Working Remotely: Tips, Tools, and Guidance for Employers and Team Members
With the spread of Coronavirus, many companies are asking team members to work from home. Some companies already had a remote work option in place before the latest health crisis, while others may be new to having employees work from home.
North Star Marketing has had a remote work model in place for several years and also serves clients across the nation using online technologies. We’re sharing some of the tips, tools, and practices that we use to make working remotely successful for both our team members and the clients we serve. While every company will need to find the practices and tools that work best for their goals, budget, and industry, here are a few of our “lessons learned” from remote collaboration.
Technology that Supports a Remote Work Model
Companies can find a wealth of both free and subscription-based technology that can assist working remotely. Consider the following tools to help your team collaborate with each other and with clients and to stay organized.
Video Meeting Technology
Video conferencing tools provide the same advantages as meeting in person. The ability to hear someone’s tone of voice and view facial expressions is a huge advantage over email and text communication.
Look for a tool that allows screen sharing in addition to video and audio calls. Screen sharing allows you to show clients images, slide decks, or other important information as you verbally walk through your conversation.
Most video conferencing software also includes apps for mobile phones so employees or clients can join a meeting from the road if needed. The team at North Star uses Google Hangouts Meet, which provides a dedicated dial-in number for each meeting to improve sound and visual quality and to prevent drop-offs.
Instant Messaging Capabilities
The ability to instant message internally with team members reduces the need for disruptive phone calls and emails. Most instant messaging platforms also include the ability to video chat. You can instant message one-to-one or create groups or chat rooms for various teams in your organization.
Look for a tool that allows you to save and archive conversations. This allows you to refer to important conversations or links posted in a message thread at a later date. North Star uses Google Chat, with conversations segmented by both departments and client teams. An Announcements Channel allows a message to go to the entire North Star Team, while client team channels allow members in various locations to have quick conversations about current work.
Project Management Systems
Consider using project management software for your company. This will help remote workers stay on schedule and track time while also documenting responsibilities and tasks. A project management system can also help you track budgeting, spending, and profitability of specific initiatives.
While there are a number of popular project management systems available, North Star uses a system we developed called Via. In addition to helping our team members track campaigns, projects, tasks, time, and budgets, North Star clients are able to log into active projects in Via to view our progress and timelines.
Engaging Clients with Video Messages
If you have an important message you need to convey to all of your clients or customers, consider creating a video message to post on your social media pages. It can be an engaging and effective method for communicating with your audiences.
Fostering Team Communication and Connectivity
It may seem like a challenge to keep up a culture of collaboration and connection with everyone working from home. Try these practices to keep everyone feeling like they are part of the community and on the same page.
Daily Team Check-In Times
A brief 15- to 20-minute check-in time held each day with your team or work group can help identify any information or resources team members need in order to move forward with their work and meet deadlines. Each department at North Star has a daily stand-up time that is held via Google Hangouts Meet to help team members identify and report anything that may be blocking their progress.
Weekly Department Meetings
A weekly department meeting conducted via video conferencing can help foster connectivity and collaboration among team members. This time can also be used to solve process and productivity issues. If your company is new to a remote work model, this gives your team a chance to provide feedback and refine your processes.
At North Star, we use Google Hangouts Meet and Traction Tools for weekly departmental meetings. The time starts with each team member sharing a business and personal best moment or happening from the prior week and then moves to identifying issues and creating to-do assignments to solve the issues.
Meeting Preparation is Key
Prepare for both internal and external meetings just like you would if you were meeting face-to-face. Create an agenda that is distributed online ahead of time, designate someone to record notes during the meeting, and identify and record specific next steps. Planning ahead can also help you stay within the time limit scheduled for the meeting.
Tips for Team Members Working From Home
If you aren’t used to working from home, it may be a challenge to settle into a productive routine. Try these tips to make sure you feel engaged and effective in your daily workday.
Create a Designated Workspace
Put a desk or table in a relatively quiet area, away from the television and family gathering spaces. Avoid working on the sofa or the bed — not only does it lead to less focus, but it can also result in hunched shoulders, bad posture, and neck pain. Be sure your space has good lighting and enough room for a computer as well as any other work essentials.
Establish a Routine
Be sure you have a regular start and stop time. Periodically take short breaks away from your computer. Stretch, take a walk outside, or fix a snack in order to stay energized and to give your eyes a rest from the screen. Be careful not to get distracted by things you need to do around the house. The pile of laundry or weeds in the yard can quickly go from a 10-minute break to a 45-minute task.
Get Dressed for the Day
While many people think working in pajamas sounds appealing, it can actually make you less productive. Getting dressed for the day, even if it’s in jeans, a casual shirt, and tennis shoes, can set the mood and tone for your working hours.
If you’re not using your phone for work-related calls or texts, put it on Do Not Disturb. If your children are out of school and making noise around the house, try playing music with headphones or using a white noise machine to block out sounds from other parts of the house. While it may be tempting to browse the internet for a short break, avoid opening tabs on your computer that are not work-related.
With the right tools and practices that create collaboration and communication, your team can stay productive and connected to each other and to clients while working from home. Whether your company’s remote policy is just temporary or an ongoing initiative, we hope you’ll discover some of the same positive ideas and growth our team has found in the remote work model.