At the time of this writing, our world is in the throes of dealing with the onslaught of the Coronavirus This means that every professional service firm is knee-deep into plans to have their staff work remotely. Based on forces, both cultural and environmental, the world is moving away from consolidated teams working in a single location. Furthermore, because of the high unemployment rate for professionals and other skilled workers, having a remote team means you are no longer limited to hiring in your own backyard. There are qualified, talented people around the country (and world) who you can now be considered. Only a decade ago, this would have been inconceivable.
We’re going to review the top 7 things your firm needs to consider as you join the ranks of resilient businesses that have dispersed teams.
#1: BE IN THE CLOUD
In this decade, when dealing with a remote team, cloud computing is your foundation. It’s fundamental. Without this, you really can’t build a sustainable practice that is not reliant on a physical location. Your firm must move into the cloud in order to survive, regardless of our current pandemic.
For some of you with dispersed teams, chances are your firm has already moved to the cloud and have the ability to provide uninterrupted service to your clients. Those businesses that have old technologies: on-premise servers and a complex IT infrastructure are currently scrambling to figure out how their employees can operate from home or other remote locations. The time and money you are currently spending to make this happen could have been obviated by adopting current cloud-based technologies and trends. The cloud was designed precisely for the world we now find ourselves forced to live in.
#2: MEASURE PRODUCTIVITY
Regardless of whether you pay your employees hourly or invoice your clients based on hours, tracking time is essential for understanding employee and project profitability. But it’s also great for understanding what your remote team is working on throughout the day.
We designed BQE CORE to make the process of time-tracking easy for your remote team. Our timecard is smart enough to be prefilled with the projects and activities that they should be working on. Not only are managers getting real-time insights they require to manage a project's deliverables and budget but employees are happier with smart timecards.
When managing remote workers, I suggest implementing and enforcing a policy of having timecards updated three times throughout the day (10am, 2pm, 5pm). Not only will you have assurance that your remote team is working, but you get real time performance metrics at the project level and far more accurate and granular accounting of work effort as opposed to waiting until the end of a week. If one can manage to eat a meal three times a day, they can spend 30 seconds, three times a day and fill out a smart timecard
#3: FREQUENT COMMUNICATION
For many firms that have recently moved to dispersed teams due to the Coronavirus there is a sense of loss of a community. In Latin, “com” means “with” or “together”. It’s no coincidence that community and communication both start with “com”. So, when you find yourselves at a loss for “community,” the best alternative is frequent communication.
There are numerous cloud-based tools available today that help communications of varying types. We use Slack in our company and create distinct channels that employees can follow for keeping up with relevant news and information or to share their own ideas. Think of this as a chat technology on steroids. Use Slack and keep it running all day. I recommend that you spend some time to figure out what channels you need and keep them limited. Too many channels on Slack is like too many channels on your television: you’ll waste too much time figuring out where to focus your time.
For even more personal communication, I’m a huge fan of video. Tools like Zoom and GoToMeeting allow you to have that face-to-face interaction. With Zoom you can have 100 participants. With GoToMeeting it’s limited to 26 as of this writing. These are also great tools for screen sharing.
At our company, we eliminated our old phone system and implemented a virtual phone system from Dialpad. Included in their service is Uber Conference which means we can instantly create a video call and invite anyone from our remote team to join us. We can even bring in people unrelated to our company. Another reason I love Dialpad is it really doesn’t care where I am; I’m always available. I have a Dialpad phone at my office, the Dialpad app on my iPhone and my laptop and home computer. It will route calls to me on every device. Even while I’m out walking the dog, when I get a call from a colleague, I’m as good as at my desk. (shhh, don’t tell anyone).
#4: SETUP RECURRING MEETINGS
Having the tools I described above are essential for a remote workforce, but properly using them is the key to success. I find that starting each day with a virtual “stand-up” meeting of about 15 minutes works great. We share our priorities for the day and check on what we can do for each other to make sure we all succeed. This meeting must have everyone in attendance and the organizer should keep it moving so attendees don’t get bogged down in problem solving. That can happen in a break-out meeting afterwards with only those needing to be involved.
On Fridays, a recurring weekly wrap-up meeting should be conducted with your team and the organizer should review what was accomplished during the week and what’s upcoming in the following week.
In addition, managers should arrange a one-on-one video meeting with each team member that should help them with their priorities and minimize the chat and email threads. It’s sad, but we've managed to replace actual conversations with email and chat. There is nothing better than face-to-face (now virtual face-to-face) meetings to get things done.
#5: DOCUMENT AND SPREADSHEET COLLABORATION
If your firm is still emailing documents, STOP. This is just about as useful as faxing them. It’s a completely abhorrent use of technology, not to mention, outdated. There are a number of simple cloud-based document sharing utilities from Google, Dropbox and others. I’m a huge fan of Google Docs and Google Sheets and I can track all the edits and comments made by the team.
#6: PROJECT MANAGEMENT
Frankly, project management is essential regardless of whether your team is working remotely or in the same physical location. However, based on item #1 (running your firm in the cloud), having a platform that enables management via cloud computing is where every resilient, flexible business should be in this day and age. We designed BQE CORE to work for everyone in the company regardless of their role, privilege, location or device. Not only is having a system for management critical, but make sure you are properly trained so it works the way your business needs rather than you having to change your workflow to match the product.
BQE CORE was designed for professional service firms and brings together all the disparate pieces of information typically held in many different applications (and spreadsheets). Finally, your firm can handle all the various tasks elegantly within a defined structure.
#7: THE REMOTE WORKFORCE POLICY MANUAL
Just as important to having a well designed office environment it’s equally important that your remote workforce have a space that allows them to perform their functions in a manner that is conducive to health and good work product. If an employee is accustomed to having two monitors in the office but they are now working from home, you should consider providing them with a second monitor to keep their performance high.
Do they require a dedicated space in their home and does it have an ergonomic chair, desk and accessories? Is their personal equipment appropriate for business use? Do they have pets or children that might interfere with the perception of professionalism your firm requires. There are dozens of similar questions like this that must be carefully considered and put into a policy manual. It’s the go-to document when hiring remote workers so they understand what you will be providing and what is expected.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to a firm’s remote worker policy manual. Your stakeholders really need to invest time into a well thought out policy that is fair and workable.
In closing, welcome to our brave, new world. While having your team dispersed may seem like a great inconvenience, there are many positives that can come from this situation. Fortunately, we live in a time where technology has advanced to the point that makes this not only possible but effortless. Indeed, the cloud offers us so many amazing opportunities.
Now all we need to do is evolve as homo-sapiens to the point where we are comfortable in this new virtual community.