Working from Home? Managing a Remote Team? Maintain Your Productivity with These Best Practices

As COVID-19 takes its toll on our communities, many employers are moving to telework/remote work. This preventive step is important from a public health perspective, but it leaves many workers, managers, and businesses who have never worked remotely or managed remote teams with some concerns. Given that location-neutral employment and remote work are a large part of the future workplace, we wanted to share resources and answers to some common questions that arise when faced with the experience for the first time. We also want to acknowledge the fact that many workers are unable to work remotely, and face additional challenges due to COVID-19 and that these resources do not address those needs.

1. This is my first time working remotely: what should I know?

2. Sometimes I struggle to be productive and focused when working from home? Help!

3. I’m a manager of a remote worker and I want to make sure I’m holding people accountable. What are reasonable management practices?

4. What are unreasonable management practices?

5. What are some remote team activities I can do to keep our connection and culture alive?

6. How can I have a productive virtual meeting?

7. I struggle with some of the technology we rely on for remote work...what are some quick resources to refresh my skills?

8. We haven’t gone remote...yet. What should I be considering to prepare?

What other questions do you have? What resources do you use? Submit them to cdle_fow@state.co.us and we’ll add to this document!

Related Reading

Resources

1. This is my first time working remotely: what should I know?

  • A few quick tips: 

    • If possible, keep the same schedule and same morning routine. Otherwise, work with your supervisor to establish a consistent schedule for your remote work.

    • Get dressed for work! Keeping routines like getting dressed for work helps shift you into the mindset for work and create a mental boundary between relaxation and work time.

    • Create a designated workspace (for me, it’s my kitchen counter).

    • Schedule breaks for yourself to keep yourself alert (approximately every 90 minutes).

    • Set boundaries with your housemates.Partners, kids, and roommates need to know when and how you’re working. 

    • Pack up at the end of the day. 

    • Be proactive with your supervisor: 

      • Set daily goals and a reporting routine to show your progress at the end of each day (a great practice in general!)

      • Schedule a standing check-in for the week

      • Communicate your needs and challenges (as well as your plan to address them) so if you hit a roadblock, it’s not out of the blue.  

  • If you want a deeper dive, Workplaceless is offering their “Remote Workday” module for free due to the impact of COVID-19. The module covers all aspects of what a typical remote workday looks like and how to be most successful. 

  • LinkedIn Learning is offering Remote Work courses for free they include information on how to manage productively, but perhaps more importantly, short courses to support with the transition and its impact. 

2. Sometimes I struggle to be productive and focused when working from home? Help! 

  • Use the 1-3-5 rule  to create an achievable to do list that you can share with your supervisor as well. For this method, at the beginning of the day you’ll decide that you’ll accomplish: 

    • 1 big task 

    • 3 medium tasks

    • 5 little tasks

  • Instead of thinking of your workday as an uninterrupted 8-hour chunk, break it into 90-minute sections and develop your goals with that in mind. 

  • Do you have a large project or a task you are struggling to tackle? Use the Pomodoro Technique: focus on one task for 25 minutes, then take a five-minute break. After four Pomodoros, take a 15-minute break. You can use this simple web timer to get started. 

3. I’m a manager of a remote worker and I want to make sure I’m holding people accountable. What are reasonable management practices?

  • LinkedIn Learning has some free courses for people managing teams remotely:

  • Set and communicate clear expectations of your remote workforce. Entrepreneur.com put together this list of tips

    • Productivity - How will the team track progress on projects and measure results? Your team member can send you a list of the five things they’ll be working on and the expected progress at the beginning of the day. At the end of the day, they can send you an update on how far they got and any roadblocks they might have. 

    • Availability - Does the team need to be online during specific business hours or will they be able to set their own schedules? If you have an immediate need how will you contact them (text, phone call, chat)? If they have an immediate need, how will they contact you?  What are the expectations for response time? 

    • Tools - Which tools will the team use to communicate and collaborate effectively? 

    • Data management - Which tools will the team use to organize and share documents and information securely? 

  • Schedule a standing check-in for the week with each of your team members, and a weekly check-in with your whole team.

  • If your team member is not meeting your expectations, give them this feedback proactively. They can’t know what you don’t tell them and with clear expectations laid out from the beginning, you can brainstorm solutions together. 

