Managing Remote Teams: Apps & Tips for Working from Home Effectively amid the Coronavirus

March 18, 2020

Every once in a while humanity is thrown out of whack. This time our society has been shaken to its core by the invisible enemy: COVID-19. Authorities have urged us to stay at home and close our businesses until further notice. Some of them have also announced financial help for the SME sector. However, it may be too late before that arrives so we must adapt if we want to survive these hardships.

With businesses putting locks on their premises everything has been taken online. Enterprise League, the online business club, has witnessed significant growth in membership. It has become the main tool for networking and inter-company collaboration in times when social distancing is imperative. B2B has been resurrected in a digital form.

At the same time, office teams have now become remote teams. Managers are freaking out how will that go and will their companies survive? As a completely remote team ourselves, we assure you everything will work out just fine. 

Along with thirteen other companies with remote staff, we’ve prepared you a comprehensive guide to managing remote teams. Read it carefully, keep your head cold, and identify what you can implement. 

Stay home! Stay safe!

We’re in this together.

Quick read: Tips and tools for remote working

  • Communication: Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Slack.

Implementation tips: stand up calls every morning; retrospective video call every Friday, audio meetings as required etc.; instant messaging, with threads for different teams.

  • Informal communication: WhatsApp

Implementation tips: add some time at the beginning of your weekly catchup to give each person to share what they did over the weekend.

  • Inter-company collaboration: Enterprise League

Implementation tips: network with other companies to share experiences and insights; or simply do B2B work online; publish collaboration requests; find products/services you need; and share your products/services to others who may need them. 

  • Task assignment: Asana, TikTik

Implementation tips: manage day-to-day and long term workload with your team; update tasks that have been done; follow progress.

  • Assets management: Google Drive, Dropbox, WeTransfer

Implementation tips: have all SOPs, documents, templates, files, artwork, photography, logos, brand guidelines, etc. at once place to everyone can access them

  • Learning and upskilling: WebinarGeek, Udemy, Coursera, edX

Implementation tips: fill down time with educational materials like online courses.

Extensive tips for working from home and managing remote teams

Maintaining clear communication

The biggest key to managing a remote team is good, clear communication. It’s important to have a good task management system so that everyone can keep on top of their current workload. For the purpose we use Flow

I also have weekly calls with my operations manager and my marketing manager where we run through all their current and upcoming projects. My operations manager manages the day-to-day workload with our writing team, using Flow, supplemented by communication via email and WhatsApp, and I have a monthly catch-up call with each of my writers. This regular communication ensures we all stay on the same page and we have early warning of any potential issues, so we have a chance to address them.

We also have an informal WhatsApp chat group, which is a great way of helping build a sense of ‘team’ among a disparate group of remote individuals. 

said Ali Marsland
Director, The Effective English Company 

Being on the same page

The key to managing a remote team for me is trust and communication – namely a healthy balance between the two.  

You need to make sure that all of the team is on the same page and aware of what’s expected of them while working remotely, but it’s also important to trust your employees enough to take the initiative and work sensibly and independently while they’re remote. No one feels empowered to do their best work if their boss is over-communicating with them and checking up on the work being done all the time. 

Remote working is actually a really productive time for a lot of people – without the constant ping of emails or colleagues coming over for a chat – so keep communication channels open but trust people enough to get on with what needs to be done. 

At Untapped, we use Slack for the team to communicate and have different channels organised by projects and clients. It’s super handy for keeping files and notes in one place, plus a quick and easy way for the team to communicate and get answers quickly (without being piled under by emails).

said Corrie  Jones
Founder, Untapped Digital 

The six standards

Myself and team are fully remote and work with service-based clients globally.

