Winning strategies to manage employees working remotely

Develop a plan for ensuring success when transitioning employees to a work-from-home environment. 

‘Work-from-home’, for the time-being, is the new norm for many companies and employees across the country due to restrictions resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. The capability of working remotely, of course, has been available and utilized for many years, so with a good internet connection and access to cloud-based programs including email, CRM/ERP services (ex. Mothernode CRM), and other company-specific business applications, businesses are tapping into this capability on a broader scale when working from an office is simply not an option.

If your business is in the cloud and you’ve leveraged technology to move your business to a work-from-home model, then you’ve won a large part of the battle. But how does this model look and operate with each team member working individually from home, and how do you ensure that work gets done and that your team is achieving maximum results?

You may also be considering these questions:

  • How and when will we conduct team meetings?
  • What’s the best way to communicate with individual team members throughout the day?
  • How can I ensure a sense of accountability throughout all of my staff given the home-based work environment?
  • What’s the best way to confirm that objectives and tasks are being worked-on and completed?

Technology will undoubtedly play a crucial role in answering the above questions, but applying practical management methods to complement technology and make this an all-of-the-above approach is critical in maximizing productivity. This doesn’t mean that you have to completely change your management style, though now you will need to adjust to working around not being able to be ‘poke your head’ into someone’s office or cube, meet face-to-face with individual employees, gather around the conference table as a team, or simply observe and interact with your team as they work through their schedule, objectives and assignments.

We’ve developed the following strategies to provide guidance on both technology-based and practical methods to consider as you manage your team in a completely different work environment during these challenging times:

Blend Technology with Management Best Practices

Technology will certainly help bridge the communication gap with the use of technology tools including teleconferencing, messaging/chat, and available tools within your existing cloud-based business programs including CRM. However, technology tools should only complement your management skills and strategies in a work-from-home model. How you plan and conduct your management activities with your team will ultimately determine success and best results, and technology is simply one type of tool to help you get there.

Let’s take a closer look at specific best practices and technology tools that you can apply to them:

Define a Meeting Schedule to Structure the Work Day and Week

You probably have already maintained a meeting schedule with your team while working in a traditional office setting. However, now that employees are working from home, they have the challenge of having all of the comforts of home around them, plus the distractions that also go with the territory. Some of your staff may have limited experience working from home due to special circumstances, and others have little to no experience working from home, yet now they are expected to be productive away from their structured work environment and with the potential of personal distractions.

Setting the expectation of a structured team meeting schedule is a solid initial step in setting expectations and keeping your team completely focused. Before determining how the meetings will be conducted (i.e. video conferencing), develop a plan for when the meetings will take place:

  • Weekly Team Meetings – Typically held on Monday mornings, this is an opportunity to set the tone for the entire week, including objectives, tasks, team and individual assignments that need to be completed over the course of the week. Team members will also have a chance to discuss concerns and required resources needed to accomplish tasks. They probably had easier and more familiar access to resources while at the office, so this is a great opportunity to ensure that your team has everything they need to achieve a successful week.
  • Daily Meetings – We don’t want to over-do-it on meetings; however, even with a thorough weekly meeting, team members may feel like they’re on an island on a daily basis, so consider adding some structure to the work day with a brief meeting at the start of each work day to set expectations for the day. Make it a point to keep the meetings brief, while ensuring that your staff understands what they need to accomplish that day. A brief meeting at the end of the day will also help you to understand what your employees have accomplished during the day and to better gauge progress toward your weekly objectives. It also creates greater sense of accountability for your team members, since knowing that they will need to summarize their activities for the day during the meeting will help ensure that they remain focused and motivated while working on their ‘island’.

It’s understood that special project and company meetings may need to be scheduled as well, in addition to one-on-one meetings with individual team members. However, weekly and daily meetings with employees working from home will add the critical structure and accountability that they need to know what’s expected of them on both a weekly and daily basis.

