Going Remote In A Day: A Guide For Disaster Planning
Given the current climate, it’s possible that you may be forced to work remotely or close your office due to a mandatory quarantine or outbreak. You may not feel prepared or equipped to deal with such a disruption, and you may have considered remote work as an alternative to shuttering your doors for an unknown duration of time: however, you may be nervous or unsure of how that works. How will you know employees are working? How will you have meetings? How will you communicate effectively with external stakeholders? Many companies like yours have faced these problems before, and have found solutions. While some aspects of your business are undoubtedly unique, most of the core aspects of a business are not, and many of the concerns, worries, and fears you have about your employees working from home have been addressed by companies large and small.For most startups, knowledge workers, and white-collar small businesses, it’s definitely possible to quickly enact a remote work policy that will keep your employees productive and help you weather the storm. A quick note before we begin: normally, we at Remote Wave like to tailor our recommendations to companies that come to us to work with their existing processes and software stacks. However, in this emergency response guide, we offer more general advice on off-the-shelf technologies and processes that have worked for the majority of clients we’ve worked with and companies we know of. For more specific advice on your individual use case, please reach out to us and we will be happy to assist you!
You’ll notice a flowchart over on the right: you can use that to guide you in implementing this guide, and figuring out which of these steps is right for you! (click it to get an enlarged version!)
Since we’ll be doing this all very quickly, it’s important that your employees’ day-to-day tracks as closely as possible to what they’d normally do in the office. Do you have an in-person meeting at 9 AM? Continue to have that as a video meeting at 9 AM. Do you normally walk over to an employee’s desk to do check-ins at set times throughout the day? Do it via a chat program or a quick video call with screensharing.
It’s important to do this because routine helps employees maximize their autonomy in response to change. Maintaining your routines will help employees adapt to this change more quickly and limit impacts on productivity.
Replace In-Person Meetings
If you’re a typical business, chances are you haven’t really thought too much about a communication stack. (A stack is business lingo for a suite of technologies that accomplishes some sort of business function or process). For the most part, you probably use some mix of in-person, phone, and email communication, plus a chat program like Slack or Microsoft Teams.
You’ll notice that only one of these requires an office: the rest are done just as easily from anywhere with a computer and an internet connection. So, how do you effectively replace in-person meetings?
With a conferencing software like Zoom. ( https://zoom.us).
Zoom is versatile, easy-to-use conferencing software that works for PCs and Macs, and allows for a multitude of different features that normally accompany in-person meetings. Users can share their screens, mark up and annotate other people’s screens, there is a virtual whiteboard for mind mapping and planning, and you can even host video webinars and large meetings. Zoom also offers call-in numbers for all their meetings, so employees without a webcam or microphone at home can dial in with their phone and view the screen at the same time.
Best of all, it won’t break the bank: Zoom starts free with certain limitations- meetings are limited to 40 minutes for meetings with more than 3 participants. While that may suffice for your use case, their paid plan also won’t break the bank: it’s $15 per month per host, which means you can just buy one host spot and share the login among teams as they need it. The typical workflow here is for a manager to have a paid host seat, and for the team members under that manager to have free accounts.
Zoom is offers unlimited 1-on-1 calls, so any manager-employee meeting or collaborative brainstorming discussion can happen unabated on a free tier of Zoom right away!
We suggest not trying to do anything fancy here: you’re simply replacing an in-person meeting with a Zoom meeting. Run the meeting exactly the same way you would have run it before: as above, make it as normal as possible. Remember, this is just your regular meeting, except you’re not next to each other for it!
External Client Meetings
Zoom will also be used to replace your external client meetings: chances are a lot of your client meetings are already conference calls or phone calls to begin with, so transitioning to Zoom for your external meetings will probably be even easier than transitioning your internal meetings.
In the Zoom software interface, you can simply hit a button called “Copy Invitation”: this will copy all the necessary information for a client to join your meeting (including the link if they’re joining from a computer and the conference call dial-in number if they are calling in) which you can email to a client ahead of time. It’s simple, convenient, and quick, and you’ll be surprised at how easy it is!
