There are many reasons to have teams work remotely, though with COVID-19 sweeping around the world, many businesses are now finding themselves forced into having teams work from home.
Rather than fear the change, embrace it as an exciting opportunity, and take advantage of the many benefits that a remote team offers. “Benefits?” I hear you cry. Yes, and there are many.
It is not just the distance from that annoying co-worker that drives you to the brink of madness or to fantasise about committing a series of heinous crimes. A few other (though perhaps moderately less rewarding) benefits include:
- Reduce the spread of infections transmitted at work (and so reduce the amount of sick leave).
- Reduce business overheads (by reducing the amount of office space, power, and consumables etc. needed).
- Reduce your carbon footprint (by decreasing staff travelling to work and reducing the amount of paper used).
- Increase staff mental wellbeing (commuting is shown to be one of the most stressful parts to a working day for many people).
- Increase productivity (a surprise to many businesses, but going virtual forces many teams to become more efficient).
- Improve the inherent quality of team members (by being more flexible on work time or location, you can hire from a much wider talent pool).
There are several challenges that businesses must overcome to manage remote teams effectively. These include time management, task delegation, project management, communication, meetings, collaboration, security, and seeing clients, etc.
In this article, I will cover a few of the tools that we use, and some of the ways we use them—and the why is far more important than the what. You may already be using alternative software that does the same job, in which case it is often better to stick with it.
Before I get into the tools we use, a couple of ideas for creating an excellent discipline to working at home. For many, the idea of working at home is a dream – for most, the reality is far more challenging simply because they have yet to develop the right habits. To be more productive, try the following tips (and share them with the rest of your team):
Working From Home: Tips
1) Set up a dedicated place to work. If you have a home office already, this will be easy. If not, you may need to get a bit more creative. You want a corner of the house you can go to for one purpose only – working. That way your stuff is always set up and ready to go, and when you are in it, you know why you are there.
2) Stick to a fixed routine. Flexibility is a great thing, but being too flexible results in a lack of structure. We are creatures of habit, and habits are triggered by our daily schedules and our environmental queues. With none of our usual workplace triggers, it helps to establish a solid routine. Start work and take breaks at the same time each day. This will also really help with the next tip …
3) Do not allow interruptions. Interruptions can be extremely challenging when you live with other people, especially if you don’t usually work from home. They are used to making requests of you, or asking questions when you are there. You must be clear, when you are working pretend you are at the office. If they need to contact you for something important, email or message you. This avoids endless interruptions that break your concentration and flow.
Without a dedicated space to work in, a good routine, or a distraction-free environment, the best tools in the world will only be of limited help. Get the above basics in place, and then you will be ready to make good use of the tools and strategies that follow.
Best Apps To Manage Remote Teams From Home
Managing projects or co-ordinating a team can be challenging at the best of times. I have tried using just about every project management system out there, but always ended up resorting to whiteboards and to-do lists on paper. None of the platforms ever did it for me, no matter how much sense they made in theory.
That is until ClickUp. It is one of the newest solutions on the market, yet has already been adopted by some of the biggest (and smallest) companies on the planet, including Google, Airbnb, Uber, NetFlix and Nike. It offers incredible levels of integration, flexibility, usability and is feature rich, plus they very affordable (with respectable plans starting from free).
With any project management system, it is not the specific features that are most important (though they do help), but the way that your team makes use of it. Here are a few ways in which we use ClickUp, and lessons we have learned in making it a useful tool (rather than another wasted expense).
1) Break down your business into teams, and create project spaces for each one. By having people see only what is relevant to them, you minimise overwhelm, improve focus, and increase security.
2) Use a Kanban board approach. Made popular by tools like Trello, a Kanban board enables you to see what tasks need to be done, in what priority order, and who is currently working on what. The real trick to making this work well is to ensure each person (including yourself) is working on only one task at a time, and that everyone keeps the board up-to-date.
We find ClickUp to be far superior to Trello when it comes to managing multiple boards. So, if you have become frustrated managing large projects or teams with Trello (as we did), then don’t give up on Kanban, try ClickUp.
3) Set up recurring tasks. This can help increase efficiency, and help ensure that daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly tasks don’t get missed.
4) Keep related chat within a task. It is easy (and often appropriate) to send an email, make a phone call, or message someone on Skype (or similar) to get clarification on a task. However, by keeping communication within the relevant task in ClickUp, we avoid lost or miscommunication.
It also ensures that those who should be kept in the loop are, while those who don’t, don’t have their time wasted. Efficient and effective. Team members can decide if they want to get task notifications in their notifications panel, via email, as a browser notification, or as a mobile push notification.
5) Keep related files together within a task or project. It is easy to end up with files all over the place. With a decent project management system though, you can keep all related files in one place. This increases efficiency (as team members spend less time hunting for what they need), and allows team members to see what assets are available (as colleagues often forget to let them know).
