It can be expected that the number of business owners who will manage their companies and teams remotely, whether in full remote mode or only partially, will increase with the increasing digitization of companies. Similarly, the number of business teams that will optionally work remotely to some extent will grow. Here, in addition to the increase in fully remote teams, we will see a significant increase in hybrid teams (someone working fully in the office, someone working alternately in the office and remotely, someone working fully remotely). Why can all this be expected? The change in many companies and teams is caused by the current trends (e.g. forced reduction of work in offices), as evidenced by the aforementioned digitization of companies, and then also by the fact that many business owners realize the fundamental benefits of working remotely

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What are the benefits of remote work for companies?

If we have to mention only the main ones, they will be: 

  • Savings in terms of offices (you need fewer offices or you don’t need them at all) 
  • Option to hire employees living anywhere (= significantly higher flexibility for recruitment) 
  • Extended working hours (working hours overlap and can cover longer sections of the day, which is suitable, for example, for support staff) 
  • Commuting is eliminated (and thus “wasted” time, and there is also an obvious positive impact on the environment) 
  • Improved employee performance (employees working from home actually work conscientiously on time (9–5), they are not disturbed, for example by colleagues in the workplace, etc.) – according to the study there was a 13% increase in performance and also a 50% improvement in terms of quit rate (significantly fewer employees quit) 

The main principles of operating a company remotely

We will describe the possible perceived barriers to the transition to remote operation later, for now, we will highlight 4 key principles: 

  1. Don’t try to simulate the office environment – it’s not possible to switch the company from office mode to remote mode one to one, e.g. don’t try to simulate the same schedule, the same meetings 
  2. Use the shift to remote mode as an opportunity to change and optimize the company – get rid of unnecessary processes, take advantage of the flexibility of the new remote mode 
  3. You have to build the remote operation of the company on trust and suitable employees – working remotely or managing a team remotely are skills, not everyone has them or is able to acquire them, trust between employees is also essential (in all directions) 
  4. Realize that you can’t create a remote company by getting the right software – for a company to operate remotely in an effective way is not about the company and team having software for projects, for video conferencing, for chatting, for having shared cloud storage 

Main barriers and concerns about remote mode

  • Lack of face-to-face supervision 
    • Distrust – the bosses’ fear that employees will not work responsibly 
    • Employees don’t have personal and direct access to superiors or colleagues (to support, information) 
       
  • Lack of information, access to information, speed of obtaining information 
    • Employees have trouble finding the information they need quickly or accessing the information at all 
    • “Relationship” challenges – without face-to-face contact, we have trouble understanding the context of communication (the employee interprets the tone of the email in their own way, not understanding the context, and may be offended) 
       
  • Social isolation 
    • Feeling of loneliness – a greater impact on extroverts 
    • In the long run, isolation can reduce the degree of feeling that all employees belong to the company (and thus increase the degree of intention to leave the company) 
       
  • Commotion at home 
    • The employer has no control over the “quality” of the workplace and peace there (e.g. children, no study, etc.) 

      Note: in normal mode, it is necessary to require a dedicated work area and “attended” children – otherwise, work from home cannot be allowed. 

Be aware! It’s about people, about company culture

Ability to work and manage remotely 

  • Remote working is a skill 
  • Remote management (of people, of a team) is a skill 

    = It is necessary to look for employees who can work remotely (in a team) and who can manage remotely (a team) (in the case of team leaders) already during the recruitment. 

It is necessary to create, build and rely on corporate culture and corporate values 

  • As a company, operate according to your proclaimed values, it’s not enough just to write them down 
  • It all starts with recruitment – the employee must “suit”, be in harmony with the values of the company, its culture 
  • Expect autonomy from employees and, most importantly, support it 
  • Trust is essential in all directions; the manager must trust the team, the team must trust the manager, and the team members must trust each other (360° trust) 
  • Emotional intelligence of employees is essential (we don’t see each other, we must understand each other without being able to see each other, we must support each other) 
  • A positive attitude of employees is essential, good intentions must always be expected (from others) 
  • Emphasize productivity by results (= outputs and their quality), instead of emphasizing time spent working 

How to support colleagues working remotely? How to manage a team remotely? 

The role of the manager is crucial – the manager must provide peace of mind and confidence 

Neither the company nor the team can operate successfully remotely unless they are managed by a quality manager able to manage the company or team remotely (see above, remote management is a skill) I expect companies that choose remote mode will quickly detect low-quality managers (e.g. micromanagers, inveterate delegators) and replace them. 

What is the role of a manager in remote teams? 

  • The manager must take into account the stress and uncertainty of the employees (and let them know that the manager knows), support them, and consistently show confidence in the team (“we can do it”)
     
  • The manager should explain the decisions to the subordinates (e.g. why they were given the particular task); it is then clear to the employees why something is being done, why they are doing it, etc. 
    • At the same time, the manager regularly repeats what the company’s vision/mission/values are about; these must be “felt” in the work
       
  • Trust in all directions is crucial 
    • The manager must trust the subordinates 
    • The manager must behave so that the subordinates trust the manager as well 
    • The manager must lead the team so that the team members trust each other 
    • The manager must not be a micromanager 
      • Give employees more autonomy so that they can make decisions (rather than constantly wait for replies, for decisions from above) 
      • Give employees more responsibility for solving problems (superiors don’t solve problems for them – in the remote mode with asynchronous communication, the solution unnecessarily waits until the manager is available and problems accumulate (so called “monkey problem”)) 
         
  • Regular feedback is essential (ideally in all directions, i.e. 360°) 
    • Praise openly 
    • Criticize privately and sensitively to encourage growth, empathy is needed 

Monitor work, performance and planning 

  • Communicate clearly beforehand how the employee is evaluated 
     
  • Evaluate for the work done (outputs and their quality, or measurable benefits), not for the time spent working (if possible)
    • E.g. completed tasks (which you have determined together for the section, quality, deadlines, number) 
    • Take advantage of evaluation in all directions (360°)
       
  • Prioritize the tasks to be performed in the given time interval with the employee (scope, deadlines, reason of the task, criteria for completing the task) 
    • Every day (or week, according to the agreement) the employee writes what they plan to work on, or what they have achieved at the end of the day/week
    • Consider the workload of employees (Do you assign them too much or too little work?)
       
