of 10x Management, says working remotely is dependent on adjusting your methods of communication. He recommends setting specific, measurable goals and announcing a schedule virtual stand-ups with a schedule that works for your office – then sticking to it. 

“Break your team down into groups of no more than six people,” Blumberg says. “It helps ensure that clear communication in each group can occur without the group feeling overwhelmed with opinions and comments. Create communication threads for each of these groups so that group members know where to go in order to communicate with others.

3. Stay social

Maintaining office events that help with morale and keeps people feel connected is vital at the moment, says Dima Peteva, brand and culture director at SiteGround.

A social circle is critical during this time,” Peteva says. “At SiteGround we tried to take many of our office activities online – we organize game nights online, we're working on a GetFit challenge to encourage people to stay active at home and share how they're doing with their teammates.”

Peteva also recommends establishing boundaries between work and home. It’s important to be intentional about how you separate the two. 

“While working at home the temptation to keep glancing at your work email or finish just this one task and end up working overtime could be very dangerous, so we encourage people to keep their normal work hours and have leisure activities planned afterwards,” she says. “If they live alone, or don't have any ideas, we have a book club and other online group activities that they can join.”

4. Up your check-in game

Given the level of stress induced from working from home during the pandemic, tech pros are making sure to let their teams express how they’re doing before launching directly into what needs to be done at work. 

“I ensure my teams are handling change and remote work well by constant communication,” says Susan Lally, vice president of engineering at CloudBees. “Sometimes it can be hard and ever-changing, but I’ve been using a combination of methods to ensure everyone can connect with me if they need to. I’ve been hosting office hours and holding all-team video calls where my team can chat about anything from work to how they’re feeling that day. I want my teams to feel connected and know I’m available if they need me.”

5. Conference with authority

Minolta’s Branc says virtual meetings can be overdone to the point of being a burden. And when you host them, be mindful of the time. 

“Don’t try to mimic an office with too many calls or meetings,” Branc says. “Allow people to adjust. You will most likely find they work more efficiently and have more output when they are not pulled into a virtual meeting every other hour of the day. And keep conference calls to the time committed. Allowing conversations to continue outside of the scheduled time can bleed into other commitments for the person or group you are speaking with, causing them stress. Being mindful and courteous of their time keeps people more engaged during the time you are working with them.”

6. Go pro

1Password CEO Jeff Shiner manages a company that’s almost entirely remote and has been for more than 14 years. He says there are a few key tips for working from home that make the transition easier, and it starts with how you set up your computers. 

“Ideally, you’ll have two devices: one for work and one for home,” Shiner says. “If that’s not possible, using your laptop with a monitor and keyboard, rather than in your lap, can serve as a mental cue to separate work and personal time. Partitioning your hard drive and creating a separate user account for work is a good idea too.”

Shiner also recommends some work-like practices to bring home with you, that can keep you focused and ready to get things done. 

“Dress for work,” he says. “We’re not talking full suit and tie here, but wearing comfortable, presentable clothes, rather than tatty pajamas, can help with focus. I personally wear shoes at my desk, it helps put me in the right mindset for work. Stick to a regular schedule. Even if working from home means you can be flexible with your time, setting your own hours and sticking to them helps maintain work-life balance and mentally untangle at the end of the day.”

7. Trust your team

Your default stance, when working remotely, should be trust, says Rafael Solis, COO of Braidio, who says that it’s the most important aspect of working together with a distributed team.

“Remote work becomes significantly more challenging if there is no trust,” Solis says. “It’s key and so is culture and chemistry. It’s important to consider how social isolation can make your teams feel, such as loneliness or feeling disconnected from the organization. So it’s important to work on finding ways to create greater engagement.”

8. Set expectations

Chris Fielding, CIO of Sungard AS, recommends a kick-off so that everyone has the same level of understanding when you organize your remote collaboration workflow. 

“It’s critical to ensure that all colleagues are heard, which requires careful management by the activity leader and support by all the team members,” Fielding says. “They need to work together to create a trusting environment where all colleagues feel respected and are able to speak openly. This allows everyone to get help resolving their issues that would previously have been a water cooler conversation.”