Setting Up Zoom
You can find a link to getting started with Zoom here: https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/201362033-Getting-Started-on-Windows-and-Mac
For a list of other conferencing software, see below in Further Resources.
Replace In-Person Chats
If you’re in an office, likely you’re used to just asking someone a question whenever you need them: you can just walk over to their desk, ask them a question, and get back to whatever it was you were doing. That’s a little harder remotely: you can’t see them and know if they’re busy. Ideally, you’d be able to have knowledge of whether someone’s busy or not, and have a place where you can send them a quick note and have them respond to you, just as though you were doing it in-person.
The way that remote teams have solved this problem is by realtime chat programs that let your employees participate in a virtual office. Every employee logs on, and they can set their status throughout the day so you know if they’re available. There is typically an all-office chat group, or “channel”, chat groups for each team or project, and 1-on-1 chats. Just as in a physical office, the all-employee channel is a space for general updates, the team and project channels facilitate collaboration and knowledge sharing among specific groups, and the 1-on-1 chats support private discussions or video calls.
The best chat software for most companies here is going to be Slack (unless you are heavily embedded in the Office 365 ecosystem, then Microsoft Teams will be better for you). Slack is a popular realtime chat system that is free and easy to set up- you can have your team online and chatting in about fifteen minutes. Due to its ubiquity, there are many free resources and integrations available to augment Slack to address specific needs your team might have. It works on PC and Mac, and it has mobile apps for iPhone and Android so you can stay in contact with your teams no matter where you are.
For users who are heavily embedded in the Microsoft ecosystem, Microsoft Teams is also free and has some advantages: if you use Office 365, Microsoft Teams can integrate with Office products like Planner, Sharepoint, and Outlook, making for a more seamless transition. It typically takes a little longer than Slack to set up, but if you’re otherwise a Microsoft shop, the enhanced functionality with other Microsoft products will be worth it!
You can find more information about getting started with Slack here: https://slack.com/help/categories/360000049043-Getting-Started
For a list of alternative chat software, please see Further Resources below!
Establish Remote File Sharing
Most companies will already have some sort of collaborative file sharing available to them and their employees: if this is the case, then no further action is required beyond ensuring that every employee is set up with their remote file sharing account (or VPN, if files are stored on a server behind a VPN).
If you don’t have a remote file sharing account, now is the time to sign up for one: Dropbox (https://www.dropbox.com) is a solid remote file sharing service that many companies use to facilitate remote file sharing. The space provided is quite generous (the standard business plan is 5 terabytes of data at $12.50 per user per month) and it’s extremely easy to use. Furthermore, the free version is heavily used by many people individually, so it’s likely some or most of your employees are already familiar with how Dropbox works.
Much like the Slack vs. Teams decision above, your choice of remote file sharing is also influenced by how embedded you are in the Microsoft ecosystem. If you have a business version of Office 365, you probably already have access to OneDrive, Microsoft’s version of a remote file sharing service. If you do, we recommend using OneDrive instead of Dropbox due to its native integrations with other Microsoft products and the fact that it will be cheaper than Dropbox: OneDrive is already included in the price per user per month from Office 365, so existing Office 365 users will encounter no extra cost by using OneDrive.
Accountability is the step that most often makes managers and owners nervous about the remote work transition. If you cannot see your employees, how will you know they’re getting their work done? How will they let you know if they need help, are behind on a deadline, or are struggling with the transition?
Again, you are not the only company to have these concerns, and others have faced these challenges. The best approach is to create a culture of communication and routine that encourages information sharing and transparency.
Remember, you’re a business, and you produce output: that’s why you’ve hired employees. So long as your employees continue to produce output, it does not matter whether or not they’re sitting in front of you or sitting at their kitchen table. With just a few key practices, you can make sure that you’re checking in with your employees and that they’re producing the output that they’d be producing when they were in the office!
Standups & Sitdowns
In an office, it’s pretty easy to tell when someone has entered the office, and when they have left for the day. This is less obvious in a remote office.
