As of this writing, the COVID-19 outbreak is still raging across Toronto and all over the world. The Canadian government has implemented social distancing as one of our first lines of defense against the disease. By limiting close contact with other people, we help stop the novel coronavirus from spreading, thereby decreasing the number of infections and preventing our healthcare system from being overwhelmed. In order to comply, many businesses have shifted large portions of their workforce to working remotely.
Over the first few weeks of this, your business and your people were probably fixated on the basics:
☐ Does everyone have a laptop?
☐ Can everyone access the VPN (and do we have enough licenses for the VPN)?
☐ Do we have consensus on a conference calling/screen sharing application?
With these baseline elements in place, it’s natural to start to think about the next phase. What happens if this lasts months instead of weeks? Using technology will be key to not only maintaining operations, but also achieving “next-level” remote working results. Here are some of the biggest challenges you’ll face and how to overcome them.
Challenge #1: How should your managers manage projects?
Regardless of whether team members are under the same roof or are all under their own, managers are responsible for overseeing progress and making sure that goals are met. However, with distributed teams (i.e., teams with members spread across different locations), keeping in touch becomes challenging. And the larger the team is, the more difficult it becomes for everyone to be on the same page.
Solution: Use communication and project management tools
Keep in touch with your teammates through email, online chat, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), video conferencing, and other modes of communication. Popular chat apps for work include Slack and Telegram, while heftier communication apps such as Microsoft Teams, Skype, and WebEx also allow internet calls and videoconferencing.
A plethora of project management tools also abound in the cloud. If your team is into the simplicity of Kanban boards, then you’ll want to use Trello. However, if you want Gantt charts, work breakdown structures, burn-down charts, and other project management staples, you’ll want to look into web-based apps such as Microsoft Project, Wrike and monday.com.
Challenge #2: How do you enable remote collaboration?
When people are in the same office, they can easily discuss projects face to face, work on files while a teammate or supervisor provides feedback in real time, and gather everyone’s attention before making an impromptu announcement to the group.
Such dynamics are difficult if not impossible to replicate in a distributed team setup.
Solution: Use online collaboration tools
It’s highly likely that you already have your preferred collaboration tools. If so, then you and your remote staff need only to lean in further into using those tools more consistently. If not, then you’ll want to find some that will work best for your team.
While things like taps on the shoulder or shout-outs across the cubicle won’t be happening with everyone sheltering in place, people can still collaborate effectively by using a productivity platform like Microsoft Office 365 (O365). For more information on O365 and how it can promote remote collaboration, check out the following posts:
- Help yourself: Use these Office 365 features
- What are the benefits of Office 365 for small businesses?
- Office 365 productivity add-ons you must use
Look out for mentions of Teams as well as features such as Skyping over a document with coworkers. Of course, beyond Microsoft products, you can also use similar platforms, such as G Suite, or use other apps, such as Slack or Trello. Your choice of tools will simply depend on what will work for your team.
Challenge #3: How do you track project progress?
Keeping an eye on everyone’s individual tasks while maintaining oversight over the progress of an entire project can be daunting, especially when everyone is in different locations. While the tools we’ve mentioned so far are great for knowing when staff members start and finish their tasks, these tools don’t provide you with live feedback or progress updates while people are in the middle of doing their tasks.
Solution: Use a project management tool that lets you “check in” on team members
While it’s good to keep in touch via teleconferences and virtual standups, these can often be bogged down by scheduling issues and technical difficulties. A time-saving alternative for distributed teams is Status Hero, an app that lets users check in on their progress daily, collates reports onto centralized activity logs, and discovers actionable productivity insights along the way.
This tool provides visibility over everyone:
- Their availability status
- What they’re currently working on
- What they did yesterday
- What their blockers are (i.e., the things that are stopping them from completing their tasks)
With an app like Status Hero, you don’t have to bug people with questions like “Are you available now?” or “Have you already started on that project yet?” This cuts the noise and saves your team valuable time.
Another key task in project management is identifying and promoting efficiencies within the team. To maximize productivity, you want to know how long tasks are taking, and time tracking tools like Toggl help in this regard. With these, you can see who are the most efficient at certain tasks and then adjust assignments accordingly, set performance benchmarks to maintain, and even shorten turnaround times.
Team enrollment is vital here, so one way to ensure total adoption is to let staff members help in choosing and testing out the tools they want to use. Successful businesswoman Mary Kay Ash’s enduring insight is that “people will help support that which they help to create.” This means that it’s a good strategy to give staff members the chance to increase their sense of contribution to the company, instead of having them do things out of mere compliance.
Related article: How to ensure collaboration tools adoption
Challenge #4: How do you keep people synchronized?
It’s difficult to have staff members spread across different time zones. And in a remote work setup, people feel free to work whenever they want, so even if they are in the same time zone, those who identify themselves as night persons might interact less with day persons.
Solution: Implement guidelines that balance individual freedom and team productivity
Sample guidelines can be the following:
- Each team member can choose when they want to work, for as long as they’ll be consistent with their chosen schedule. This is to mitigate availability issues.
- Everyone must use an integrated calendar as well as all the project management and time tracking tools mandated by management.
- If teams hold regular meetings, team members must agree to be available at a common time.
Of course, it’s important to do your due diligence with any new application you try. Cyber criminals are ramping up their efforts during this crisis, so ensure you are completely comfortable with the security and privacy policies of any solution before you implement. If you need help, turn to our experts at XBASE. Leverage our Exponentially Better™ IT services to help you get through these trying times and come out stronger than ever before.
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