It’s obvious but, worth stating clearly, the entire business world is dealing with the exact same problem, all at the same time.
If your company hasn’t already begun work from home policies, transitioning to a remote work environment temporarily can seem almost as frightening as the Coronavirus! Especially with all the unknowns as to the duration of the virus and “Stay at Home” policies that are affecting most businesses.
So, now your entire team is staying home AND trying to get their work done and stay on the same page AND stay in communication with customers. And you didn’t get a chance to prepare.
Never fear! We decided to share our experience with going virtual in the hope that we can help in your company’s transition to a remote style of working as you continue to help the world’s economy keep pumping!
I truly hope what follows can serve as a guide to making sure you’re successful. We want to show you how to make remote work ACTUALLY work.
We maintained an office for most of our 16 year history. And then, about 3 years ago we decided to go completely virtual. Luckily for us, it wasn’t an emergency situation. We took about 6 months to plan and test the concept. We phased it in, with employees starting with working from home 1 or 2 days per week and then slow increasing the amount of time at home.
By rolling out the concept slowly and carefully, we learned a lot and made a lot of adjustments to our plans along the way.
Working from home has been a big plus for our company overall. In the last 3 years, there have been a number of top recruits that we were able to attract primarily due to the work from home “benefit”! And I feel it makes top performers shine even brighter. The problem is that it may also be easier for poor performers to “hide” in the shadows.
Caveat: We’re a CRM software company and so there really is nothing in our entire business that can’t be done remotely. This will not address the massive problems faced by businesses whose core production is at a stop due to Coronavirus.
Here’s what we think matters most:
Sure, the obvious risk that comes to most minds is that productivity will suffer due to distractions, lack of in person supervision, etc.
Of course, this is a moment in history when it makes sense to be as flexible as possible to allow your team to take care of themselves, their loved ones and their communities. However, it’s a mistake to go too far with freedom and flexibility. You will be surprised how important routine, structure and social interaction is to most of your team.
This lack of structure and interaction is the change that underlies all of the potential risks of working from home.
Your main challenge right now is to replace the structure and interaction that naturally took place in the office with alternatives.
It worked for Ronald Reagan. It will work for you.
You may feel like a micromanager but, it’s impossible to underestimate the power of seeing things. So, give the team easy ways to SHOW you what they’re doing.
When you’re in an office together, you get a sense of someone’s level of effort just from body language and the little comments they make to co-workers.
In a remote setting, however, it’s much easier for a double sided vicious cycle to take over…
It will start with little innocent things. You call Tom, the technical writer, to check in with him. He was hoping to have the new training document that he’s been working on completed by now, but he’s been a bit distracted with getting the kids settled and getting all of his IT at home working properly, etc.
And so, he tells a little white lie. “Yeah, I’ve been working on that this morning and I’m really close to wrapping it up.”
Of course, during these times, we all have a lot of these distractions, so Tom can easily be forgiven. And what do you care as long as he gets it done in time for the document to be released on time?
However, by accepting Tom’s “story” on face value, you may have taken the first step in creating a monster. Tom learns that he can bend the truth to his advantage and it grows and by the time you finally realize Tom is way off schedule on all of his work, it’s too late. You feel he’s violated your trust and now your relationship is undermined.
This type of behavior must be nipped in the bud when working with a remote team to avoid creating a pattern of similar behavior not just in Tom, but in the whole organization! Your goal is to establish a culture of transparency and trust.
If you’re used to team members printing things out and putting them on your desk for review, create a system for them to do the same thing electronically.
We use Google’s GSuite and Google Docs in particular for exactly this. Review, editing and commenting on work is extremely easy.
The key ingredient here is to be absolutely sure that every team member has ready access to a screen sharing tool so that when you’re in a situation where you would normally use a whiteboard or look over their shoulder, etc., you are able to simply click a link and instantly you’re both seeing the same thing.
Create a “Do’s and Don’ts of Working from Home”.
If this is brand new to your team, they’re going to misunderstand the “rules” and there will be confusion. Put it in writing and refer to it often over the first few days and weeks.
Believe it or not, some people will see this primarily as an opportunity to sunbathe and “work” in the backyard. You need to decide what is and is not acceptable for your team. Even though it’s their home and these are exceptional times, it’s a mistake not to draw a line between what is and is not ok.
We ask new hires if they have a dedicated room to use as their office. Not the bedroom or the living room. I worked from home as a sales rep in my early career and I learned quickly how easy it is to get distracted and “comfortable”. The bedroom is for sleeping, not working. Most people need to be able to “put on their game face” and walk “into work”. That means closing the door to the office and virtually leaving home.
Right now, that may not work for everyone on your team. However, you need to make it clear that finding a “place” to work is important and distractions need to be minimized. Seemingly obvious things like No TV, No Youtube streaming cat videos, etc. need to be stated clearly. Of course, it’s got to be quiet.
