The pandemic is leading businesses to shift abruptly toward a remote workforce. Here’s how to equip employees with the necessary tools and processes.
- The coronavirus pandemic is leading many businesses to shift abruptly toward a remote workforce in an attempt to reduce potential exposure to the virus that has infected more than 121,000 people and killed more than 4,300 worldwide.
- Even though most companies do a lot of their work online already, shifting to a more distributed workforce requires new strategies that go beyond business as usual in order for teams to succeed.
- “It’s a mistake to assume you’ll continue business in a traditional way via the internet,” said Stephanie Nadi Olson, the founder and CEO of We Are Rosie, which provides remote marketing talent to the world’s biggest agencies and brands.
- Olson shared the best practices that she has developed while serving $100 million companies, and the problems that can occur when businesses don’t equip their teams with the necessary tools and processes.
In the age of Gmail, Slack, Zoom, and other cloud-based office tools, business owners and managers might be lulled into thinking that a transition to a remote workforce would be simple.
While these tools certainly make it easier to get people out of the office in response to the widening outbreak of the deadly coronavirus, COVID-19, managing remote teams requires a lot more than simply spending more time online.
“It’s a mistake to assume you’ll continue business in a traditional way via the internet,” said Stephanie Nadi Olson, the founder and CEO of We Are Rosie, which provides remote marketing talent to the world’s biggest agencies and brands.
In an interview with Business Insider, Olson shared the best practices that she has developed while serving $100 million companies, and the problems that can occur when businesses don’t equip their teams with the necessary tools and processes.
“Shifting your team to a remote workforce at this time is the best way to take care of your team,” she said.
“I started this business, believing that this was inevitable,” she continued. “The coronavirus is just going to expedite the timeline, and I think that it’s going to catch a lot of folks on their heels. I think it already has.”
Err on the side of over-communication
Every best practice Olson has seen comes back to communication, especially since the more informal desk-side and water-cooler chats are not a realistic option for remote teams.
“When you’re working remotely and in a distributed fashion, nobody should be making any assumptions, particularly if you’ve been thrown into this environment unexpectedly,” she said. “Over-communication is going to be really important.”
In order to ensure that increased communication doesn’t simply become noise without enough information, Olson says that morning team check-ins are a powerful way to get everyone on the same page. If needed, an end-of-day group conversation can help as well.
She also recommends using video conferencing wherever possible, in particular for difficult topics or emotionally challenging discussions.
“Video reminds everybody else that we’re all human, and I think that it does a good job of alleviating frustration. I think that it helps the team stay really close together,” Olson said.
Get the IT teams involved early and often
Another key challenge is technological. It’s not uncommon for teams to have their digital infrastructure be heavily reliant on their physical location, and that can cause serious disruption if IT policies, procedures, and resources aren’t managed aggressively.
“Ensuring that everybody has access to programs and tools and databases and documents that they’ll need to be successful remotely is going to be really critical,” Olson said.
The tech challenge quickly returns to a communication challenge, since different businesses face different types of internal policies and external regulations that govern how information and hardware can be used.
“You have to be closely partnered with your IT team. They will understand how to keep you compliant, while also making sure that people can still work.”
Olson related the example of one Fortune 10 client that required corporate-issued computers to be picked up in person from a company office. The policy was one of many that could restrict a team’s ability to work effectively outside the office.
“In order to get that policy changed, it has to be a team effort from the IT leadership as well as the business leaders that are facing the disruption,” she said.
Break projects into smaller, more flexible units
Business owners and managers also need to recognize that their workers aren’t the only ones whose lives are disrupted as a result of the coronavirus. Many have children and family members to worry about as well, and that could impact not just where work happens, but when it gets done.
“Things are going to be much more fluid, so things are going to need to be able to be seamlessly handed off from one person to the other,” Olson said.
Once again, communication is critical to success, as well as finding new approaches to measure progress. Where leaders might have assigned one large item to an individual, breaking that task into modular sub-units that can be handed off to other team members is a powerful strategy to keep projects moving when unexpected scheduling problems arise.
“The smartest way to do it is to actually have really low expectations for what any one individual can do within a day and recognize that that’s going to be a change from how you used to operate,” Olson said.
Within Olson’s business itself, We Are Rosie is currently adding five new full-timers to its core team of eight. In the past, it was Olson herself who handled the onboarding process for each new hire, but now she says she is focusing only on the parts that need her specific attention and handing off the rest to relevant members of her team.
For herself, and for other business leaders suddenly thrust into this approach to business, Olson counsels patience.
“There are going to be mistakes, there are going to be things that fail, there’s going to be frustration,” Olson said. “From a human-centered leadership standpoint, own that up front and create the time and space to evolve.”
Trust your team to get the job done
At the end of the day, successful teams will rely on a high level of trust from everyone involved, and Olson says that is a good thing.
“I think this remote work experiment, if you will, is going to prove that you can in fact still trust people, and that they are incredibly productive,” she said. “They are incredibly honest about what they can and cannot do. And they’re even more devoted to making the team successful.”
According to Salesforce Vice President Marie Rosencrans, trust is one of the most important things to establish between workers and employers. And Olson says trusted workers are happier, more efficient workers.
“It’s human psychology. When people feel like they’re in control over their lives, they feel better, they work better, they’re happier,” Olson said. “I think long term this will increase the trust within teams. It will allow teams to be more inclusive.”