The remote solution to this is called “standups” and “sitdowns”. There are three kinds of standups and sitdowns:
- The individual employee’s daily standup (when they punch-in)
- The daily team standup (the daily team check-in)
- Individual employee’s sitdown (when they punch-out)
Individual Employee Standup
When an employee logs on and begins their work day, he or she posts a short (three to five sentence) message in the office chat (e.g. Slack). This message, known as a standup, can be posted in the general office channel or in a sub-channel for their team, as appropriate for your company. A good standup will communicate what the employee intends to work on and what they might need assistance with during the day. For example, here are some sample standups from actual remote teams (with names and companies replaced for privacy):
“John and I have a call with BoringCo today about their contract. I have a call with XYZ Co. to followup on prior conversations with 2 contacts there to see if they want to move forward with purchasing. Will need Jane’s help later to compose final statement of work for ABC Corp.”
“Lots of HR stuff today: have an interview with 1 salesperson candidate and 1 marketing candidate. Doing an at risk customer review with Bill. Have a Customer meeting with Bob & another with Laura. Will need Jane to help on a technical call with Gloof Corp’s technical team.”
“Another Exciting LTD. call with Scott. Need to create more email newsletter drafts for our new campaign. Call with John to update new Salesforce prospective customers report. Need to draft a proposed project plan for ABC Corp. Need Linda’s help to get info about why they’re hedging: sale is not moving as fast yet as I’d like. A few other client email check-ins today too.”
Notice the hallmarks of these standups: they are concise, they outline what the employee’s day is going to look like, and they flag potential problems or blockers. This lets everyone on the team know what their teammates’ days are going to look like, what blockers they might face, and if they might be asked to help with a task.
The Daily Team Standup
The daily team standup is a daily team meeting. if people normally get in around 9, the daily team standup should be at 10 or 11. This gives everybody a chance to get their coffee, get into their work mindset a bit, and start organizing themselves before the daily check-in.
This meeting must be mandatory. Unless an employee is with a client or has a more pressing task approved by management, there is nothing more important than the daily standup meeting.
The daily standup should be a very quick (20 minutes max) group video call with all members of the team. Each team member should speak one at a time and get a minute or two to recap their individual standup and their progress since the last team standup by addressing the following:
What did I accomplish since our last daily team meeting?
What do I plan to work on today?
What are current or potential blockers impeding my progress?
The last 5 minutes should be spent on anything that can help team members in their daily tasks. If more discussion is needed after 5 minutes, the team leader should close the meeting and schedule follow-up discussions with the team members who had further questions: likely those are the team members who will need help that day.
You’ll notice this is nearly identical to the individual written standup, and that is intentional: it enforces just how important it is for employees to have a structured task list. It is also a way for managers to help employees who may be struggling with their tasks or the transition to remote work. If an employee routinely posts vague standups (or doesn’t post standups), they may just not be great at writing down their work load for the day. However, if they are also uncomfortable, quiet, or vague in the meeting this is a very reliable early warning sign that they will need extra help and supervision.
Remember that you can always use Zoom’s robust screen-sharing functionality to walk through a problem with an employee: Zoom allows for screen sharing, screen annotating, and even lets you control the other person’s screen if you need to, so it’s just like being there with them.
The Individual Sitdown
When your employees are done for the day- and aren’t going to be back until the next- they should post a “sitdown”, which is their sign off message for the day. This is a brief 3-5 sentence message, similar to the standup, that reports what they actually did that day: maybe they got pulled into some emergency meetings, maybe they took longer on something than they thought they would, or maybe they just worked on and completed everything they set out to do in their standup: whatever the case may be, the sitdown should be a truthful recounting of what the employee actually did that day. Here are the corresponding sitdowns for the standups above:
[Standup #1 didn’t post a sitdown! This will happen, but you should discourage this practice and gently remind employees to do it.]
“Sales + marketing interviews went well probably move forward on all three. Calls went well. Emergency exec outreach with Charles, pushed customer review with Bill to tomorrow.”