My tips and tricks for managing remote teams are to consider these 6 areas as standard:
       1. Boundaries
Be clear on what’s expected in terms of how and when team members show up or are available (actively) online
       2. Team & Client Communication
How should the team be communicating? How will the team communicate and/or meet with clients? Email, instant messenger, voice notes, video calls? What’s acceptable and what isn’t? Are you going to use video calls for meetings, if so, who will be responsible for taking notes (if anyone), will the session be recorded and made available?
       3. Task and Project Management (PM)
Which tools will be utilised? Who will be responsible for updating master lists/boards and updating teams?
       4. 
Client Management
How will you manage client expectations and workflow? PM tool, email status updates, shared screen video calls? Be clear and intentional to assure them and keep the lines of communication open
       5. Assets
Where will assets (Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), documents, templates, files, artwork, photography, logos, brand guidelines, etc.) be kept? Who is responsible for keeping them up-to-date? How can they be accessed? Is there a master list?
       6. Down-time
How will you keep the camaraderie alive in the team without a physical presence? Consider whether you’ll use a chat room or video call for general chit-chat and letting off steam.

said Cydelle Steart
 Business Process Strategist, Onit! Communications

The Four Questions

On days when my team works remotely I set up a brief conference call at the start of the day (2 minutes) to ask each member:

  • What their goal is for the day;
  • What they want to achieve:
  • If they need any help to achieve it;
  • How confident they are in achieving it. 

Then at the end of the day I make a follow up call to see how everyone got on. I find this helps get everyone focused. 

said Nathan Kelsey
Managing Director, Make Me Local

Sharing Knowledge

I work for a VA Agency. Myself, the two founders and one other work remotely alongside our team of 40 + VAs. 

We use some great tools for working collaboratively. Slack for instant messaging, with threads for different teams. TikTik is a great tool for getting tasks done, assigning tasks and can integrate with calendars such as Google Calendar. Finally, Kipwsie which we use as an online knowledge base so everyone who works for us knows where to find essential information about our business, whether it is our VAT number or FAQs we get from clients about how we work. It is such a great tool for sharing knowledge and even better integrates with Slack.

said Anita Vickers
Client Engagement Manager, Virtalent 

 

Personal Communication

Use Video as your primary communication tool.
Phone calls and Slack messages may be great, but using video introduces the ability to watch for non-verbal clues to help with understanding and meaning.  Using Video also encourages the team to be in a location suitable for a business conversation, and even goes so far as to ensure they aren’t at the meeting in their pyjamas!

Make space for personal communication.
When the team is in the office they have a banter, they play some table tennis, they drink coffee and chat. You need to create a time and space for people to share personal stuff. Add some time at the beginning of your weekly catchup to give each person to share what they did over the weekend. Create a virtual bulletin board for people to share their photos. Don’t forget that they aren’t just colleagues… they’re friends.

 

said Susan Hallam
Founder and CEO, Hallam

 

Individual vs Team conversations

We run as a virtual PR agency, so we have always been a remote team.

We use Slack a lot – it was a slow burn but now everyone loves it. The threads allow you to have a conversation with the whole company or individual project teams, which keeps things focused and means people only read what they need to do. The ability to chat with the whole company is really valuable – as remote workers, we can all feel isolated at times, we can all suffer from imposter syndrome and anxiety, and we can all miss out on office banter and gossip. Slack gives us access to a time management tool and a digital water cooler moment..

said Charlie Le Rougetel
Founder and Director, BIGTOP PR

 

Being laser-focused

Youmanage is an HR software developer based in Scotland. Many of my colleagues work from home, and we use Microsoft Teams to keep everyone connected, no matter where they are. Regular communication through Teams is essential to ensure no one is left out and that productivity is maintained. We do this by using multiple channels within Teams, so that information is relayed only to relevant team members, which means that everyone remains laser-focused. 

– said Craig Hynd
Marketing Executive, Youmanage HR

Flexible timings

Keeping morale and employee engagement high is top of many leaders’ priorities, but more so when your workforce is remote or suddenly has to self-isolate. When many workers are remote, more consideration has to be given to company processes and methods of communication. Some tactics that have worked for Degreed, where over half the workforce is remote, involves using video conferencing as the default (versus calls) with the video on, as this helps communicate non-verbal messages. Over-communication is essential to keep everyone fully up-to-date and to set expectations. 

