How to Effectively Transition to Remote Operations
If you own or manage a business of any size, in almost any industry, you’ve likely had to make some drastic changes over the past few months due to the COVID-19 shutdown.
Above all else, you’ve probably had to transition from operating in a traditional office setting to operating remotely.
And, chances are, you immediately realized that making this transition—especially under such uncertain circumstances—is a pretty involved process.
For both managers and employees, moving to remote operations comes with a number of challenges.
For managers, these key challenges amount to maintaining oversight, facilitating productivity, and creating alignment throughout a team that’s now quite spread out—and also quite isolated.
Employees will also face a number of challenges, such as staying productive and focused, communicating and collaborating with team members, and maintaining work/life balance while operating within their own homes.
Of course, these challenges aren’t insurmountable—and it’s definitely worth facing them head on.
Operating remotely—whether during a global shutdown or otherwise—can be hugely beneficial for your business.
- 65% of employees believe they are more productive when working from home than in an office setting.
- Remote operations can save your company a ton on operational costs, such as real estate, office equipment and supplies, and maintenance.
- Offering remote work options makes your company more attractive to highly-qualified employees—and is essentially a prerequisite for attracting those belonging to Gen Y and Z.
- 82% of employees are more likely to remain loyal to a company that allows them to work remotely.
So, while operating remotely may be your only option for the time being, doing so will set your organization up for major success even once things return to “normal.”
5 Key Steps to Transitioning to a Remote Team
To be clear: Transitioning to remote operations isn’t something that can happen overnight.
Rather, it’s a long-term process that must be approached strategically in order to be effective.
Let’s take a look at how to make it happen for your organization.
Create Alignment and Generate Buy-In
Before you can effectively move your operations online, you need to ensure that all members of your organization are onboard with the transition.
Backing up a bit, though, you should also take the time to reiterate your company’s overall vision to your team—and to reignite their purpose for working within your organization. As a recent study from Bain & Company shows, organizations that are aligned with a central vision generally outperform those that aren’t.
Basically, the idea is to remind your employees of their purpose within the organization—which won’t have changed just because you’re moving to remote operations.
It’s also crucial that your team members understand how transitioning to remote work will benefit both the organization and themselves as individuals.
While the stats we mentioned in the intro are a good place to start, you’ll want to be specific in terms of how your team will benefit from the shift. Point to past comments, questions, suggestions, and other feedback you’ve received from your team—and allow them to see how operating remotely will address these specified needs.
By creating alignment from the start of the transition, you’ll ensure your employees understand why you’ve decided to make the transition. In turn, they’ll be more likely to put the effort needed to make it happen.
(In contrast, deciding to “go remote” without getting buy-in from your team may cause your employees to become resistant to change—and potentially resentful of the organization as a whole.)
Set Expectations and Standardize Processes
Once you’ve covered the “why” of transitioning to remote operations, you’ll then need to define the “how.”
Your first order of business is to make your expectations crystal clear—especially with regard to any changes that will be made to your employees’ requirements.
For example, though you may no longer require employees to be at their desk during normal business hours, you also want to make clear that they will need to be available at certain times of the day or week.
Similarly, while your employees will have more control over their home working environment, they still need to create a professional environment that’s conducive to productivity.
The idea is to instil in your employees the idea that they’re still “at work”—and are still representing the organization—even when working from home.
The other side of this, though, is setting boundaries for your employees when working from home. For example, you don’t want your employees to feel like they’re on-call 24/7 or that they have to work when they’re sick just because their workplace is more accessible.
Here, your goal is to avoid overwhelming your employees—and to help them avoid burnout.
From there, the next step is to create a standardized work flow to operating remotely throughout your organization.
In some cases, this may mean tweaking the processes you already have in place. In others, you may need to overhaul your approach completely.
- Amending the tasks and assignments a certain position is responsible for
- Changing how your team uses certain tools and technology
- Creating step-by-step instructions for specific processes
Regardless of the changes to be made, it’s vital that you and your team make them together. This will allow your on-the-ground employees to have a say in how your organization will move forward—and will allow them to truly take ownership of their new responsibilities.
(In contrast, dictating changes from the top down may cause discord throughout your organization—which will negate all of your efforts up until this point.)
As you amend your expectations of your employees and your overall processes, you’ll also need to update your employee handbook and standard operating procedures accordingly. Also, because your team will be operating remotely, you want to make these documents available within your internal knowledge base for easy access.
Adopt the Right Technology
Needless to say, your team is going to be heavily reliant on technology as you make the transition to remote operations.
It’s critical, then, that you adopt tools and technology to both streamline and supercharge your various processes.
Some key examples:
- HR management tools, like HRPartner
- Communication tools, such as Slack, Zoom, and RingCentral
- Project management tools, like Trello, Monday, and ProjectManager
- Team management tools, like Soapbox and Lattice
- Time management tools, such as OnTheClock, DeskTime, and Timeneye
- Knowledge management tools, like Helpjuice and Hubspot
While you certainly want to look for tools that are objectively high in quality and that have an overall good reputation, it’s equally important to determine which of these tools is right for your organization.
