If you are among the many leaders in areas greatly affected by a pandemic like the Coronavirus (COVID-19) – You may find yourself facing the decision to work remotely or to close your doors. If you're contemplating the idea of letting your staff work remotely, where do you start?
I found myself in a similar situation 12 years ago. I was leading a digital agency during the recession of 2008. Our business was significantly impacted by the recession, and we had to reduce our overhead or face business closure. I decided to make the shift from an onsite workforce to a distributed workforce. Thankfully, after much trial and error, I have identified some key principles that make managing a distributed workforce a breeze. Ever since the switch to leading a distributed team, this model has become my preferred model for achieving ultimate productivity.
If you are a professional services business in an area affected by viral outbreaks, there are many benefits to working with a distributed team. There is no time wasted commuting to the office. Work schedules are flexible, giving more freedom to travel. Your team can spend more time building the relationships that are most meaningful to them.
Most importantly, you will see an increase in your organization's productivity. As of 2019, Over 50% of the global workforce, if given the option, would prefer to work remotely. It is the future of work. Whether you already have a team working under one roof, or you are just getting started working from home, you can leverage a remote team.
You can make your whole team distributed or optimize specific roles within your business to operate in alternate locations. For example, many of the roles that fall into areas such as administration, finance, marketing, and other non-customer facing roles can be successfully distributed.
Companies like Salesforce, like InVision, Trello, Stripe, and Automatic (the makers of WordPress), are leveraging the advantages of part-time and full-time distributed workforces, and you can too.
How do I prepare my company to work with a distributed workforce?
With the rise of remote work, it has created a small problem. Many teams lose an enormous amount of productivity using the wrong tools at the wrong time, without a framework to manage a remote team.
Leaders struggle to leverage the advantages of working distributed while maintaining a strong sense of one-ness. Whenever I ask leaders what their biggest challenge is working with a remote team, they almost always say, "I don't feel like I am in control of my team. It's hard to find someone who can work at home, by themselves, they always seem to be distracted and hard to reach."
“Managing a distributed team requires a shift in how we approach management. When you have a remote team, your goal as a leader is to manage the work, not people.”
A common management mistake is to put too much trust in the technology rather than the systems and processes. Unfortunately, many distributed teams lack the training and the methods to be productive outside of the office.
The reason this is a big problem is that Remote work needs a system. It has to be planned, or else it will backfire. Office spaces are mainly for supervision and alignment and making communication easy. Office spaces help form cultures. From the employee's perspective, working in an office is about getting "access" to or being "seen" by various people.
Managing a distributed team requires a shift in how we approach management. When you have a remote team, your goal as a leader is to manage the work, not people.
“...it is important to set outcomes for each role and set firm deadlines of when the outcome needs to be a reality.”
When leading a remote workforce, its no longer necessary to keep track of what time each person arrived at the office, or how many hours they put into a project. According to Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, (the authors of "Why Managing Sucks"). Rather, it is important to set outcomes for each role and set firm deadlines of when the outcome needs to be a reality. As a leader, you are now on standby to help drive the outcome and bring alignment in the desired outcome.
Sometimes managers treat a remote team like a vendor rather than a relationship. Where they fail to clearly communicate the shared mission for each role and the outcome each role will create. Remote teams thrive when there is a framework for the What, How, and When. A framework gives clarity on when to use tools to interact with each other.
So, where do I start?
First, it's essential to understand what roles on your staff that can successfully work off-site on a distributed team. Here are 4 steps that you can take to determine which roles to make remote.
Step 1: Look at your org-chart.
An organizational chart or (org-chart) is a diagram that shows the structure of an organization and the relationships and relative ranks of its parts and positions/jobs. If you're just starting out, likely, you may not have a formal org-chart defined. Simply write a list of all of the people on your team. List the departments they work in. For example, who does the bookkeeping? Who handles the marketing? Etc.
Step 2: Identify non-customer facing roles.
Begin to think through which branches of the org-chart that has roles that are customer-facing and which are not. You might have roles that interact with your customers, virtually and some that interact with your customers in person.
Ask yourself, what roles could do all of their work on a computer with an internet connection? Mark those roles with an asterisk (*).
Step 3: Identify the information each role needs access to.
Audit the software your team uses, the metrics or information each role needs to successfully do their work. For example, does your team need secure access to a virtual private network when working offsite? The key here is to be aware of the data points they need and how that information is acquired and communicated.
Step 4: Conduct a review of how often each role interacts with other roles at your company.
Know the rhythm of interaction each role has with each other to maintain a consistent level of productivity. Is it daily, weekly, or even monthly? If each role operates out of your physical office, gauge how often they meet with others on your team.
Any roles that have a low frequency of meeting with customers, or face-to-face with your team, whether in the office or off-site, is an ideal role to transition into a distributed position.
An example of this might be the marketing & sales, the creative or the finance department. If you discover that your team meets with each other regularly, consider video conferencing tools like Zoom and Team collaboration tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams.
The surprising thing you may find is that most of your team gets a majority of their work done in solitude, but comes together weekly or daily for alignment.
Look at your list of roles and their activities. The roles that have predictable, regular cadences of interaction are the roles that you can consider making remote.