How to Take Your Team Remote as Quickly as Possible
Recently, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft announced their Seattle staff would work from home to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Maybe you’ve been considering a remote work plan for your team too, but aren’t sure where to start.
At TeamGantt, we’ve been 100% remote for 10 years now, and it’s part of our DNA. So we thought we’d share some tips that have helped us make remote work successful for our team.
Here’s a simple action plan to help you transition your team quickly and smoothly—with as little red tape as possible. This step-by-step plan also includes a free gantt chart template you can use to speed up time to productivity and minimize disruption to your business.
1. Provide a budget for home office setups
Some team members may not be equipped to work effectively from home. That’s why we recommend giving each team member a small budget they can use to to shore up their home office for the short term. Depending on your budget, you might consider allocating $500-1,000 per team member as a starting point.
Here are the basics we recommend:
- Quiet space with a desk or table
- Comfortable chair
- Desktop camera
- Headset with microphone
- Fast and reliable internet access
2. Implement tools that make it easy to collaborate online
Learning how to collaborate remotely may feel like a big jump for your team if you’re used to getting things done face-to-face. But there are lots of tools to help you keep communication flowing so your team stays in sync when working from home. (You may even be using some of these already!)
Many of the tools we mention below include a free plan or option. While free plans usually come with a limited set of features, it’s an easy option for getting started without having to jump through a bunch of red tape. Just keep that in mind if budget approvals become a sticking point.
Slack and Microsoft Teams are the big players in this space. But Flock is another good alternative that offers a whole suite of helpful collaboration tools.
We recommend setting up some guidelines to minimize interruptions, as one of the biggest benefits of remote work is the ability to have long periods of focus time. It’s also important to ensure your group chat doesn’t become a hub where project work happens under the radar or in various disjointed conversations.
As a leader, it's vital to establish rules and etiquette to ensure people aren’t eating into productive time on live chat. For example, here are a couple of guidelines we established for our team:
- It’s okay to snooze notifications if needed to quiet the chatter and focus on a big project.
- Use Slack for “deskside” conversations, and TeamGantt for project requests or updates.
- Respond to most messages within 24 hours. We can do so sooner, but there’s no obligation.
Remote meeting/video chat
Video chat enables your team to have virtual meetings from anywhere and gives you the benefit of face time, even if everyone’s working separately.
Just be sure the tool you choose offers solid audio and video connections. We use Zoom at TeamGantt, as it’s the most reliable one we’ve found out there. But Google Hangouts Meet and your group chat tool’s video conferencing option are also worth considering too.
Many leaders worry about accountability when going remote. Seeing your team hard at work right in front of you provides a sense of ease you simply can’t get when everyone works from home. You’ll need to shift to managing your team based on output alone.
We’re fans of having a plan for every project no matter where your team gets work done—but it’s especially important when everyone goes remote. A good project management tool sets clear deadlines and expectations for your team and makes it super-easy to track what’s being done and what isn’t. So even if you can’t see people at their desks, you can see when tasks are running behind and address delays before they become an issue. Naturally, we use TeamGantt, and over 1 million other people have too.
Whatever project management tool you choose, remember: Everyone needs to use it consistently for it to work well. All project- and task-related discussions should happen in your project management tool so you don’t have dark work going on in other channels like Slack. And make it clear that your team should regularly update progress on their tasks so you know where things are at any given time.
File-sharing and collaboration
File sharing is a big consideration for a lot of teams considering remote work—especially if you’re used to housing files on your office network. Google Drive makes it easy to create a centralized file hub your team can access from anywhere. Just be sure you copy all the files you’ll need onto the drive before going remote.
Unlike Dropbox, Google offers tools for file collaboration too. We use Google Docs to collaborate on content. But your team may want to look into additional file collaboration tools, depending on the work you do. For example, we use InVision to collaborate and comment on design-related files and Frame.io for sharing and reviewing video projects. GitLab is an interesting option that offers a lot of tools for remote development teams.
3. Discuss working hours and schedules
It’s important to help your team set clear boundaries around work and family time when transitioning to remote work. This not only helps minimize distractions during office hours, but also keeps work from bleeding into home life. Here are 2 simple ways to set your team up for stress-free remote work success.
Set core working hours
Decide when everyone should be expected to be online. This makes it easier to schedule meetings and creates space for collaboration to happen in real time.
You may want to sync everyone up to the same schedule all day or let people set their own schedule, as long as certain hours overlap. At TeamGantt, we like our team to be available between 10 am and 4 pm ET each day, but they have the flexibility to set their schedule around those core hours.
Be sure to set clear expectations around what it means to be available so there’s no confusion. For instance, maybe it means a 15-minute response time for Slack messages during your team’s main working hours.
Encourage your team to work a predictable schedule
One of the best ways I’ve found to keep work and family life from bleeding into each other is to commit to working a regular schedule. For example, I work from about 8:15 am to 5:00 pm with a lunch break each and every day.
This works out great because it provides clear expectations and balance. I agree not to work past 5:00 pm if my family allows me to focus during work times. Then when I’m done for the day, I feel like I can truly shut my work mind down and give my family 100% of my attention because I accomplished a lot during my focus time during the day.
4. Determine meeting frequency
Remote teams can feel disconnected without regularly scheduled touch points. While we try to keep meetings to a minimum to leave room for focus time, we know our team needs to hop on a video call to see and hear from everyone on a regular basis. And sometimes folks just need to be reminded that they’re a part of a team that’s working together.
Talk with your team and decide how often you need to touch base to keep communication flowing and projects moving forward. At TeamGantt, we hold a monthly all-company meeting, while smaller teams touch base once a week or every other week. You may want to meet more frequently at first until your team gets into a good remote rhythm.
This is also a good time to determine what adjustments you need to make to ensure meetings continue to be productive, even from home. We’ve found the standup meeting format helpful in our regular team meetings, with each person answering these 3 questions:
- What did you do last week/month?
- What are you working on this week/month?
- What blockers are in your way?
5. Hold a meeting to inform everyone of the plan
Once you’ve mapped out the steps for going remote, it’s time to let your team in on your plan. This will help ease worry and doubts and ensure everyone’s on the same page about how the transition will work.
Make sure you explain the following points to your team:
- Why your team is going remote
- How long you expect the team to work remotely
- Who they should reach out to for questions on home office equipment and IT questions
We recommend building a project plan for your transition so you can share it with your team and make sure nothing falls through the cracks. We even created a free remote work transition plan template to help you get started. Feel free to use this template—along with TeamGantt’s free plan—to plan and execute your remote work transition.
Get leadership advice from top remote companies
There’s a lot more to managing a remote team, but this list should set you off on the right foot. Be sure to check out the advice we gathered from other top remote companies in 9 Essential Tips for Managing a Remote Team.