This means finding tools that:
- Facilitate your team’s ability to share and transfer knowledge
- Meet your team’s specific needs
- Align with your team’s technical abilities
- Fit within your overall budget
More than just adopting new technology, you also need to introduce these tools into your processes strategically—and allow your team to get acclimated to using them in real-world scenarios. Ideally, this means finding tools that offer comprehensive customer onboarding and advanced training, and whose developers provide responsive and efficient service and support.
One last thing to consider before adopting a new tool into your tech stack is how committed the provider is to updating and evolving the tool as time goes on. By checking customer reviews on sites like G2, you’ll be able to see how the tool has changed over time to meet the evolving needs of organizations like yours.
Technology is essentially the lifeblood of your remote team. Without the right tools in place, it will be incredibly difficult—if not impossible—for your virtual team to operate productively.
Facilitate, Encourage, and Normalize Communication
As we said earlier, one of the major challenges of operating remotely is in maintaining open lines of communication throughout your organization.
In cases where communication isn’t exactly necessary, your remote employees may simply choose to “go it alone”—and may only reach out to others once they’ve exhausted all other options.
In cases where communication is essential to a given task, there’s still no guarantee that this communication will go off without a hitch. From technical glitches to a lack of camaraderie, there are a number of reasons that remote communications may fall short of the intended goal.
As the manager of a remote team, it’s your duty to create opportunities—and even the necessity—for communication to take place throughout your organization.
Firstly, you need to build communication into the amended processes we spoke about earlier. This means defining how, when, and why certain team members will connect and collaborate while working through different projects.
You’ll also want to schedule more occasions for your team members to communicate with one another, as well as with yourself and other stakeholders. From quick, daily one-on-one check-ins to weekly catch-up meetings, it’s important that you never let team members go incommunicado for too long.
In addition to this more scheduled and intentional communication, you want to provide open opportunities for your team to engage with one another “on the fly.” The idea here is to get your employees to communicate with each other as a matter of course—not just when it’s mandatory to do so.
Finally, you should also give your team members ample opportunity to chat and interact in a more laid back, recreational manner. From setting up water-cooler chat rooms in Slack and Zoom, to putting on virtual events (e.g., virtual happy hours, online gaming sessions, etc.), there are a number of creative ways to bring your team together and forge a sense of community—regardless of how spread out you all may be.
Again, the goal is to make communication not something your remote team feels forced to do, but to make it a part of their normal daily tasks. Though your remote employees likely won’t interact nearly as much as they would in person, you want to make it as easy and natural as possible for them to do so at all times.
Make Continual Improvements
With the proper structures in place, your team will now be ready to ramp up their remote operations—and keep your business moving in the right direction.
Still, there will always be room for improvement, in a number of ways.
That said, the last thing you want to do once your team has got the hang of working remotely is to sit back and put your company on autopilot.
Rather, you’ll want to revisit the steps we’ve discussed throughout this article on a continual basis.
First and foremost, you’ll need to keep your remote team aligned over time—and keep them from straying from the path you’ve set out for them. This means continually reminding them of their important role within the company, and their value to the organization as a whole. It also means continually fostering a sense of accountability within your team members, as well.
(This accountability builds trust, which then allows your employees to become more autonomous in their positions. Since they understand the importance of their efforts, they’ll be more willing to put their best foot forward at all times for the good of the company.)
As time goes on, both you and your team will begin to see what’s working well—and what isn’t—in terms of your processes and overall approach to remote operations. In turn, you can work together to determine how to make the most out of your effective processes (and make improvements in areas that haven’t panned out as you’d planned).
Your tech stack—as well as your use of technology, overall—should also be constantly evolving, too. This may mean adding new tools to your team’s digital belt, upgrading to a more robust tier of service, or switching providers completely. In any case, you should always be looking for new and emerging technology to help spur your team’s ability to produce effectively and efficiently.
Finally—but perhaps most importantly—you need to provide ongoing opportunities for your employees to grow professionally. Intrinsically, this means recognizing your team members for their top-notch performance and effort—and allowing them to take on more responsibilities as desired. Extrinsically, it means opening the door for promotions and increased compensation for a job well done.
Overall, it’s about facilitating continuous, unceasing growth within your remote organization. In a world that’s constantly in flux—now more than ever—your remote team absolutely needs to be improving in a variety of ways.
As long as you’re always doing something to better enable your team, you’ll continue to stay leaps and bounds ahead of those who are happy to stick to the status quo.
Transitioning to remote operations—whether on a permanent, temporary, or even optional basis—can benefit both your team members and your business as a whole.
A strategic transition to the virtual office involves getting everyone on the same page to create a cohesive and focused gameplan. Once the plan is in motion, your team can continue to improve their remote operations through ongoing communication and teamwork.
With the proper approach, your team will not just survive the transition to remote operations, but will continue to thrive well after fact.