Here’s a cool tool for creating a fake background behind you during your Zoom meetings in case your place is a mess.
You might be thinking, that’s all well and good, but what about everyone else that lives under my roof and can’t go anywhere right now?!
Many team members will have spouses, kids, roommates and other family members all cooped up in their house with them, all day… How can you expect undistracted workers in quiet spaces?
Of course, this is a unique situation with extreme limits on options but, the first step is to have a conversation with all the other folks in the home. This is where your Do’s and Don’ts document comes in handy. This way Sally doesn’t have to tell her husband to be quiet. Sally just hands the hubby the document and explains that these are the expectations of her employer.
For kids, give them specific ways to get what they need:
In cramped situations, with teenagers and adults, you may need to identify a quiet place that can be shared. So when an important phone call or web meeting is taking place, you can be assured of quiet.
We’re not going to be able to teach our dogs not to bark at the squirrels out the window overnight but, your team needs to understand that it’s their responsibility to minimize pet noise.
This is one of those slippery slope things. If it’s not addressed up front, it will only get worse.
We’re all going to be understanding right now but, it’s hard to have a meaningful team meeting with 3 different dogs barking, etc.
Again, this is the type of thing that will vary wildly from employee to employee and especially where video calls are involved, there has to be a minimum standard. Put it in writing and give the team guidelines so they don’t have to guess.
You’ll probably want to be slightly less stringent about it than you are in the office. But, not too much. In a law office or brokerage where everyone wears a suit and tie all day, there is a reason for that. That reason doesn’t go away at home. Part of it is mental. Part of putting your game face on is getting suited up.
Decide what technology your team will be required to use at home and help them get it and set it up properly. Allot some time for sorting out the technical problems.
If there is equipment in the office that can be sent home, take advantage of that. And, Amazon is still delivering in most areas, so get what you need.
It’s a good idea to put together some basic “How To” documents for connecting to essential systems, using video/web/phone conferencing tools, etc.
Make it clear to the team what they are expected to use and make getting it working the first priority when they get home.
All of this technology is replacing your office and the benefits of being physically together. Don’t skimp here.
For businesses that rely on sales people or service providers to go out and actually visit customers everyday, things are changing drastically.
If you’re a sales person that gets in the car and knocks on doors all day, what do you do? All of the sudden, you’re using the phone and email much more than you ever have and you’re probably not very efficient at it.
First, just as you’ll want to have clear expectations about working from home, you also need to be very clear about what is and is not acceptable regarding customer communications. Not only can the way your team is communicating change incredibly can, the same thing is true for your customer. Here’s a helpful article on web conferencing etiquette.
What might be fine to say face to face, can come off as insensitive or preachy in an email. Arm your team with pre-written emails for the most common situations they encounter. This will ensure the professionalism of the messages and just make things easier for the team. This may also be a good time to implement an email archival solution that allows managers and supervisors to review email exchanges with clients.
You may want to create scripts to use on the phone as well. I recommend to any business in any situation to always have a short list of questions to ask customers. When you’re used to sitting in front of the customer, it can be particularly difficult to keep the conversation flowing on the phone. Make sure your team has a list of questions to prompt the customer to share more about their needs. Here’s a free guide we created to help decide on these questions.
Setting appointments via email can also be super easy using a tool like Calendly.
Now for the things it took us a while to figure out.
As a leader, it is sure that you under-estimate the importance of your leadership. And if you all have worked together in an office until now, your physical presence is a much bigger part of your leadership than you can imagine.
There’s a reason for the saying “put a face with the name”. There is so much that people pick up from each other via body language and other physical cues. Guess what… All of that essential communication just went bye bye.
So, you’re going to need to overcompensate in other areas.
Clearly, using video/web conferencing tools like Zoom are essential. However, it’s just not as easy as popping into someone’s office and so you won’t use it nearly as often.
If you’re already a “just show me the numbers” type of leader, then this is going to be easier. If you’re the “pump it up” type, you’ve got a bigger vacancy to fill for your team.
Don’t make the mistake of underestimating the importance of what you see in the office. In sometimes imperceptible ways, we all are driven by the little things we see:
It’s not just about time management but, changes in a team members behaviour can indicate a problem. Good leaders notice those changes and use them as opportunities to stay on the same page, motivate and often just help. Now that’s gone.
So, you have to be good at motivating and managing using other “data”. As a CRM solution company, we know all too well how difficult it can be to get salespeople to log what they do every day. Now is not the time to accept excuses. In order to maintain the same level of customer service, your team needs to stay on the same page. Decide what team members in each role are required to document, update in the CRM, add to the project plan, etc. and hold them to it. Create some simple dashboards and reports that show you side by side who’s playing by the rules and who is not.
