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Resources for Leading and Managing Remote Workers

Communication

  • Context: Study found that 19% of remote workers experienced loneliness, which can make people feel less motivated and less productive.
  • More overall communication and increased clarity will be necessary. This includes both clear guidance from leaders as well as opportunities for employees to pose questions and offer ideas.
    • Suggestion: Weekly emails / newsletters from the leader of the organization with motivation / support, general and organization-specific updates, policy reminders, etc.
    • Suggestion: Schedule monthly company-wide town halls that serve as an open forum for questions, discussions, and short team presentations.
  • Communication Guidelines:
    • Post information regularly in a highly visible location. This can be a physical location or virtual — email, the company intranet, or a Slack or Facebook channel.
    • Describe how decisions were made about issues such as travel, working from home, etc.
    • Be as transparent as possible. Explain what you know, what you don’t know, and your sources of information.
    • Be succinct. Long turgid messages written by health professionals or lawyers will not be read or easily understood.
    • Try to provide timely information rather than waiting until you know all of the answers.
  • Motivate: Share why customers, partners, suppliers, and vendors depend on your business—why what your team does every day matters. Use that as a springboard for stating your commitment to do everything in your power to get through the difficult times ahead
  • Documentation: Systematically document important expectations (especially around work hours) and process changes in a central place to minimize confusion and dysfunction.
    • Suggestion: Develop a “handbook” that serves as a single source of truth for the pressing questions to keep everyone in the loop. It will need to be updated continuously with designated individuals responsible for common questions around tools and access.
  • Communication Channels: Crucial communication should be funneled into as few places as possible to reduce silos and fragmentation.

Setting Expectations: Managers/Leaders

  • Expectations: Set clear expectations on:
    • Work turnaround time
    • Work products
    • Email turnaround time
    • Project timelines
    • Availability & schedule
    • Prioritization
    • Preferred meeting times
    • Preferred channels of communication
  • Check-ins: Have supervisors and supervisees establish clear channels of communication and discuss expectations and priorities.
    • Suggestion: daily 10 minute calls to kick off and wrap up the day or weekly check-ins, depending on employee preferences

Collaboration

  • Questions to discuss internally:
    • How are teams going to track projects they’re working on?
    • How will they meet to discuss this?
    • Will you all be connecting on Slack or email?
    • Will there be standing meetings at a certain time to get everyone coordinated?
      • Suggestion: Schedule daily standups as a team. Pull the team together more than you normally would, to make sure all are doing ok. Create the safe space that allows your team members to connect, even if not all of them can make it every day.
    • These should be ongoing conversations. Teams should be honest about what isn’t working and what can’t get done in these circumstances.
  • Video Calls: Webcams can solve some problems raised by conference calls (e.g. time delays, interruptions, etc.), and help reduce the sense of isolation that employees may feel by showing a familiar face on the screen.
    • 2 minutes on a video call can save many more minutes and significantly more brain space than a long back-and-forth on Slack/Teams taking place in the background. Body language is transmitted to an extent (phone calls are not as good as video, but they are better than endless messages!)
      • This is especially important when there are differences in opinion / disagreements.
    • They can also safeguard team unity and productivity.
    • The ability to share documents “live” also goes a long way
    • According to the Harvard Business Review, teams that use videoconferencing experience higher levels of collaboration on decisions reached by videoconference compared to decisions made through a phone call or email
    • Suggestion: Create an always-on video conference room per team, where team members can linger, or come and go as they please. This allows for informal communication that occurs spontaneously in an office.
  • Google Docs / Sheets: Teams should utilize collaborative working documents.
    • Have a shared Google Doc/OneNote/whatever for meetings so people can follow along with the conversation and keep track of what’s been agreed/asked.
  • Slack: Set up a team collaboration channel. Ongoing chatter and sharing will become more important when everyone is remote.
  • Empathy: Create a culture ofAlways assume positive intent”. Highlight that tone and nuance can get lost over chat and text, so assuming colleague is coming from a positive place helps with any potential misunderstandings.
    • Suggestion: Use emojis to help communicate your tone and intent.