As you can see, we are big fans of ClickUp. They have a host of other features, such as inbuilt docs that can be edited collaboratively in real-time, integrated forms that you can use for team members or clients, inbuilt screen capture, calendar and Gantt chart views, along with so much more. Click here to learn more about ClickUp.
In an office, everyone turns up and leaves at agreed times, which makes working hours easy to manage. However, with everyone working from home, you may find it beneficial to have everyone log their time – which also leads to greater time flexibility.
While logging time on tasks is possible in ClickUp, we use an additional application called TimeDoctor. This allows us to track and manage our teams working hours automatically, and get a much better idea of how their time is being spent.
TimeDoctor takes a screen capture every 3 or 10 minutes, tracks the level of keyboard and mouse movement, as well as monitoring how much different applications are used. For non-computer related tasks such as phone calls, time can be logged manually.
Using this tool not only enables us to ensure that team members are getting paid for the actual time they work, but enables us to find which tasks are taking longer than expected. This allows us to identify if we need to find a more efficient way to handle that type of job, provide better training, or to increase our estimate and budgets to get the work done.
At the end of each payment period, we can then export the amount owing to for each team member, and upload it to our accounting system. (An activity which, of course, is set as a recurring task in ClickUp.)
Because of this system, we started paying our team by the minute, rather than by the month. We then set upper and lower limits to the amount of time each person can work in a month, ensuring enough work gets done while staying within budget.
Time tracking is a win-win because it allows each person to get paid for the exact amount of work they do. They no longer feel guilty if they need to knock off early, or resentful if they stay late to complete a task. Framing it in this way also helped get better acceptance of the idea of using a tool like TimeDoctor.
Remote Meetings & Communication
While ClickUp allows us to manage task-specific communication, it is not ideal for general office chat, quick questions or team meetings. This is where we use Skype.
I know, there are many ‘cooler’ apps out there, and Zoom, in particular, is all the rage. But I still find Skype to be just as good, if not better, and free. (Most of the other apps, like Zoom, start charging when you have longer or larger meetings.)
But regardless of which you go with, here are a few ways to use your platform of choice …
1) Team text chats. Create chat groups for each team, and another for your entire business. This way, messages can be sent to everyone, just those who need to see them, or privately one to one.
2) Video rooms. Just like Zoom and Whereby, you can create a video chat room in Skype that can be accessed by anyone with a shared link – even if they don’t have a Skype account, and without installing any app.
These chat rooms can then be shared with clients for one-off meetings, or kept for teams to access whenever they want to meet up.
3) Screen sharing. Sharing your computer screen with someone while being able to talk to them is an extremely valuable feature that we use all the time. We use it internally and externally to discuss projects (such as walking people through a website or document) and for training (such as showing clients or new staff how to use software).
4) Conducting polls. Setting up a survey is a simple way to get quick team or client feedback, or make collective decisions. Simply click in the bottom right corner of Skype (on the … icon) to see the ‘Create Poll’ feature.
5) Use emojis for bonding. It may sound childish, but research has shown that emojis really do help establish an emotional connection. Tone is often lost in written text, especially when we are in a hurry and keep things brief. A couple of well-placed emojis can help people feel more connection, understand when something is meant as a joke, and know when you are sorry or upset. Using emojis and gif clips can build rapport – even with people you have never met.
Security (And Convenience)
We use two very different apps for two very different purposes, but both help maintain security while increasing convenience and efficiency.
The first is LastPass, a password management system. It not only allows us to create and manage multiple, exceptionally secure passwords, but it also auto-fills them for us, saving time.
The real value, however, is in its ability to share access to other team members without having to share any passwords. When access is given, a user can log in to any website or web app, but can’t see the password.
When that individual leaves your business, or no longer requires access, then their permissions can be revoked – and no need to change or re-share passwords. I can’t tell you what a difference this has made!
The other application we use is Proposify, a platform than enables us to create and manage proposals. The real gold, however, is in its ability to allow e-signatures.
E-signatures are globally recognised as legally binding since 2000 (so long as they meet specific criteria). Yet, two decades later, few businesses are making good use of them.
We utilise them not only for contracts with clients, but also with team members. Using digital contracts reduces time, reduces paper, and ensures a copy is automatically stored in the cloud.
Making The Remote Transition
I have been building and managing both local and remote teams for over 15 years across multiple businesses and projects. Over that time, the available tools have increased and improved dramatically. It is now easier than ever to run a distributed team, and take advantage of the many benefits that doing so offers.
However, the truth is that every business has unique requirements and challenges. Choosing, integrating and learning how best to use these tools takes time, especially if you have little experience.
Sometimes being too close to your business can, ironically, make this even harder. When you know how you have done things every day for years on end, it can be difficult to see another way.
That is why we offer consulting, training, and done-for-you services, that help you avoid making many inevitable mistakes, especially at a time when many businesses are under pressure and can’t afford to.