Deviating from our usual focus on content about planning projects and sourcing funding, the current challenges presented by COVID-19 have prompted me to take some time to reflect on our strategies for remote working for small teams. We are a small team that all work from home (or occasionally coffee shops and coworking spaces) and we have a good set of work-related systems, along with strategies to minimise cabin fever. These are my top five tips to help your team cope with a temporary transition to remote working (and perhaps even a move to adopting this as a way of operating going forward).

#1 Clarity around the business’ values

For us, professionalism, integrity, consistency and a commitment to excellence are paramount. These influence how we go about our work on a daily basis. Having conversations with your staff about your business’ values will help guide them in their decision making as they go about their work (this applies whether you are working remotely or not, but when you have less face time, there’s the potential for values to be forgotten or diluted).

#2 Setting (and enforcing) expectations

Discuss with the team what the expectations are for their work arrangements and how they conduct themselves. For us, my expectation is that we are present and proactive at our desks when we committed to being there, that we have on ‘real clothes’ (not PJs but not a suit) – something that you feel like you are ‘working’ in and could meet a client for a quick video call while wearing, and that we keep in contact with each other.

It’s also my expectation that people aren’t working outside the times they committed to (just because you could be doing work, doesn’t mean you should – working from home can make it hard to step away from the keyboard) and that they exercise flexibility it a mature way (I’ve got no problem with team members who need to quickly chuck on a load of laundry or want to take a phone call while watering the garden).

And it’s my responsibility to follow up with people if I sense they aren’t conforming to those expectations (either because they are working too much – which is our usual problem, or because they are goofing off – luckily, not a problem so far).

#3 Structure team contact

Working from home can be lonely, our team is definitely encouraged to build in opportunities to see other humans on a daily basis (other than their family). Although we don’t ‘talk’ every day, I aim to ring or email each person daily – checking in on both their work and on how they are doing themselves. Depending on who’s doing what, we also aim to have regular team catch-ups over Zoom with a coffee and zero actual ‘work’ to discuss – we all like each other so it’s nice to have some water cooler chat. A fun way to use Zoom is for ‘working blocks’ – get together in a group, have a five-minute chat, nominate your key task for the following 40 minutes (or however long) and then put Zoom on mute/camera off. Someone is elected to keep time and at the end of the block calls everyone back into the Zoom call to report back on progress, have a quick chat and then go again.

#4 Give them equipment to succeed

Quality equipment is important – on a temporary basis you might have staff working on laptops but if remote working becomes longer-term, consider equipping them with a monitor, keyboard and ergonomic mouse to run off their laptop (or switch to a desktop if budgets permit). Check on their office set up – are they using a good office chair or kicking back on the couch? I believe you have a duty of care to ensure their set up is appropriate.

#5 Leverage tech tools

Outside of wages, some of the key expenses in my business are tech-related. Other than computers and peripherals, I spend a notable amount of money on online services to make ‘doing business’ easy (and better). We use GSuite for email, calendars and forms (although not for file sharing), Dropbox for Business for our document management, ActiveCampaign for our client relationship management system, Asana for project management, Acuity for client meeting bookings, Zoom for video conferencing internally and with clients, Office360 for document creation, RecurPost and Hootsuite for social media scheduling, WordPress for this website, Canva for basic graphics (and our graphic designer for the fancy stuff using the Adobe Suite), Adobe Acrobat for complex PDF work and Xero for accounting (and online timesheets and employee portal). These all cost money, but they empower the team to be able to easily collaborate and get their work done effectively. I could save money and use fewer services, but it would be harder, more time consuming and less consistent for my team.

Got questions? Feel free to make contact and ask our advice, we are here to help.