Being a global company, Degreed also emphasizes flexibility with timings, to accommodate different time zones and work styles (fitting around the school run, for instance). Messaging tools like Slack allow for constant communication and spontaneous moments, similar to office watercooler chat.

Learning and upskilling are vital for engagement, as it keeps workers constantly challenged, growing and can change the pace of the working day. It helps to build a strong and innovative culture that supports people at all stages of their career and also cultivates personal passions. Notably, during this time, workers may have more downtime than usual (because of a lack of commute, for instance) and having access to learning content can keep days fresh and interesting.

said Sarah Danzl
Director of Communications, Degreed

Using modern technology

The COVID-19 epidemic forces companies and organisations to think differently. The contact moments must be kept as minimal as possible to guarantee everyone’s health. Offices are closed, and events can no longer take place on location.

WebinarGeek, webinar software, helps businesses in this time. Our software is browser based so there are no downloads needed. The software helps in broadcasting information via a webinar to a larger audience. With the ability to include presentations and interaction, you can even transfer classes or events to online.

said Sanne de Groot
Online Marketer & Customer Success, WebinarGeek

Staying in touch with clients

We’re starting to work from home tomorrow:

  • Our team has been given laptops when necessary to ensure that all our systems are collaborated properly.
  • We use Microsoft Teams for file storage (all online) and we’ll be holding audio meetings regularly to check in with everyone and what we’re doing.
  • Major company’s announcements are sent on WhatsApp so we are alerted quicker.
  • We also use MeisterTask to keep track of client times and projects we’re all working on.
  • We are constantly sharing updates about our clients’ as some have been affected by the Coronavirus.

said Chloe Price
Content Marketing Specialist, Fibre Marketing 

Juggling the right apps

Our entire team is based remotely and over the years I have discovered some useful apps for managing the team effectively. 

I use Zoom for regular face-to-face catch ups and I also love Microsoft Teams, either on the phone or the PC. We use Minute Dock for managing timesheets as it integrates with Xero so well. There are many great apps for working on live documents and sharing them that we use including Google Docs, Dropbox/One Drive and Sharepoint and we also have experience of Trello and Slack

Personally, I find the Pomodoro technique of 25 mins work with 5 mins rest, using the Focus Keeper App, really keeps me on track and motivated.

-said Rebecca Newenham
Founder & Director, Get Ahead VA  

Retrospective calls

Best tips for managing remote teams? 

Daily stand ups every morning to keep the team in the loop about what each other are working on in the day.  

Running a retrospective video call every Friday in the afternoon to discuss what the team has achieved throughout the week and if they have had any issues during the week 

We run everything online including Asana to update tasks that have been done, Slack for the team to have immediate contact with each other, Zoom to create videos/call clients across the world and G Suite so every doc is kept online and can be seen/amended by anyone.


– said Elliott Davidson
Founder & Director of Contrast 

Staying on top of everyone’s work

One of the challenges many managers that are now working remotely face is how to stay on top of their employees’ work. With everyone working from their homes, managers cannot simply walk over to an employee and take a look at what they are doing.

For this reason, many remote companies are relying on remote team management software to help them keep track of their employees’ work. With remote employee monitoring software, managers can easily monitor their remote workers, just as if they were sitting at the desk next to them.

– said Vojin Deronjic
Content Writer at Workpuls

Staying organized

Melewi has been a remote company since day 1. We’ve been through quite a few trial and errors until we’ve reached a daily work process that makes us collaborate effectively as a remote team. I would say it’s a combination of many small things we do: 

  • Daily standup.
  • 4-hour overlap, when everyone’s online and we schedule meetings
  • Single source of truth – a very well organized place where we keep our internal knowledge, so everyone knows where to look for answers.
  • Spending time for causal chit-chat – something that’s taken for granted in an office environment, but is equally important for team morale. 
  • Well-structured client communication – everyone from the team knows what to do at which point, so we never have to wonder whether the ball is in our court. 

– said Rumen Manev
BD & Partnerships Manager at Melewi

Team building

Yes, virtual team building is a thing now and apparently there are many ways to do it. For starters, you can begin with these 23 activities to boost morale.

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