Coronavirus is an international health emergency, impacting all aspects of life—including work.
Amazon and Microsoft, both headquartered in Washington State, which has the most serious outbreak in the country, have closed their offices and asked employees to work from home for at least a month.
Twitter, Indeed, and JPMorgan, reports BuzzFeed News, are also enabling or mandating telecommuting. The CDC has recommended that companies extend or establish telecommuting or flexible work hours to increase physical distance between employees.
And with no end of the outbreak in sight, despite claims of the contrary (including those by President Trump, who claimed a vaccine would be available "over the next few months" before being corrected by healthcare professionals who clarified that we are at least "a year to a year and a half" away from having a viable vaccine), companies and workers alike may find themselves learning how to make remote work work.
It might be bumpy, but it could also be revolutionary: Twitter's head of human resources told BuzzFeed that they might never go back to non-remote work after seeing remote work's positives in action. "We'll never probably be the same," she said. "People who were reticent to work remotely will find that they really thrive that way. Managers who didn't think they could manage teams that were remote will have a different perspective."
If you're new to this whole remote-work thing and wondering how you're meant to manage your workforce for months on end if you can't actually see each other—or if you're an individual contributor who has never worked remotely before and is looking for guidance on how to transition into working from home—we've put together some tips to help you manage the transition below.
As a fully remote company, we've got years of experience maximizing the pros and minimizing the cons of remote work.
Here are our recommendations for making the most of remote work:
For companies and managers: How to manage a remote team during an outbreak
Overall, remember to trust in your team. A classic failure of remote work happens when a manager unaccustomed to having their direct reports out of eyesight begins virtually breathing down their necks with constant Slack updates. You'll need transparency and insight into how things are happening, of course, but allow for as much independence as possible.
Your goals are to ensure business priorities can get done or that they've been sufficiently escalated, and to maintain relationships and social connection with your team.
You can accomplish that by doing the following:
1) Prioritize work and redefine responsibilities.
Start with sitting down with your company's leaders and determining how you'll get work done if your team can't all meet together. Which projects or procedures can continue, and which will need to be re-worked or put on pause? Maybe your engineering team can carry on with product improvements, full steam ahead, without issue, and finance can keep up with earnings projections with a laptop and Excel. But does your sales team usually travel to meet with prospects? How will your sales pipeline look if activity can only be conducted online?
Do you have logistics or production workers who will need to work in-person, and can you stagger their shifts to minimize the amount of person-to-person contact they'll have?
Do you have events on the horizon you'll need to cancel?
Keep in mind that other workers may be impacted by your move to all-telecommute, like cafeteria workers or office cleaning staff. How can you include them in your plan?
2) Make sure you have the technical support to execute a remote plan.
Once you've got your work gameplan in hand, how will you actually make it happen? Collaborate with your IT and security teams to understand what's possible. Can all company assets be accessed from home, or will some projects need special security clearance? How will employees with tech issues get help?
Will you need to invest in additional hardware to kit out your employees' home offices, like headsets, video cameras, or laptops? What about software, including video conferencing or VPNs?
Zoom signed up more users in the first two months of 2020 than in all of 2019, reported a research analyst firm. The remote work tools are out there—just make sure your team is able to access them.
3) Reconsider your management toolbox.
Do you rely on a daily team huddle to check-in on project progress or 1:1 lunches to keep an eye on new hires? You'll need to find remote ways to do all of that. Whether you use video conferencing for check-ins with your direct reports or open a new Slack channel for team shoutouts that you'd normally cover in the first ten minutes of an in-person team meeting, get creative with software and workflow to adapt your management style to a remote team.
Remember to document everything. With no face-to-face time, updates and news need to be written down in a central place so that everyone can stay informed. Experiment with different task management and project management tools, and make sure all of your creation tools are cloud-based and collaborative.
A specific place to start? Daily updates. Ask your team, at least in the beginning, to send short notes in a Slack channel or an email chain about how their day was. You can have them use one universal framework—like high and low of the day or a chronological run-through—or let them determine their own. Having specific updates to read through will help you get a sense of how each individual is doing with the change, and the fact that the updates are shared will build team trust and camaraderie.
For employees: how to stay productive and sane while working from home during an outbreak
If this is your first time working from home for an extended amount of time, you may worry about how you'll get work done on your own or whether you'll miss water cooler chat. Keep these tips in mind:
1) Communicate often and escalate as needed.
Repeat the remote worker's mantra with me: there is no such thing as over-communication.
Communicate constantly about how things are going. Where are there pain points? What is and isn't working? Where do you need guidance? Your methods of communication may need to be different, since you can't just swing by a coworker's cubicle or catch up with your boss on the walk back from a meeting. But whether you use Slack updates, video calls, normal calls, or email, make sure you're reaching out and communicating.
Some specific ideas: suggest the use of daily updates to your manager, if they don't already have something similar set up; send notes to coworkers when they do something great; engage in 5 minutes of off-topic messaging before calling a meeting to order; send detailed explanations of issues and their pending or completed resolution to your team for transparency and feedback.
2) Test and tweak your home office setup.
At the office, you likely have a space that you've designed to be productive in. Maybe you've got noise-cancelling headphones to block out the cubicle chatter, framed photos of your family to remind you why you put up with the frustrating days, and snacks within reach for when the conference call goes into lunch.
Design your home office space to be as functional and comfortable as you can. Whether you're working with a standalone office, a bit of spare kitchen counter, or a dining room table turned work console, make sure your wifi and tech works, charging options are nearby, and you have a chair that supports your back (or a comfy mat to stand on, if you're doing a make-your-own standing desk situation). Add personal touches—photos, snacks, plants—and try to get as much natural light as possible.
3) Make time for social interaction and mentorship just like you would if you were in the office.
Although the whole "we're a company but we're also a family!" schtick can be a coverup for problematic boundaries at work, it's completely valid to get social satisfaction out of spending time with your coworkers. Just because you're all telecommuting doesn't mean you have to lose that.
Set up coffee chats where everyone can grab a cup of joe and join a group video chat to catch up in the mornings, do virtual lunches with friends or mentors on a weekly basis, and enable work social groups—like book clubs or e-sports leagues—with dedicated communication channels and regular video meetings.
4) Have a clear line between work and home.
One of the common pitfalls of remote workers who transition from traditional office settings is the feeling that work expands to fill all hours of the day (and all corners of your home). To avoid that, set yourself up with routines and boundaries to distinguish your normal self from your work self.
Start by getting dressed for work in the morning. Even if you could work in PJs, changing out of them—even if it's just to change into yoga pants and a t-shirt—can help remind yourself that you're settling into work and getting serious.
Take a lunch break just like you would at the office. Use it to eat, do a social call with a coworker, or take advantage of your newfound flexibility and run a quick errand in the middle of the day.
Block off your calendar for when you want to be done working. When that hour rolls around, turn off your computer, get up from your desk, and go for a walk or make a snack to mark the end of your workday. Don't check email obsessively all night—your home office will be there in the morning.
Has your company established a work-from-home policy? Let us know in the comments.