Successful Remote Working Practices (When You Don’t Have a Choice)

Jennifer L'Estrange
March 9, 2020

As confirmed cases of Coronavirus increase in the USA, there is growing concern over business continuity, travel, and overall employee wellness. This article is NOT about COVID-19, but rather how you can quickly and effectively establish remote work practices for your organization without sacrificing productivity, connection, and employee engagement.

Manage asynchronous collaboration

Asynchronous collaboration is a fancy word for working together with others, but not at the same time. For example, I wrote this article in a Google doc and then shared it with Eric. He took a look at it and made some comments that I read over that evening before I finalized and posted it. It’s a great way to work when your people are separated by space and time…or time zones. Most cloud based software is amenable to sharing, but if you’re looking for something designed to do this, check out

Establish regular meeting rhythms

Clear and consistent meeting rhythms are important in any high performing team. For remote teams, they become critical touch points where the team can share updates on progress and get help where they need it. We don’t really have a preference between conference calls with a screen share capability  versus video calls, but select a product that meets your collaboration needs. If you’re planning to share documents during the meeting, pick a tool that makes screen share a snap – and keep in mind that you may only want to share a specific part of your screen rather than the entire desktop. Unless you want everyone on the team to know that your order of 12 bottles of hand sanitizer has arrived.

At Red Clover, we meet once a week as a team. Our agenda is a mix of a couple of different methodologies, and it works well for us at our current size and  provides the flexibility to be run in person or over the phone. Because we are often spread out at different client sites, we often run the meeting as a combination of in-person and remote.

Here’s the agenda in its entirety – feel free to steal shamelessly.

  1. One word open:  The word or phrase that describes how you’re feeling today.

  2. Individual update: Each team member reviews how they are tracking against goals. We set goals use the 12-week year for planning and tracking over the period.

  3. Learning spotlight: 15 minutes on a learning topic. Rotating responsibility

  4. Successes: Celebrate what’s working well and how we can leverage successes in each other’s work.

  5. Stuck?: What help do you need. We don’t use this time to solve the problem, we just put people together to solve it offline.

  6. Shout Outs: Who did something last week that really demonstrated our values at work?

  7. One word close: The word or phrase that describes how you’re feeling at the end of the meeting.

Be purposeful with tone of voice

When we work remotely, most of our communications are written in messages or spoken by phone. Understanding the meaning behind someone’s words is a little harder when we can’t see the person in front of us. When we meet face to face, we unconsciously interpret the tone of voice and body language as part of the meaning in our communications. When we’re working remotely and our communication can’t be face to face, it’s important to choose our words carefully as the speaker or writer and, as the listener, to ask for clarification if we’re at all unsure of the meaning \ behind what we think we’re reading or hearing. Don’t assume that someone is being snarky or passive aggressive – chances are that they just have a different communication style than you do and it’s more noticeable in print. There are some good guidelines in this article from Psychology Today.

Create and measure KPIs that are tightly tied to results

This might be the most important change when it comes to remote work practices. When employees are not onsite, the best and probably only way to really track and measure performance is through the definition and tracking of KPIs that are linked to the individual’s contribution to the business.

Creating appropriate KPIs starts with appropriate goal setting conversations where managers and team members agree on the priorities for the period. Once agreed, the KPIs become the measurements of the key behaviors, actions and results that demonstrate success or progress against those goals. For example, if the goal is to close $100,000 in business, then the KPIs might be the total number of proposals written and a tracking of how much business has been closed for the period so far. We use a combination of Scaling Up and The 12-Week Year to manage our KPI’s.

Don’t confuse KPIs with development conversations however. They are not the same. KPIs measure contribution to business success; they look at past performance. Development conversations review what we can do to learn and grow in our career; they look to the future.

Develop close relationships and culture of trust

We strive to create close relationships at our firm. n addition to the team that I manage locally, I also have one team member who works 100% remotely. In fact, we’ve never met face to face. Despite the distance and time zones that separate us, we have a close relationship that is based on mutual trust and understanding. We start with our Company Values – words that are simple enough to understand on paper. Family First, Own It, Got Your Back, and Honest Counsel. They’re simple, but they’re not always easy. We act on them, every day, with the conversations that we have with our clients and each other. Those values and the behaviors that underpin them, have formed a culture of trust that means that I don’t wonder if someone is working or not working while they’re remote. I know that they’ll get the job done. And if they finish something earlier than expected, then they’ll reach for something else to do to help a colleague or advance on a project. They are aligned to the goals that we’ve created for the business and they believe in what we’re doing. And, importantly, I see and recognize the value that they deliver and the contribution that they make every day. And, no, we don’t track keystrokes on the laptops.

Adapt policies, practices and norms as needed

Moving to remote work practices means that you will need to take a look at and possibly revise several policies in your employee handbook.  Review your PTO/ vacation policy to make sure that there is a clear definition of work time and non work time and that both exempt and nonexempt employees understand how to plan and track their paid time off.

Tracking time off becomes more important with remote work forces, as there is no immediately visible way to track work and proving a negative is notoriously difficult. Some companies have tracking mechanisms linked to time and attendance software that helps mitigate this, but at the end of the day, there is a trust factor when it comes to when employees are working.

As far as societal norms go, certain behaviors change when we don’t meet face to face. We don’t have the opportunity to shake hands, or other physical greetings when we work remotely. This is fine and accepted when work is completely remote, but if and when remote work becomes more of a societal norm, we may see fewer handshakes, hugs and other physical greetings in our daily lives outside of work.

Unexpected benefits of working remotely

While we tend to focus on the challenges of remote work forces, there are some tangible and intangible benefits to flexible and remote work.

Rent and office related costs

First and importantly is lower office costs. Even if you move to a hot-desk or hotelling concept, you should be able to save on fixed rent costs. Along with that comes reduced costs for sundries and other related office expenses. There are some organizations that operate 100% remotely, relying on small co-working spaces as a home base and renting conference room space when they need it for specific meetings.

Opportunity to leverage technology

Remote work creates new ways of working, many of which depend on technology to support work product creation as well as communications. We are currently finalizing an entire new online learning product as a direct result of receiving requests from potential customers who were too far away from us to service effectively in person. You may find that a forced remote work option actually creates a new opportunities to build new efficiencies into your business model or generate additional revenue that you hadn’t planned on.

Part-time employment

Sometimes, you can attract a different, and sometimes better, pool of talent when you offer a combination of flexible, remote, or part-time work options. Part time employment is something that becomes, in some respects, easier to manage with a remote infrastructure. The jobs need to be designed in a way that you can measure specific work deliverables anyway. Scoping them as part time then becomes something of a math exercise rather than a convoluted debate on whether it’s possible to design a role on a part-time basis. Spoiler alert, there are very few jobs out there that can’t be designed on a part-time basis.

All of these unexpected benefits can have a positive impact on the bottom line. It’s an opportunity to batten down costs in uncertain times and focus on driving revenue and investing where it makes the most sense.

In fact, if changing to remote work is somewhat of a forced pivot for your organization, you might wind up in a better place than where you started. You might really like where you land.

Oh and in case there was any doubt in your mind, wash your hands.

Written by Jen L’Estrange.

Learn more about Jen on LinkedIn.

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