4. What are unreasonable management practices? 

  • Constant check-ins to see if people are working will actually prevent work from getting done and undermine trust. If you have set clear expectations and have a reporting structure in place, you will only need to address violations of those protocols. 

5. What are some remote team activities I can do to keep our connection and culture alive? 

  • Check out this blog post from Workplaceless about some great activities you can do virtually to keep you team engaged. The post includes guidance on the optimal size and attitude of the group for each type of activity. They could be a daily email thread, a way to kick off a group meeting, or even a way to wrap up the week! 

6. How can I have a productive virtual meeting? 

  • Establish norms for the virtual meeting: 

    • Is everyone expected to be on video? 

    • Will everyone be muted? 

    • Will documents be sent ahead of time?

    • How will people indicate they have something to say? 

    • Will people participate via comments, will they be called on, will they be expected to jump in via their microphones? When during the meeting will that happen?

    • Note: These norms do not have to be the same for all virtual meetings, but being clear at the start of each meeting about how you will expect people to engage (and encourage their input) will define the outcomes of your meeting. 

  • Leadership should model the established norms and display meeting etiquette for their team. 

  • Share an agenda ahead of time. 

  • In order for a meeting to be effective, every person needs to walk out with a clear objective. The key things everyone needs to know are:

    • Deliverables and next steps

    • Who’s responsible for following up on each item or task

    • When those deliverables are due

    • When the next meeting or check-in will be

  • For a deeper dive, check out Slack’s Ultimate Guide to Remote Meetings

  • LinkedIn learning is offering a free course on how to run a virtual meeting as well: 

7. I struggle with some of the technology we rely on for remote work...what are some quick resources to refresh my skills?

8. We haven’t gone remote...yet. What should I be considering to prepare? 

  • Map out jobs and tasks that could be affected and challenge assumptions. 

  • Audit your technology and assess employees’ comfort level with it. Practice virtual meetings with your team prior to remote work. Use the practice sessions to establish norms for virtual meetings, identify where additional training needs to be focused. 

  • Define a communications protocol with clear expectations for the preferred communication method for different types of communication. Some questions: 

    • When should chat or text messages be used vs. email vs. phone call? 

    • Does everyone have the right cell phone numbers for their team? 

    • When should people use phone calls vs. virtual meetings?

    • Is video required for a virtual meeting? 

  • Define your accountability measures and communicate them with your team (see question 3)

  • Create a venue (e.g. a shared document or a weekly team check-in) for people to share lessons learned from the experience so that once work returns to normal, you can develop long-term remote work policies. You could even set some metrics to aid long-term remote policy planning: Perhaps, due to the pandemic, you cut business travel by 100% and substitute video conferencing. You determine afterward that about 80% of those meetings were equally as effective virtually. Therefore, a decrease in business travel will continue, but this time as part of the organization’s sustainability strategy to cut carbon emissions”

  • Workplaceless put together an emergency remote checklist for businesses going remote that has a list of considerations for remote work. They’ve also developed a course for Unexpected Remote Work for organizations with a direct need. I’d encourage you reach out to the schedule a consult with their team to learn more! 

  • Note: If you have gone remote and didn’t consider these items, it’s not too late! Gather your team for a virtual meeting to discuss and implement new guidance. This will model the behavior you want to see in a newly remote workforce: communication, adaptability, and agility. 

What other questions do you have? What resources do you use? Email cdle_fow@state.co.us and we’ll add to this document! 

Related Reading

Interested in reading more about remote work trends? Here’s a fascinating look at "Tulsa Remote,” a philanthropy-funded effort to get remote workers to move to Tulsa.  As we promote location-neutral jobs on Connecting Colorado, and incentives for employers looking to expand in rural areas with a remote workforce, it's interesting to look at these models.

Resources

“A Better To-Do List: The 1-3-5 Rule” - The Muse

“8 Remote Working Tips for Beginners” - Remote Year

“COVID-19 Has My Teams Working Remotely: A Guide for Leaders”

“How to Work From Home, if You’ve Never Done It Before” - New York Times

“Preparing for Emergency Remote Work” - Workplaceless

“Remote Teambuilding Activities” - Workplaceless

"The Remote Playbook: Who succeeds in the coronavirus-driven shift to remote work?" - HR Dive

“The ultimate guide to remote meetings in 2020” - Slack

“What’s Your Company’s Emergency Remote-Work Plan?” - Harvard Business Review

“Work from Home Guide” - Indeed