My first reaction on the topic of working remotely was the lyric “For those about to ROCK….we salute you!” I have a lot of passion for this topic because it can enable productivity at levels that may not be realized in an office setting. I have been working and managing teams remotely for well over a decade. It has become one of my secrets of success (not a secret now, I suppose), but to get there I had to figure out the formula on my own, often through trial and error. Years ago when I had just started, I went through the same challenges as anyone trying it for the first time. Time management, people management (your team, family and friends,) and self-discipline are areas you have to master to be successful. Once you conquer these you’ll really be able to see the productivity potential remote work provides.
Given the on-site business constraints we’re experiencing today from the Coronavirus pandemic that mandates actually implementing “social distance,” remote work becomes a necessity. Many tech companies like Oracle, Apple, Google and Amazon are among the largest global companies that have restricted travel or asked their employees to work remotely as a precaution against the coronavirus pandemic, and even many smaller companies are doing the same. This massive move to remote work is really unprecedented, not to mention that six counties in California, one of them mine, have been directed to “Shelter in Place”, a trend that is spreading nationwide.
What should you know to make your transition to working remotely as smooth as possible?
Let me outline some areas below that can help you avoid some common breakdowns.
- Time Management. our schedule shouldn’t change. In fact, you should have more time because you aren’t commuting. Use that time to do something productive. Block off your normal commuting time to spend on personal development. Keep up on industry blogs, work out, build your network, listen to a podcast, etc. Productively using the time not commuting gives you back can be a huge advantage.
- Set up a Workspace. Working in the middle of a high traffic area in your house will be rough. If at all possible, dedicate a place to work. You can focus better when you are out of sight-range of others. Have all your tools within reach, i.e., your computer, phone, chargers, documents, lighting, a comfortable chair, printer, pens, notebooks, etc. (and your dog, of course.)
- Set Boundaries. This is a challenge for a lot of people because, although you know you are home working, everyone else just knows you are “home.” YAY you’re home!! It’s critical to set and enforce a boundary that let’s everyone know that when you’re working it’s the same as when you were at the office. You have to be consistent with it for others to take you seriously. Headsets.comhas a great tool called a Busy Buddy that helps to give a visual cue (a red light on your desk) that you are on a call and Do Not Disturb. After everyone can see you are serious about keeping your job they will respect the boundary.
- Self Discipline. You need to organize yourself and provide your own structure by using lists, calendars, measurements, tools, etc. to make sure you are productive. There are many great apps like Evernote, or Asana to manage your time and output, and I’ve listed these and more below. If you don’t provide your own structure, you’ll reach the end of your day and realize you’ve accomplished far less than you intended.
- Distractions. There are good distractions and bad distractions. Good ones can be music, podcasts or whatever you like to have running in the background. Bad distractions are ones that make you less productive such as construction, lawn care, dogs barking, etc. Schedule around the times the bad distractions are happening. Schedule calls to clients when you don’t have to worry about background noise. Whatever your work style is, keep it moving so you aren’t sacrificing productivity.
- Hiring.If you are interviewing people that will work remotely long-term, make sure they know how to do so effectively. In my business, I can’t take the time to train them, so some experience is essential. We have a very precise infrastructure that is dialed-in and if someone isn’t able to manage themselves within the parameters you’ve set, they will almost certainly fail. People that say “I have always wanted to work from home” or “I would love to try it” are probably not a fit.
- Communication. This is one of the most crucial areas to address. Your communication style will likely need to be revised while working remotely. Those random “run into each other” exchanges, in-person meetings, brainstorming, lunch meetings, etc., will now demand a different approach. Knowing how your team thinks and works helps to know how to direct and support them. Tools like DiSC, MBTI (Some 88% of the Fortune 100 use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator “MBTI” test for either hiring or professional development,) or other tools to monitor how your team operates can help. Introverts may love to work in isolation while extroverts may start to wilt after a few days being on their own. For more socially oriented team members, video calls can help to feel connected.
- Be Proactive. Don’t assume people know what you are doing. You have a lot of different styles all thrown out into the field, and what seems obvious because you are sitting at a desk may actually have a lot of blind spots. Create a list of objectives for yourself and your employees and have them report their progress with them. A shared document can even serve as a central source of reference for what is happening on the team. A lack of visibility along with communication breakdowns can create quite a cluster of “unknowns.” Think of what you want your people to know, and, if you are the team leader, think of what YOU need to know — make sure you have an unintrusive way to monitor their progress. Avoid scheduling unnecessary meetings that are nothing but a micromanaging way to just chew up time. Trust your people but enable visibility. A good tool I have used is a document that outlines 1) what you are working on, 2) what you will complete this week, 3) what is in play in the background, 4) your 5 goals for the week and 5) what resources are needed.
- Personal scheduling. Inefficient scheduling can be disruptive especially with inexperienced remote workers. As much as possible, schedule domestic tasks the same as you would if you were in the office. Just because you are home, consider the impact before you disturb your work time with things like getting the carpets cleaned, going to the mall, etc. Don’t get caught in the trap of letting yourself get pulled into all kinds of tasks and errands that chew up your day. It can feel like you’ve worked all day because distracting side issues were on your mind, you were answering nonessential emails, etc. but actually you were only engaged a couple of hours. Plan your day as you would if you were in the office. If you’re working on tasks that you wouldn’t tackle in the office, you’re wasting time and productivity.
Tools. There are a ton of tools I recommend to make working remotely easy(ier.) Here’s my list of favorites:
- Slack Great for chat, calls, document sharing. It’s cheap and effective with lots of cool features.
- Asana Excellent project management tool that is easy to use for personal/team project management. Free for personal use and cheap for teams.
- CloudApp My new favorite tool. Capture desktop, images, record your desktop, share instantly, make fast tutorials, training videos, etc. I highly recommend this, and it’s priced great. Then you can make quick tutorials of these other tools I am listing :)
- BaseCamp Organize teams, projects, communications and tons of other things.
- GoogleDocs The bare minimum….
- Skype Not my favorite tool, but deserves a mention….it’s free and does the job.
- Zoom Great for meetings, video calls, on the fly meetings, etc. I use it frequently and really like it.
- Dropbox Easy way to share a file, create a space for everyone to share docs, etc.
- Noteability I love this app on my iPad. You can take notes, record them, and the app syncs the notes with the recording. It has a ton of great features I really like. Keep your to-do lists, personal time management, meeting notes, multiple folders and project content, etc.
I started building a remote team when it was still considered novel, and I sometimes got objections from prospects like “we really prefer to work with a company with a brick and mortar operation that affords a hands-on, personal interaction”. Now, working remotely is common and personal when you structure it right. If a client has a question about it, they don’t ask for the reason of effectiveness. Our clients are remote, their teams are remote, etc. It’s become an accepted way of conducting business.
You might be forced into working remotely right now, but you might find you actually love it.
Glad to answer any questions and give tips. This is an area I am really passionate about because you can be highly productive in a remote environment when you structure it right!
MariAnne Anne Vanella is CEO of The Vanella Group, Inc. a sales development firm working exclusively with B2B enterprise tech firms. She is also an award-winning author of the Best Seller “42 Rules of Cold Calling Executives.” She developed the proprietary Telesales 2.0™ methodology which produces 5x above the DMA industry standard for tele-based lead generation.
The Vanella Group, Inc. is featured on many industry channels such as SiliconReview, the C-Suite Network, The Sales Lead Management Association, and many others.
Learn more at www.VanellaGroup.com