Culture & Morale

  • Meetings:
    • Suggestion: Introduce a way for people to share where they are at emotionally, e.g. rate your wellbeing on a scale of 1 to 10, so people know who to give support to and who to go to for a pick-me-up.
  • Slack: If your organization uses Slack, you should create a channel for more casual conversations to encourage socializing among colleagues.
    • This can be used to share tips, playlists, etc.
    • Suggestion: Try an icebreaker over your team chat.
      • What’s everyone’s favorite TV show right now?
      • What’s one good thing that someone read that day?
  • Unstructured Meetings: Encourage teams to schedule online social time to have conversations with no agenda. This can serve to recreate the social, casual “water cooler” conversation or “hallway conversations” that connect colleagues naturally in the office.
    • Not only will they help reduce the sense of isolation that many may be feeling, they can also spark innovation.
    • Suggestion: Leaders can volunteer to form virtual discussion groups around topics, such as sports, movies, cooking and much more. Employees can self-select into groups and new connections will form while old connections are maintained
  • Virtual Happy Hours: You can schedule virtual pizza parties or remote happy hours where people drop in via Zoom. These can add a little bit of levity and lightness to the otherwise difficult environment.
    • Suggestion: Schedule 15-minute weekly random groupings of team members who connect over video just to chat. Post-session, a screen capture of the members and highlights from the conversation can be logged to share with the rest of the team. This can reveal common interests, spark conversations across teams, and provide a break from work talk.
  • Celebrations: Translate in-office social activities to an online environment.
    • Suggestion: Celebrate birthdays and work anniversaries.
  • Employee Appreciation: Give public praise for goals reached and projects completed.
    • Take time to thank your team members every day. Whether via a Slack channel, on a zoom call or just a DM, carve out this moment to recognize a team member for how their efforts made a difference.

Technology

  • Hardware: Remind employees to bring home their essential devices, e.g. laptop, charger, mouse, and/or keyboard.
    • If the employee does not have a work laptop, discuss with them whether it makes sense for them to take a desktop computer home.
  • Software:
    • Internal day to day communication:
    • Video Conferencing:
    • Project Management:
      • Asana for productivity tracking – offering free licenses to qualifying nonprofits at this time.
      • Trello is a free collaborative tool like Asana to help create, design, and assign tasks to team members. It includes workflow automation and an easy to use interface.
    • *Each tool’s name is linked to its setup guide and more information*
  • Offline Access: Since home internet connections are not as reliable as the office, make sure employees know how to access files offline and can do some work without an internet connection if needed.
  • Expand support resources so employees don’t get frustrated about failed log-ins and other snafus

Work Life Balance

  • Encourage employees to prioritize family time along with their workload. This works wonders for employee morale and shows that you value employees as humans, not just workers.
    • Suggestion: If possible, consider offering additional PTO to your employees to help them address the effects of COVID-19, e.g. quarantine, childcare, mental health, etc.
    • Suggestion: You can also consider following the federal guidelines of offering extended FMLA of 10 weeks protected leave paid at 2/3 of an employee’s pay
  • Send out best practice guides for working remotely and sample schedules.
  • Train employees on how to set up work hours in their calendar, silence email alerts after hours, and make sure they’re still taking lunch breaks.
  • Give explicit permission for employees to take breaks in the middle of the day.

Transitioning to Remote Teams

  • Rally a team of experts who have remote work experience who can communicate nuances and serve as resources to those who will inevitably have questions.
  • A core part of this team’s role will be to document challenges in real time, transparently prioritize those challenges, and assign individuals to find solutions.

REDF’s COVID-19 Policies

  • Provided all employees with an additional day off (closed on one non-holiday Friday)
  • Set office-wide core working hours between 9am and 1pm PT and encourage most meetings to take place during that time
  • End all meetings early (5 minutes early for half hour meetings and 10 minutes early for hour-long meetings)
  • Use RACI to clarify roles, accountability, and decision-making across both teams and the organization, as a whole
  • Establish clear organizational priorities and identify areas of work that should be de-prioritized
  • Remind employees of their free access to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which offers free counseling for stress and anxiety
  • Educate employees about the benefits available to them under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)
    • Offer 10 days of additional PTO to employees to help them address the effects of COVID-19 on their personal lives, e.g. quarantine, childcare, mental health, etc.
    • Extend family and medical leave by an additional 10 weeks of protected leave paid at 2/3 of an employee’s pay

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