March 2020

Remote working

You may have been considering working remotely for a while.  Perhaps you have been working a day here and there from home.  But it is difficult to prepare for a significant period of lockdown where your team, who you ordinarily sit with each day, is now operating on a totally remote basis.

On the basis of our experience at Hive Legal, where we have been operating with remote teams for over six years, we thought it timely to share some tips on how you can continue working effectively when you are managing a remote team.

1. Set up the communications tech

While laptops and mobiles are important, ensure your team has programs in place which allow easy virtual communication.  This includes functionality for video conferences (eg Skype, Zoom), and quick messaging systems (eg Slack, WhatsApp).

When you first start working from home it is natural to revert to the tools that are used within the physical office.  However meetings without visibility can be tricky – you can’t tell when someone is about to say something and you can’t tell whether anyone is engaged in what you are saying.  It can also feel very intrusive to call someone unannounced when you are used to being able to see across the room whether they are busy or not.  Without face to face contact, you need to make a conscious effort to create those opportunities to see each other’s faces, and to be able to engage in communication that doesn’t feel as formal as an email or a phone call.

What’s worked for us: holding team meetings by video conference and having a ‘social chat’ WhatsApp group across the firm.

2. Be clear on who is doing what and when

Your team may be used to working together, but without sitting near each other the cues we take from facial expressions, seeing people’s reactions to emails received, and joining last minute phone calls, we may not all have the same clear view of what actually needs to be done.  Even more so than when working together in person, you need to be very clear on what you are asking team members to do, what others are doing which relates to it, when it needs to be done by and why they are doing it.

What’s worked for us: setting out new matter instructions in an email paired with a phone call to talk through any questions.

3. Create a culture of trust

When you can’t see each other working there can be nervousness from both ends – from managers who aren’t sure how much their employees are working and from employees who aren’t sure if their work is being seen.  Start from a foundation of trusting that your team will get their work done, and acknowledge to employees when you see they are working hard.   This can be as simple as an email telling them they are doing a great job, but it does get noticed.

What’s worked for us: focussing on outputs rather than time spent.

4. Check-ins

Without seeing one another every day it is very difficult to know what is going on in the broader context of your team’s lives.  You can’t tell from people’s faces if they seem stressed, and you can’t see them at their desk late at night and know they have too much on their plate.  You can’t see them arriving to work with flowers and know they are celebrating something, or ask them about their weekend as you head past their desk.  On the team member side, it is easy to feel isolated and that no one is looking out for you.  Regular, scheduled check-ins with both the team as a group and each team member individually are important – both to be aware of their work items, but just as importantly to make sure they are ok.

What’s worked for us: having both a team meeting weekly and individual/ team member catch ups fortnightly.

5. Transitioning from the work zone

Without actually arriving and leaving an office, your workplace and your home life can become truly intertwined.  And while this has many benefits, it can also mean that is difficult to switch off.  You may need to take active steps to switch off in a way that you previously have not had to – for example being clear about when work is actually done for the day, and putting technology out of reach.  It will also help if you have a dedicated work area at home, ideally that you can close the door once your work day is finished, so that you have some physical separation from ‘work’.  For others, a transition routine may be required – for example going for a walk around the block or finalising tomorrow’s to do list, to mentally close out the day.

What’s worked for us: Encouraging team members to have a switch off point and dissolving the expectation that they must be available at all times.

There is no doubt this is a challenging time both for individuals and businesses.  If you would like to further discuss how you can better prepare for your team working from home, feel free to contact us at [email protected].