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The most basic guide to remote work for teams

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Before the pandemic, the vast majority of Poles spoke positively about remote work. Today, regardless of the limitations related to the coronavirus, more and more organizations looking for eg. savings and better access to specialists, are deciding to perform their official tasks in a dispersed manner. So how to skillfully introduce remote work in your organization and make the best use of its benefits? We advise!

According to research from 2019, as much as 82 percent of employees perceived this form of work positively, 79% was more willing to apply for offers from companies offering such an opportunity, while only one-third of respondents would like to work in the fully remote model. We see the value of live meetings with colleagues and we want to combine meetings in the office with work at home (as long as schools and kindergartens remain open – I will add this on behalf of all parents working remotely).

Not all work can be done remotely, but more and more organizations are deciding to operate in a dispersed manner due to, for example, lower costs associated with maintaining an office or greater availability of employees from other cities who no longer have to travel to the office every day. Among employees and employers, there are still those who are eagerly waiting to return to their offices. I hope that the following advice will help them in the current situation, the end of which is not yet in sight.

Needs and benefits in a dispersed team

When working remotely, we do not waste time on commute, we can work with teams dispersed all over the country, and sometimes even around the world, and participate in online training that could be less available to us in the stationary mode. These are important aspects for many employees. On the other hand, such work often requires more self-discipline, getting rid of distractions. Some employees also find it difficult to combine home and workspace. For managers, in turn, it sometimes means uncertainty related to the different reporting mode of employees and their accounting for the effects of work, rather than the time devoted to it.

When helping organizations to cope with working in a remote environment, it is worth starting with diagnosing their needs and how they have functioned so far. Not everything can be transferred online without the need to introduce certain changes, but it is worth identifying what will really help the organization in operation and what will introduce unnecessary confusion.

The answers to the following questions will help us make such a diagnosis:

  • What infrastructure, equipment, workplaces, and Internet access do we have?
  • How do we process data and collect information and documents?
  • How is the organization managed? What is the structure, document circulation and procedures? How is it developing?
  • Communication, marketing, PR – does the organization conduct activities in social media? What are the channels of communication with beneficiaries and partners?
  • How does the organization take care of data security, storage and recovery and storage?

Clear rules are the basis for remote work

What is worth remembering when organizing a remote office? Firstly, about trust and the well-being of colleagues. When working remotely, we are unable to observe the style of work nor non-verbal signals of people who share space with us. We are also unable to quickly find out if someone is overworked or depressed. Both caring for colleagues and organizational culture require intentional behaviour and planning when working remotely. It is neither natural nor intuitive for all managers. So, which elements of a remote office should be kept in mind?

  • Synchronous communication and a place for video calls
  • Cyclical one-on-one meetings with colleagues
  • Weekly useful and productive team meetings
  • Planning processes, i.e. how to implement projects
  • Time to play and take care of your well-being
  • The valuable verification of work results

Synchronous communication (chat, possibility to set up thematic channels, etc. – a simulation of office communication) is a must in dispersed teams. Programs such as Slack or Microsoft Teams allow you to get an immediate answer in a given thread, simple ordering of topics (it’s a huge advantage over e-mail!) And opening private channels.

However, beware of one thing! Let’s agree with colleagues whether they have any breaks during the day due to their other commitments or duties, whether they need time intervals for deep work (and then they will not respond even to Slack). It may also be the case that the team includes people who prefer to be contacted by phone or those who prefer to send documents by e-mail rather than using the communicator. Let us respect the different styles of communication. However, let’s try not to lead to a situation in which we use more than one communicator for synchronous communication in one team.

Procedures and tools in the digital space

An organization working in a distributed environment should place particular emphasis on preparing a common digital workspace. Thanks to this solution, all employees have full access to the progress of the project and information about who is doing what. Programs such as Trello, Asana, and Basecamp are examples of tools that are worth considering here. They are additionally integrated with messengers and make it easier to inform team members about their assigned tasks on the platform that we use for communication anyway. In addition, we can often pin entire documents to individual tasks or projects, which leads us directly to …

Storing documents and working on them together: avoid storing files only on your computer. Instead, let’s use shared cloud storage (eg Google Drive, OneDrive, Box, Dropbox), where anyone can access the files they need with one link. All these platforms are characterized by a high level of security and we do not have to worry that unauthorized persons will get access to our files. Working on one version of a document, instead of a few or a dozen, radically improves the life of a dispersed team. Most often it also makes life easier for the team in the office.