  • Use suitable tools for remote work management (it can be CAFLOU, Asana, Trello, Basecamp – according to individual needs)
    • Create processes for more complex tasks (e.g. checklist or task templates are enough)
    • Use a project/task management system
      • Assignment (and criteria for fulfilling the assignment), deadline, solver, priority, status, discussion of the task/project
    • Use shared document storage

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Train employees in remote work 

  • Give them time to get used to it, as remote work is a skill that needs to be learned
  • Instruct them how to work from home (tips for a regular regime, emphasis on work/life balance, the role of sports, sleep, food, etc.) 
  • Let them share tips for working from home (gradual optimization of work from home)  
  • Respect the need of employees regarding different modes (e.g. families with children, colleagues in other time zones, etc.) 
  • Managers tend to work from home more than in the office – point it out, monitor it 
  • Be considerate to older colleagues – they are worried that they will not be able to work remotely as well as in the office (see the study

Have adequate communication technology available for both synchronous and asynchronous communication 

  • Email is not fully sufficient, not all communication can be covered by email 
     
  • Video is crucial for remote teams (face-to-face video) – video communication is synchronous and strengthens teamwork, awareness of what is happening in the team or joint projects, reduces the feeling of isolation, allows to solve more complex issues than chat or email 
    • ​​​​​(It can be CAFLOU MEET, Google Meet, Skype, Zoom, etc. – according to individual needs) 
       
  • Enable fast communication (when video is not needed) via IM 
    • (It can be Slack, Rocket Chat, Mattermost, Microsoft Teams, etc. – according to individual needs; in CAFLOU, we are preparing the possibility to use Rocket Chat for free) 

Get rid of meetings that are not really necessary 

Switching to remote mode allows you to optimize processes and remove those that are not needed in remote mode. Get rid of unnecessary meetings, such as those where it is enough to write a report and send it to colleagues. 

Communicate more than necessary

  • Communicate more than necessary, it certainly doesn’t hurt 
     
  • Assume good intentions (in communication) – you can’t feel the tone and body language from the email/message, teach the team to assume good, not the bad 
     
  • Respect colleagues (e.g. their daily routine, current workload (if they are not to be disturbed, don’t disturb them)) 
     
  • Determine the rules for what needs to be dealt with by synchronous communication (calls, video conferencing) and what by asynchronous communication (email, Skype…) 
    • Asynchronous communication predominates in remote mode – keep it in mind (e.g. it is necessary to expect longer reaction times)
       
  • Give everyone a voice in team video conferences 
    • Beware of loudmouths, protect introverts 
       
  • Clearly specify frequency, medium, communication structure and “stick to routines” 
    • Take video as the basis of communication – among other things, it allows you to feel the tone, body language, etc. 
    • Have an agenda and allocated time for each meeting (there is no meeting without an agenda)  
    • Designate a moderator and time “measurer” for each meeting Use structured (daily/weekly/regular) “interactions", for example 
    • Daily (written) brief plans of employees (what I will do today), or daily summary (what I achieved today) 
    • 1:1 video chat 
      • Ad hoc or e.g. monthly 1:1 
    • Team video chat (for team collaboration) 
      • Daily “stand-ups” via video 
      • Other regular, structured meetings, including the possibility of consultation (not just reporting); this is also an opportunity for feedback from colleagues (concerns, problems…) 
    • Urgent communication – e.g. via Slack, Skype, etc. 
    • The manager has a “window” of availability every day between 12–14 via Zoom 
    • Ad hoc video conferencing to expedite problem resolution (e.g. when a task is being transferred) 
    • Not everything has to be in the form of a meeting (opportunity to get rid of unnecessary meetings) 
      • For example a weekly report in Google Docs is enough; the same goes for “what I will do today” and “what I achieved today” 
         
  • Key information should be in writing so that everyone can find it (in a common repository) 
     
  • Set clear rules for communicating with clients 
    • When, how often, with whom, what are the expected delays in response  
    • Require professionalism (e.g. clothing, tone, etc.) 

Create opportunities for social interaction, to strengthen corporate culture 

Allow informal communication about non-work-related matters (very important for extroverts and for everyone who is involuntarily working from home), for example: 

  • Provide time at the beginning of regular “stand-ups” 
  • “Monday Social” (What did you do at the weekend?) 
  • Virtual coffee, beer or party (reduce the feeling of isolation, increase the feeling of belonging) 
  • Leisure channel on Skype or Slack 
  • Congratulations regarding birthdays, anniversaries, etc. 

If you can, once in a while, have an all-team meeting in the office (instead of the more familiar “offsite” meetings, have an “onsite” team meeting). 

Not every company or team can be managed remotely, not every job position can be effectively handled from home. However, there will be more and more companies and teams that can work remotely. Switching to remote mode will always take a while and will require (permanent) fine-tuning of processes, yet it is a change that makes sense for many companies and is worth its undeniable benefits. Don’t be afraid of it. 
 

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Ing. Petr MacekAuthor of the article: Ing. Petr Macek 
Author of the CAFLOU® application 
Get in touch with Petr Macek on  Petr Macek na LinkedIn