First the basics. Try to set expectations for projects, production, etc. using S.M.A.R.T. goals
Where you’re managing a team of people collaborating on a project, recognize that they will have challenges based on the simple fact that they can’t sit in the conference room and brainstorm.
This is another area where web meetings, shared documents, etc. can help a lot but, you’ll need to lead some of the horses to the water. Learn to use these tools yourself and lead by example.
One of the tactics we evolved over time that has worked well is a daily agenda. At the end of each day, each team member sends an email to the rest of their team with a summary of what was accomplished today and a summary of key objectives for the following day.
It’s amazing how everyone can be in the same meeting, discussing the same objectives and walk away with a different understanding of priorities, specifics, timing, etc. The daily agenda helps surface those problems early and is just a simple way to keep everyone on the same page about what the rest of the team is up to.
The key is to not overthink it. It doesn’t need to be long or detailed. Just simple bullet points with between 5 and 10 items per day.
Whatever your current cadence of all hands meetings or smaller team meetings, now is a good time to increase the frequency.
It’s important that you’re all staying in tune with each other not just about business but, also about how they’re feeling about the current crisis and challenges they may be facing.
It’s also important to use video even when it seems superfluous. There is so much that you’ll learn from seeing the place where they’re working, the look in their eye, their level of focus, etc. It may seem like it gets in the way initially. You’ll all be getting used to the technology, etc. However, it’s best to just get in the habit early.
Everyone has their own style and you’ll want to ask trusted employees for their feedback about your “virtual style”. In my case, I learned that my voice can sound harsh over the phone. It was less of a problem face to face. I had to learn to slow down and ask for feedback more often. Don’t underestimate the change our current situation and this change in your work environment will make in your team’s motivation.
Public praise is probably the most effective tool I’ve learned to use a lot more. A one on one meeting where you point out great performance may have worked well for many on your team in the past, but they’ll be something missing now.
Your body language, the structured nature of a physical meeting, etc. may take away from it’s perceived value. When someone does something well or goes above and beyond, say so and say it to everyone. Whether you’re a cheerleader type or not, you’ll probably want to be more of one now.
You’re not going to see it on their faces or the way they walk down the hall. And employees may be shy about sharing their challenges. However, we’re all dealing with a lot right now. Show the team you care by asking a lot of questions about them. Both their work and their personal life.
Initially, I tried not to be too “nosy” and respect people’s privacy. However, I learned that most people are pretty shy about their personal lives with the boss AND it’s much worse when you’re not in the same room together. Again, I think it’s very much about body language. Your questions have to fill the void left by the lack of body language. Don’t just ask “How are you doing?”. When they answer with “Fine.”, push for a little more. Get specific. Make sure you’ve got all the names of all the family members, roommates and pets in the home written down. Ask about them. Get them talking. The more they talk, the more you can get a read on their attitude, enthusiasm, etc.
Here’s an interesting Ted Talk on how body language shapes who you are, and how to get a “read” on others.
Right now, you want your team to know you care about them and the ones they love. Say so. And follow that up with action. When someone on the team has a challenge, invest the time and money you can to help. Involve the rest of the team where appropriate.
You might have the company mission statement written on the wall in the office but, no one is seeing that now. Make sure you’re repeating it often. Make sure you’re adding to that mission the importance of everyone working together during this crisis. Be sure your entire team understands how important it is that your company meets its goals, even now, with everything else we have to worry about right now.
You’re going to feel repetitive but, in this case, more is more.
Also, keep in mind that many people are visual learners. Show it to them. Create slide decks, documents and other visual aids. Keep their attention visually as well as verbally. Keep them focused on your meeting, not their inbox, etc.
While we’re dealing with social separation, we’re also all going to deal with some level of social isolation. We all have our routines and hobbies that keep us healthy. Whether it’s stopping by the gym or playing in the softball league, it’s gone for the time being. Your team is not only dealing with the inability to come to the office, they’re also dealing with the inability to socialize with friends and family.
And some have the double whammy of being crammed into a small space with kids and other family members for far too long.
Encourage your Team to explore the free resources that major companies are offering right now.
Here’s a few of our favorites:
Allocate resources to just helping the team have fun. Give them the opportunity to vent. Try to lean into playing around and having fun during work. You and they all need it more than we can know right now.
What’s next? Wow! Who really knows?
But, we are firm believers that businesses are the engine of prosperity in our world and right now, way too many of them are struggling to operate or even survive. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure we all get through this with our businesses and our jobs intact!
If you have questions you think we can help with, feel free to reach out by commenting here or just give us a call.
Later this week we’ll be publishing a list of inexpensive tools that we’ve come to count on to make working from home awesome, as well as many other resources that could help as we can. Stay tuned!
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