Another area that should be developed for a dispersed team to work efficiently and effectively is the calendar. A shared online calendar, which shows vacations and holidays, important dates and joint meetings, allows you to quickly inform employees about our availability and about events that affect several people in the team.

One-on-one meetings – these are single meetings between the boss and employees (but they can also be organized between team members), where the supervisor aims to listen and understand the point of view of each employee and to understand what works and what doesn’t. The goal for the employee is to talk about what helps him and what hinders his work, how he would like to develop further, reporting new ideas and feedback for the supervisor.

Team meetings – no matter where they are held (whether on Zoom, Google Chat or another program), they should have a clear, predetermined agenda and last no more than an hour to motivate participants for a disciplined discussion. When a new, important, larger topic emerges during the conversation, it is worth organizing a separate debate on this topic.

If, on the other hand, the team has the problem of an excessive number of meetings, and this becomes more of a burden than a means of solving dilemmas, then it is worth making a distinction between meetings aimed at making decisions and those that are purely debates. Pre-defined rules for organizing and participating in meetings should reduce the willingness to organize a meeting whenever an idea comes to mind (which we cannot talk through with a friend who sits at a desk right next to us).

Processes in an organization are the way we define goals and achieve them. There are many ready-made methods for designing processes in an organization. Always try to choose the one that best suits your team’s needs. The following questions may be helpful in this diagnosis:

  • Who is responsible for what and who can they ask when they don’t know something?
  • Who approves my work and what happens next?
  • What are our priorities and in what order are we going to do things?
  • Do we have an established document flow?

Wellbeing of the remote team

Taking care of the well-being of the team is always important, but it’s extremely important when working remotely. The most important thing is to remember to ask about the well-being of our teammates from time to time, find out if they have good working conditions, what channels and at what times they prefer to contact us, whether they need time to work deeply, and whether they still have other duties outside of work that may affect their effectiveness. If our team members want to engage in non-work activities, we can reach for example:

  • shared games (online charades);
  • 20 minutes of exercising together, e.g. yoga, stretching, etc.;
  • walks and meetings without video;
  • co-messaging channel dedicated to non-work-related interviews.

One of the differences between managing a stationary team and a remote team is that the remote team is accountable primarily for the results of their work – team members have greater freedom in managing their work time and regulating how they work. On the other hand, there are times when the home has more distractions and other responsibilities that employees have to cope with.

That is why transparency and clear setting of goals, priorities and expectations towards everyone involved in a given project is so important. If we define specifically what we want to achieve as a team and who is responsible for what, it will be easier for us to track progress and judge whether we are satisfied with the results.

It is worth considering setting goals for the organization on a regular basis (e.g. once a quarter) and checking regularly whether we are moving in the agreed direction. The OKR (Objectives and Key Results) method is very useful for this.

Finally, it is worth taking a look at your own routine and style of remote work. Many employees, not only during the pandemic, neglect their work hygiene and stay in it basically non-stop. When we do not go to the office, it is more difficult for us to stick to fixed working hours, or even to reconcile it with preparing dinner. However, some of us feel better at home and with the fact that they can choose the time of work that suits them best (it may be, for example, early in the morning or late in the evening). In both cases, it is worth remembering a few rules:

  • Separating “the office” from the rest of your life – try not to work, for example, in bed.
  • Working out a few rituals, e.g. making coffee at the same time every day, walking every day, or reviewing your favourite press at lunchtime.
  • Getting dressed “for work”.
  • Using two browsers (one for personal, another for work matters), returning to pen and paper, or having a visible and updated to-do list.

The most important thing, however, is talking about how we feel, signalling to colleagues that we have temporary difficulty or need something. In remote work, we do not see each other, we are not able to receive non-verbal messages, e.g. to notice that someone looks more tired than usual. So let’s be understanding towards ourselves and others, and never assume bad will. This should be enough to take pleasure from remote work and to derive satisfaction from it.

Anna Stokowska: Team leader and project manager at the Katalyst Education foundation, where a well-coordinated team creates the Pi-stacja and the Career Map – free, open educational resources.

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