Google is asking all of its North American workers to telework, Facebook has shut down one of its Seattle offices, Twitter is strongly encouraging employees to work from home, and Gap has closed its NYC office to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. And they are not alone. Many companies are scrambling to protect their people by halting travel and asking them to work from home.
Here’s the problem: Most companies aren’t set up to support remote work, and it’s not as easy as dispensing laptops. As the president of one of the first and largest fully remote companies in the U.S., I can tell you that building a productive (and happy) remote workforce takes planning. Here’s what you need to know about setting up your employees for success. The good news is, it doesn’t take long.
1. Track output, not hours
It’s baffling, but most companies still use a “time-in-the-chair” metric to help gauge employee performance. The single most important thing you can do to guarantee the productivity of your remote workforce is to measure them by their output, rather than by the hours they work.
Let me say that again: measure output, not hours. Why? Because you’ll both increase your revenue-to-employee ratio and have happier employees. If people are fulfilling their job responsibilities, producing solid work, and collaborating effectively with their teams, why does it matter when, where, or how much they work? Become a results-oriented workplace, and people will be more productive, engaged, and happier. For more on this, read my article How Do You Know Your Remote Workers Are Working?
2. Choose good technology
In a remote work environment, using online apps that people can access anytime and anywhere is a no-brainer. While there are many great apps out there, I’ll share the ones we know, love, and use every day at Articulate. All of these apps can be spun up within minutes and are so intuitive to use that people can get started quickly — without training.
G Suite is where we develop documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. We use Google Calendar to schedule meetings and Gmail for that rare email we send to someone outside the company. For internal communications, we use Slack, but more on that in a minute. G Suite mobile apps are responsive and work well on tablets and phones, too. So, even if you’re using a smaller screen, it’s easy to get work done.
Articulate was founded in 2002, way before Slack. Even though we spent more than a decade collaborating via Skype, it’s still hard to remember how we functioned (and well) without Slack. In a remote work environment, Slack is a must. It lets people collaborate and communicate in real time, makes it easy to disseminate info quickly to the right people, and provides a way for people to participate in topical channels that foster community.
If you’ve been following the tech market over the last few weeks, you’ll note that Zoom stock has taken off. And for good reason. This video conferencing app handles our all-company town hall meetings with hundreds of attendees just as easily as it does one-on-one video calls. If you’re tempted to use Google Hangouts instead, don’t. It’s way less reliable, and the user experience subpar. Invest in a Zoom account. It’s worth it.
Our engineers would be lost without GitHub. We use it to host and review code and manage engineering projects. To manage nontechnical projects, we use Trello, which integrates with TeamGantt, a great tool for planning and sequencing projects.
Finally, we train all of our folks using our own all-in-one training system, Rise. Rise makes online training easy to create, enjoyable to take, and simple to manage. It’s the online training system employees actually love. It’s way more cost-effective (and definitely safer given COVID-19) than in-person training. (By the way, we created a free Rise course to combat misinformation about the COVID-19 coronavirus. We’re also giving it to our Rise customers in-app as well, so they can customize it for their companies.)
There are no water coolers, no hallways, no lunchrooms, and no chances to gather information by osmosis when you’re working remotely. Everyone, from the top down, needs to be intentional about communication in a remote environment. Teams must plan their communication flows, deciding together what kind of information needs to be shared, who it needs to be shared with, how it will be shared, and when it will be shared.
And remember, people need to hear things multiple times in multiple ways, so plan for that. For example, you might make it a practice to create and pin a Slack note in a group channel that records decisions, action items, and updates that you discuss in live video calls.
4. Collaborate in real time
One of the most common questions we get from people about remote work is: How do you collaborate? I always smile at this because Articulate is the most collaborative place I’ve ever worked. While you might not have a physical whiteboard when working remotely, you do have powerful tools for collaboration at your disposal. You can share your screen during a Zoom meeting. You can work asynchronously together on docs, sheets, or slides in Google. You can brainstorm ideas in a video call or a group Slack channel. The only limit to collaboration is your company’s appetite for doing so. If you’re already highly collaborative, you’ll have no problem finding the right apps to collaborate remotely.
5. Go on camera
I’ll admit it. There’s nothing quite like connecting with someone in person. Luckily, seeing them on video is a close second. The important thing is being able to read expressions and body language. Here’s one word of warning, though: DO NOT under any circumstances do video calls where some folks are sitting around a conference table.
So, if you’ve closed your Seattle office but your San Jose office is still open, don’t collect your San Jose folks in a conference room to do a Zoom call with colleagues working from home in Seattle. You can’t read people’s body language and expressions when they’re basically the size of ants on-screen. Even if people are in the same office, everyone should log into Zoom separately so that they’re front and center on the screen.
6. Resolve conflicts face-to-face
Speaking of reading body language, make sure all parties hop onto a video call if there’s ever a conflict, misunderstanding, or even confusion. Slack messages don’t convey tone, and people can read into text all different ways. What comes across as short, curt, or even angry to one person can come across as clear, concise, and helpful to another person. So if feelings start running hot or you sense people are misunderstanding something, get everyone onto Zoom.
The net is that working remotely isn’t hard. In fact, unless you must work in a brick-and-mortar operation, I’m convinced that it’s the far superior model. My two decades of experience with remote work has proved to me that people who work remotely are happier because:
- They’re not commuting 2–4 hours a day.
- They work in an environment that has the right temperature, aesthetics, and noise level for them.
- They are more productive because they’re less distracted by others.
- They save money by not eating out and commuting.
- And they stay healthier because they’re not exposed to everyone’s germs.
From a company perspective, happier employees mean more engagement, higher productivity, lower turnover, and the satisfaction of providing an empowering work environment. That seems like a win-win to me.
And if you want more advice, watch the free recording of my webinar on How to Transition Your Team to Remote Work.
I’ve got many more helpful articles coming so follow me on Medium to learn how to create a high-performing remote workplace and to build a human-centric organization that’s a force for good in the world.