“Exciting LTD canceled, Scott will reach out with new time. Updated Salesforce report, drafted project plan for ABC Corp.,asked Linda to reach out to her contact there.”
As you can see, the sitdowns don’t always map to the employee’s daily ambitions (#3 in particular seems to have been overambitious in their goals for the day) but they serve as a record of what the employee actually got done and as a bellwether for the manager to know the output and capacity of their team members each day.
Tying It All Together: What Your Remote Day Looks Like
That was a lot of information very quickly. You have all the steps above, but it might be difficult to truly visualize what the end result looks like: what does your typical day look like when you’re working from home?
Below is an example of what the new normal might look like for your typical manager / team lead / small business team owner:
8:45 AM: get yourself ready for your workday. Log into your Zoom account and your Slack workspace, and make sure your webcam / microphone is working (if you’re using them- if not, make sure your phone is ready to call in to meetings). Check your email and figure out what your work day is going to look like.
9 AM: Post your 3-5 sentence standup in your Slack workspace and get cracking!
9:30 AM: Attend your daily standup. Note the standups of all your team members, and at the end of the update note where you can help team members who might be stuck. Also take note of any team members who are obviously quiet, vague, or uncomfortable: they may require some extra help from you.
11 AM – 4 PM: Work as normal. Periodically read and post updates in Slack to stay abreast of your teams’ progress. Join or initiate chat conversations in Slack to share and discuss information in real-time. Attend meetings on Zoom to talk through important issues with your team, work collaboratively with screenshares, and meet with external clients.
5 PM: Read others’ sitdown messages and write your own.
Managing Remote Culture
An abrupt change to your employees’ location and working environment will affect all of them in different ways. Some of your employees will be unfazed by this change, or will have had experience working from home before, but others will be worried and nervous- or feel isolated and lonely.
It’s important that you stay on top of this and recognize that a lot of social interactions happen at work: more often than not employees also become friends, and look forward to quick chats throughout the day, lunches together, or happy hours after work. These occasions typically happen naturally in an office setting, but there’s a higher barrier for employees to do this sort of thing on their own when working from home.
As a manager, it’s important to communicate to your employees that they’re not in this alone! You’re still a team with all the same camaraderie you had yesterday, you’re just not in the same space together- make sure your team knows this, and facilitate this kind of rapport. You should, at a minimum:
- Create at least one “casual” slack channel (called #water-cooler typically, but it can be named anything) and encourage employees to share personal photos, stories, and general non-work-related talk
- Have an open “happy hour” style meeting after work once a week, where everybody can join and chat for a bit
After awhile, you may also encourage your employees to create their own topical Slack channels based on communal interests and encourage them to foster and develop their office rapport. Some topic channels we’ve seen in other Slacks include:
- Parenting tips
- Food prep / cooking
- Beer brewing
- Pet pictures
- Book of the month clubs
- Self improvement
- Language learning
- Video games
Your employees will be looking to you for leadership here, and it’s important to them that you take the lead on making sure they combat loneliness and don’t feel just like cogs in the machine!
We here at Remote Wave truly believe in remote work: it’s something many benefit from in the long-term, and adopting a remote work culture can be extraordinarily good for your hiring, retention, and bottom line.
However, we also recognize that there are many companies who are not ready to make the remote work step- or who haven’t even thought about it- and are now faced with the prospect of having it forced upon them via mandatory quarantines or self-isolation policies for employees who have fallen ill or have come in contact with someone who has. We’ve spoken to friends and business colleagues who are dismayed, certain that closing their office will cause irreparable financial damage to their small businesses. In fact, even if they were considering remote work, they are worried that they are not far enough down the remote work path to be able to do it effectively at the drop of a hat.
We hope this guide has shown you that this is not true, and you can transition to remote work to avoid endangering the health of your employees or shutting down your offices entirely. If you have any questions or want more specific advice, please reach out to us so we can help you!
Alternative Conferencing Software
Alternative Chat Software
Alternative File Sharing Software
Box (note that this is distinct from Dropbox, they’re two different companies!)