Video Conferencing should be Easy and Accessible

You may already have a standard video conferencing tool in place, and it’s simply a matter of using it more often as you apply it to the meeting format suggested above. Otherwise, if you are new to video conferencing, it’s a good idea to research and test video conferencing tools to ensure that they are cost-effective and easy for everyone on your team to access, join meetings, and make typical adjustments to audio and video settings. Here are some additional considerations:

  • Video conferencing services should provide a phone dial-in option for team members that have computers with audio/microphone issues.
  • If you’d like to have a visual of all of your team members attending the meeting, then their computers will need to be equipped with a working built-in or external web-cam, and their internet connection will need to be strong enough to support both audio and video streaming.
  • If you are evaluating video conferencing services, they typically provide free or trial versions that allow you to ‘test the waters’ to ensure that they provide easy setup of meetings, simple joining of meetings for all of your staff, quality audio and video connections, and easy in-meeting settings adjustments. Free and trial versions will have limitations that should subside when you decide to use a paid version of the service, but be sure that the paid plan that you join will provide the number of required connections, and no limitations on number of meetings, in other words give you the flexibility you need to conduct regular and special meetings as described above without limitations that could cut a meeting short or keep some team members from joining.
  • Some of the more popular services include GoToMeeting, Zoom, Webex Meetings, Skype, Join.Me, and Google Hangouts (you may already have access to this if you’re a G Suite customer, but please note that Google plans to phase it out in 2020). The services we listed are just examples and not recommendations, as it’s important that you identify the service that meets your team’s specific needs.

Make Communication Between Meetings Simple and Efficient

So the days of poking your head into someone’s office or cube are gone for the moment, but there’s no reason you can’t virtually stop by a team members’ office or vice-versa as needed throughout the day. Phone, chat, text and email are all viable ways to bridge the communication gap between meetings, and provide a simple and easy way to address questions and requests between you and your team.

Regular communication throughout the day (as needed) helps to gauge progress on tasks and objectives, and it keeps team members focused and motivated, with a continued sense of accountability, knowing that they may need to update you on a task at any moment during the business day. Your team will also feel confident and reassured knowing that you will be available to communicate with them to answer questions, address concerns and provide important resources they need to meet their objectives.

Rely on your CRM Tools to Help Gauge Productivity

Given that your CRM is in the cloud, it’s likely that your team will be working heavily within your CRM to update Customer information, Sales Opportunities, Quotes, Orders, Purchase Orders and Invoices to help keep business moving forward. In addition to obtaining updates and statuses throughout the day, using the meeting and communication methods described above, your CRM should provide tools that enable you to gauge productivity of your staff with both on-screen and PDF reports.

For example, Mothernode CRM’s Session Activity log summarizes user login/logout activity in addition to a log of creation and updating of Quotes, Orders and Invoices. You can filter this data down to specific days and users to gain a better understanding of how team members were using the CRM on a given day.

Mothernode CRM also provides an Activity Feed, which drills-down even further to provide specific activity within Leads, Opportunities, Customers and Contacts, with types of activities including:

  • Email correspondence
  • Phone call and meeting notes
  • Task assignments
  • Status and Selling Stage updates
  • Scheduled meetings and follow-ups
  • Posted comments

Mothernode CRM’s Activity Feed Display (Filtering by team member):

 

Reports are also a great tool to gauge productivity. In Mothernode CRM, for example, you can develop reports that summarize Quote, Opportunity, Order, and Invoice activity, and instruct the system to automatically generate and email the reports to you at intervals that you specify.

It’s always possible that on a given day, an employee is working on a task within a different business application, so naturally you may not see much activity from them within the CRM. So, the data may not always tell the complete story. However, by taking an all-of-the above approach using the communication methods described above, you may determine, using all your tools, that your employee accomplished a lot and met their objectives.

Extraordinary Times Call for Outstanding Leadership

Many of us have entered uncharted territory, with none of us knowing the timing of what lies ahead, but that things will indeed get better. In the interim, we’re all adjusting in some way, shape, or form, including how we work and do business. It’s a blessing to have our teams working and being productive during these challenging times, although the work environment has a different look these days.

In summary, consider the following as you leverage technology to complement your experience and management skills:

  • Implement a structured meeting schedule to clearly assign objectives and obtain status and completion confirmation, which will maintain accountability despite the remote work environment.
  • Bridge the communication gap between meetings with a quick and easy way (phone, chat, text) to connect, keeping your team focused and on the same page.
  • Use a video conferencing service that’s easy to use for both you and your team, and select a plan that’s cost-effective but doesn’t limit your ability to connect with your team when needed.
  • Your CRM should provide tools to help you gauge activity, but consider that your employees may be working on tasks outside of the CRM at times as well.
  • Encourage your team to take regular breaks, take time to eat lunch, and get-up and stretch or go outside for some fresh air.

Technology is undoubtedly critical in helping to bridge the gaps created by the transition to work-from-home, but your management skills and experience will be most important in providing structure and support, setting expectations, and maximizing productivity while leading your team during these challenging times.

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