Even though some states are re-opening and the worst is hopefully behind us, the Covid-19 Pandemic of 2020 has taken over 100,000 lives, destroyed thousands of businesses, and devastated many associated livelihoods. We published the article entitled “Employing Remote Team Members” four years ago in May 2016. What then may have been suggestions, for uncomfortable change, for some firms came to reality overnight as the government shut down state economies to slow the progression of the virus. As Eric Ries and other entrepreneurs have said recently, a crisis reveals actions that should have been taken all along. Whether you go back to a normal brick and mortar situation, a hybrid office environment where some work virtually, or go 100% remote going forward you need to plan for something like this to happen again. To get you on the right path, we have updated the 2016 post for you below with some fresh new ideas and tools to utilize.
- Process – Move your new candidate onboarding process and on-going training online. If this seems like too many moving parts to change all at once, but you know it is a good idea, test it out once you are back in the office to see where the breakdowns are most likely to occur. There are lots of tools and checklists to help with this Since your team members will not be able to walk down the hall and ask questions, your processes and procedures have to be rock solid. Firms that do not have this are setting their remote employees for a real struggle (although frankly, that’s true of any employee!). To enable success, new hires must know where to go to locate information, and ideally video or voice recordings of completing the tasks/procedures should be included.
- Management - Managers should try to spend as much face time with the employee as they can, even if it is only for a few hours, a few times per year. In between these visits, have regularly scheduled meetings. For example, our recruiting firm works as a virtual team, and meets remotely as a team on Mondays to discuss what we want to accomplish for the week ahead. For your operations manager and/or executive team, consider scheduling a daily huddle first thing in the morning each day to discuss the plan of attack for the day. On Fridays, we have shorter video or phone meetings with each team member to discuss where they fell short or surpassed their goals. We also give them time to vent and ask for honest feedback on how they are feeling. And remember, employees will feel challenged from time to time. That is normal. In fact, if they are always telling you “I am not stressed and I am fine”, that’s a warning sign they may just be saying what they think you want to hear, and that you have not instilled a culture of trust or have not hired the right person. There are vendors such as Gallup that can assist with employee surveys and engagement.
- Team – Strive for building a team that can learn to trust you and others without seeing them every day! You must also be able to trust them as well because if you are constantly worried about what they are doing throughout the day, it is not the right fit. That mental energy you are expending can be better utilized elsewhere.
- Characteristics of ideal virtual workers – Many candidates think they would perform at a higher level if they were able to work remotely, however, we find that many will not, so this part involves careful selection. Here are some items to lookout for to get a sense on whether the team member can be an effective remote worker: superior organization and time management skills, Initiating Follow Thru on the Kolbe A index, well above average writer due to the excessive amount of written communication that will occur, above average sense of urgency which can be assessed via custom exercises you design or tools such as Caliper, self-motivation which should be demonstrated on past and current extracurricular activities, and someone who is okay without a social workplace (e.g., who won’t crave gathering around the physical watercooler). This does not mean that you can only consider introverts for these roles; however, recognize that your extroverted employees may need to be encouraged to find other social outlets.
- Tools – Assuming you have the correct candidate and processes in place, the tools you choose to employ will largely dictate whether a remote set up environment will be successful for your organization. Here is a listing of tools that others advisory firms have found success with:
- Slack – Think AOL instant messenger on super steroids. It can be integrated with Wunderlist (for task management) and many other applications. Here is a full list of Slack apps. Salesforce Chatter can be a decent tool as well for SF users. For many firms, Slack is a more efficient alternative to intra-office emails. Like many software programs it operates on a freemium pricing structure that starts at $8 per month per person if you upgrade from the free plan.
- Zoom – Video conferencing and screen sharing software. There are lots of others such as Join.me, Skype, Google Hangouts, etc. Freemium pricing structure.
- Workflowy – Online to do list and other cool features. Freemium pricing structure.
- iDoneThis – Project accountability. At the end of the day, everyone gets an email with what everyone else accomplished that day. Starts at $9 per user per month.
- Evernote – Change the way you organize your work. Designed for note taking, organizing and archiving. Your firm could use it as an online storage unit for all of your projects, policies and procedures, etc. Your team can collaborate in a single workspace keeping all projects together, syncing files across all of your devices. A single source for your paperless office to keep everything that you have in multiple places available from any device with great search functionality. Freemium pricing structure.
- Lastpass – Virtual password lockbox which makes it very easy to give access to all of your software systems to virtual employees, while not disclosing the actual passwords and login information to them. And if the employee leaves, you can instantly terminate their access, without needing to change all the software login passwords. Lastpass is also commonly used. Freemium pricing structure.
- Sharefile – Secure cloud based file sharing. Again, there are lots of others such as Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, etc. Starts at $16 per month.
Firms that can pivot and employ these strategies to utilize a remote workforce effectively stand to have a significant competitive advantage if/when the next crisis happens and/or you are deemed to have a non-essential business. It also opens a lot more doors in terms of recruiting and retaining new talent to the firm. And remember, if you need help finding and identifying the right candidate to add to your team, we’re here to help!