At first, only the tech giants were doing it: Oracle, Twitter, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon asked most employees to work from home as a health precaution in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak. Since then, as the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. continue to skyrocket, and "social distancing" and "shelter in place" become new norms, the coronavirus outbreak has inaugurated an unprecedented experiment in remote working on a massive scale. Now that the U.S. has surpassed 4,000 deaths and more than 200,000 total infections, remote work seems to be here to stay for the foreseeable future.
So working from home is no longer a privilege — it's a necessity. And many organizations aren't fully ready to manage this new reality. Pre-coronavirus, nearly half of companies globally didn't allow remote work, period. If yours was one of them, here are four key focus areas to help you manage your suddenly decentralized team more effectively.
1. schedule daily check-ins
Daily check-ins are crucial to the success of remotely distributed teams for at least three reasons:
- Check-ins help keep teams aligned on goals and ensure accountability.
- By normalizing communication between team members, daily check-ins promote further communication and collaboration between individual team members.
- Daily check-ins are an important bulwark against the feelings of loneliness and isolation that a fifth of the remote workforce reportedly feels.
So go ahead and put something on the collective calendar: 15 minutes is often plenty of time. Use your daily check-ins to assess progress toward goals, identify bottlenecks and shift workloads around as needed. Keep feedback actionable. And a little social banter to start the call won't do anyone harm.
2. leverage free collaboration tools
The productivity of remote teams is directly tied to how effectively they leverage communication and collaboration tools. And fortunately, a number of tech companies have responded to the crisis with free offerings to help the surging number of remote teams around the world stay aligned — and stay safe — until the infection curve flattens. Notably:
- Google is offering enterprise-tier videoconferencing features — for example, the ability to record meetings — free to G Suite and G Suite for Education customers until July 1, 2020.
- Meanwhile, Microsoft is giving away free six-month trials of its premium version of Microsoft Teams.
Plus, if you're just looking for a real-time collaboration platform, there's always Slack. The free version comes with some pretty robust features. Alternately, if you're looking to track time spent on tasks, notify team members when action is required and report on progress, the free version of Trello may be for you. Either way, free is a hard price to beat, so there's no reason not to get started with these great tools today.
3. focus on outcomes, not processes
A hallmark of agile teams (and let's face it, you're now managing one) is their focus on dynamic outcomes — not processes or static outputs. So there's no reason to micro-manage: After all, studies have even shown that when companies transition teams to remote work arrangements, productivity actually goes up by as much as 13 percent. The reason? Workers tend to feel more comfortable at home. They also take fewer breaks.
So keep the focus on goals and outcomes. Treat this time away from the office as an opportunity to experiment, test and iterate. What works? What doesn't? And how can you make improvements going forward?
4. empower employees with the right tech
What software does your team need to continue to make progress toward goals? Do all team members have the right hardware?
Basic as these questions may be, it's surprising how often core tech considerations waylay remote teams. According to research from Randstad, for example, over a third (35%) of employees don't feel their employers provide the technical capabilities they need to effectively work from home.
No one can say how long mandatory remote work policies will be in place, so it's a good idea to audit your team members today — and ensure they have the right tech to do their jobs effectively.
The share of the U.S. workforce working from home was already rising well before the coronavirus outbreak — in fact, that number roughly tripled in the past 15 years. But the scale of remote work underway at the moment is truly unprecedented. There aren't any reliable stats out just yet, but it's reasonable to imagine that the majority of adults working in the U.S. right now are currently being managed in some kind of agile arrangement.
With such massive change, there's always going to be a learning curve, of course. The key is to leverage that learning as a source of business value later on. Start zeroing in on the four areas outlined above and you're sure to see productivity soar, while also doing your part to keep all of your team members safe and healthy.