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With coronavirus entering the picture in 2020, more and more organizations are making remote work an option, or even a requirement. This may be a short- or long-term solution. Regardless, you’ll need to consider how to help your employees transition to remote working and stay engaged with the company.
At Spidergap, we’ve been a 100% remote company from day 1. So in this article, we’ll share the key steps we’d recommend to any company adopting remote work.
We’ll start with the basics (setting up a work environment), and then move onto the bigger challenges of keeping employees feeling connected and happy. As the results from Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2019 survey show below, the biggest struggles that remote workers face include “Unplugging after work” and “Loneliness” as well as “Collaborating and/or communicating”.
Help employees to set up a work environment at home
Advise where the employee should work
To work remotely, the first thing that an employee will need to do is work out where they’re going to work!
Ideally, they will find somewhere that:
- Is quiet
- Has a good broadband connection
- Has a suitable desk and chair
- Can be a dedicated place for work (and doesn’t get in the way of meal times and the family!)
If your employees are only working remotely in the short-term, then they may need to make some compromises. For example, working at the kitchen table. If they need to make compromises, then be aware that this can reduce their engagement and productivity.
Make sure they have a laptop, desk and chair (and other necessary equipment!)
To work efficiently from home, an employee may need:
- A laptop
- A desk
- A chair
- A phone
- Additional monitors
- Other specialist equipment
If the employee doesn’t have any of these items, then you’ll need a policy on what they can purchase and who will end up owning the device (the company or the individual).
At Spidergap, we have a “Bring Your Own Device” policy that covers:
- What equipment is needed
- How much employees can spend initially (and how this varies — e.g. developers have a higher budget)
- An additional amount employees can spend every 2 years
- The option to either buy items as a company asset, or as their own device (which has implications on tax)
If you’d like to review a copy of our policy as inspiration for your own, then get in touch — we’ll be happy to share!
Plan who is responsible for fixing equipment
At some point, someone will spill tea on their laptop. Or drop it from the balcony. Or their desk will collapse. Or something less dramatic will happen, and the employee will no longer be able to work.
What should happen? You need to consider if the employee is responsible for fixing the issue, or whether the IT team will send a new device.
At Spidergap, our policy is for employees to promptly repair or replace their own devices, and again we’ve covered this in our “Bring Your Own Device” policy which we’re happy to share.
Provide great tools (and help employees learn how to use them)
When working remotely, it’s important that your tools just work.
Some tools that we’ve found to be particularly useful as a remote team are:
- Slack: For staying connected throughout the day
- Zoom: The best videoconferencing tool right now. Easier to use and better quality than (e.g.) GoToMeeting
- Calendly: A tool that lets others arrange meetings in your calendar. You can decide when you’re available and how long meetings should be, and it works around existing events in your calendar.
Remember that new tools will require some form of guidance or training. Try to make it as easy and painless as possible for everyone to get up and running with each tool.
Help teams to run effective meetings online
Set-up a good meeting rhythm to helps teams stay connected and in-sync
At Spidergap, we have:
- A daily all-company “huddle” (10 minutes)
- Daily team calls (~15 minutes)
- Weekly team calls (60–90 minutes)
- Weekly 1-2-1s between managers and their direct reports (30 minutes)
- Quarterly performance review and coaching calls (60 mins)
- Annual and quarterly planning sessions
This may feel like a lot, but each of these meetings helps our teams to stay connected and in-sync, and we never have a meeting that feels unnecessary or slow.
Good meeting practices are essential
When working remotely, it’s not possible drop by someone’s desk or have a catch-up in the hallway to make decisions. It works far better for key decisions to be made in planned meetings instead.
For these to work well:
- Meetings should have clear agendas
- Meetings should start and end on time
- Meetings should be at times that cause minimal disruption to participants
- One person should facilitate the meeting
We recommend arranging meetings at the same time every week. Putting most of the weekly meetings on one day (e.g. Monday), helps to free up time for getting work done on other days.
For our daily all-company “huddle”, we start it at 13:36. This odd time helps with ensuring the meeting starts and finishes on time. Everyone knows it will start at 36 minutes past, and not a minute later.
Get in touch if you’d like to see our agendas!
Start with wins, get on the same page, then spend time on issues
One practice we love at Spidergap is to start all of our routine meetings with “wins”. This is a short section — typically 5 minutes — where we reflect on the previous period and what’s been achieved.
This works brilliantly, as it helps us to stop thinking about any issues we’re facing, and get into a positive frame of mind to start the meeting. As a result, we see happier staff, less conflict, and more effective meetings.
We then get everyone onto the same page. This typically means sharing metrics and very brief status updates so everyone’s clear on where we’re at. It is not a time for discussion.
Finally, the bulk of all our meetings is spent on issues. We review all of the key issues that team members have, prioritize them, and then work from the top. As a result, decisions get made and issues are solved.
This structure isn’t specific to remote teams, but it becomes increasingly important to help avoid team members feeling disconnected.
Help employees to stay connected to each other
When working remotely, you’re not going to meet your colleagues at the water-cooler. You’ll also miss out on opportunities to catch-up over a coffee or beer. And you can’t call over your teammate to check out the cool side project you’ve been working on in the evening.
All of these casual interchanges are really important ways to help employees feel connected and engaged!
It’s important to find ways to replace these. Here’s a list of a few solutions that have worked well for us:
- Weekly cross-team waves: A 15 minute call with a colleague from another team to catch-up both personally and professionally. We rotate who talks to who, and the schedule the call directly after another all company call to minimize disruption.
- Weekly developer team “show and tell”: A 15 minute opportunity for developers to share side projects, new technologies and other insights. This is scheduled after a team call
- Happy hour: Once every 6 or 7 weeks, we have an all team “happy hour!”. Beers are optional, the atmosphere is relaxed, and we often spend half of the call amusing ourselves with a party game such as Fibbage.
A water-cooler channel on Slack: As well as our team channels are other work-related chat rooms, we have a water-cooler channel which is dedicated for sharing anything and everything else! We love to see pics of families, hobbies and anything amusing.
Support both mental and physical health
Help employees to create a routine and avoid overwork
This may be a surprise, but — as raised in the excellent Remote book — when employees move to working remote full time, overworking can actually be a bigger challenge than underworking!
This stems from not having a clear time that everyone leaves the office, and the feeling of not having achieved quite as much as hoped during the day. Over time, it becomes a bad habit and leaves employees feeling deflated.
So, encourage employees to create a routine. They should aim to be productive during working hours, and then finish on time!
Internally, we have a policy that team members should raise an issue if they find themselves working late more than once a week. This helps the team to remember to get their work done during normal hours and finish on time. If they really do need to work late, then the team can support and help to address this.
Encourage employees to get physical exercise and mental space
Whenever we see a team member feeling down, one of the first questions we’ll ask is when they last got out for a walk or some exercise. 9 times out of 10, the answer is that it hasn’t happened, and — lo and behold — taking that walk, run or other form of exercise fixes the issue.
The exercise actually has two purposes. As well as feeling physically better, it gives the individual some mental space to take a step back, reflect, and move on. Other great tools for this are meditation and yoga.
This is really important when working remotely. Without a commute, it’s possible to spend the entire day without leaving the house, and our experience is that leaves the employee feeling both physically and mentally drained.
At the very least, we believe everyone should get out of the house once a day whether it’s at lunch or before or after work. I’ve personally found that 2 walks is better than 1!
At Spidergap, we’re happy to let employees shift their working hours to support this and other activities such as meditation, tennis lessons, going to the gym, and getting out on the bike. We contribute towards any costs incurred as one of our benefits.
Make sure employees have an ergonomic work space
Making sure that employees have an ergonomic work space is just as important at home as in the office.
As it’s not easy to check on your employees at their home, they’ll need to take responsibility for their own long-term health.
You can use Google to find and share guidance on how to set up their work space. This will include:
- Setting up the chair and desk to support a good posture
- Raising the height of the monitor so the top is level with the eyes
- And so on.
Employees may need to purchase equipment to support this — for example, better chairs or laptop stands. This is highly recommended if people are working from home for more than a few weeks, and may be needed sooner for anyone who has back problems.
Treat remote employees as equals to on-site employees
When speaking to remote employees, you’ll often find that employees in a fully remote company are much happier than those in a company where some work remotely and some do not.
In companies that are fully remote, you’ll find:
- There is a good budget for equipment and setting up a quiet, ergonomic place to work
- Everyone dials in to meetings, and any issues with the videoconferencing software are addressed immediately
- Meetings start on time and have clear agendas, as everyone understands that there won’t be chance to have further discussions after the call
- The tools for working remotely are exceptional
- Meet-ups are arranged that everyone can easily attend
- When celebrating a key milestone, a remote-friendly reward is used (for example, money to use for a spa day or a meal).
When companies are part remote, and part on-site, then the remote employees often end up feeling like second class citizens. Meetings are optimized for those in the meeting room. Teams head to celebrate at the local spa, without an equal reward shared for those working remotely. The tools aren’t great, and the on-site IT team don’t see the need to improve them.
The answer is simple: Treat remote employees as true equals. This requires some investment of your time to think about the challenges they face, and finding solutions. But it’s worth it!
Let employees know how to share concerns and get help
However well you prepare, it’s likely that employees will still have questions and concerns. There needs to be a way for these to be shared, and to reach HR and your company execs where appropriate.
At Spidergap, we have an internal tool for raising and managing issues, where anyone can raise an issue with HR. We also use our weekly 1-2-1s, and a weekly employee happiness survey, to make sure we’re aware of any questions or pain points and can solve them quickly.
If you have questions about this, or anything else in this article, then we’d love to help! Get in touch :)
We also have some specific guidance for how Learning & Development (L&D) teams can help the organization respond to coronavirus.