Sabra Aaron
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Suddenly Remote: 7 Tips for a Successful Virtual Workforce

Home Office. Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Many organizations are suddenly moving to a remote workforce—but JCA is no stranger to working virtually. Our team is distributed over the entire U.S., and as far away as Canada and Scotland. Here are some tips to help ease an abrupt transition into the virtual workplace.

1. Communicate vigorously

When people are out of sight, it’s easy to feel like your questions and requests are going into thin air. So, when someone asks a question, it’s important to make it a priority to respond, even if it’s just to say: “Message received.”

2. Vigorous communication is a two-way street

It’s not enough to expect employees to respond fast. As a manager, you also need to get back to them just as quickly. When you’re remote, it’s easy to feel like you’re off your manager’s radar, so prioritizing getting back to your direct reports can help them feel included. Check in with everyone at least once a day to make sure they’re on track.

3. Set yourself up for success

The Covid-19 situation has forced people to work from home suddenly, so many people haven’t had time to set up a dedicated home office. Just do your best: carve out a space in your house, and make sure you’re sitting in as supportive and ergonomically correct way as you can.

4. Manage sharing your home office with your new “officemates

Employees aren’t the only ones headed home. Many of us are dealing with housemates (kids! partners! animals!) around during the day as well. Some things to try:

  • Use headphones to play non-distracting sounds or music to isolate yourself from the household bustle.
  • If you can, get your work done in off-hours. You might have to get up really early (5AM!) to knock tasks out before the kids get up, and then work during naptimes or after bedtime as well.
  • If you need to make calls or do videoconferences, find a way to keep your new officemates quiet. Clearly define what quiet entails (no raised voices, no turning up the volume on the TV), motivate them with a treat or reward, and use a visual timer so they know exactly how long they need to be quiet.
  • Save the most coveted quiet activities (screen time and headphones!) for when you need them, and let them thump, bump, and jump as much as they want in between calls and meetings.

Remember, we’re all in the same boat, so we all understand that the dog is going to bark, or the kids are going to burst in, and nobody is going to think you’re goofing off.

5. Get comfortable with your online meeting tool

If you are going to be leading meetings, whether they are internal or external, take the time to practice with whatever platform you’re using to run meetings (JCA uses GoToMeeting, but you can also use Zoom, Skype, etc.). Practice with your office friends, and work through how to do key tasks like:

  • Sharing your screen, passing it to another person, freezing, and unsharing your screen
  • Showing slides and multimedia
  • Managing the muting tools to deal with people who are in noisy places or causing feedback insanity
  • Turning off your notifications
  • Positioning your camera and understanding how your background looks
6. Use telepresence to signal availability

If you don’t have a way to casually chat with your team (Fuze, Skype, Slack, etc.), you need to start using SOMETHING as soon as possible. Here’s why: having that little green “I’m here!” indicator is tremendously reassuring for managers. It also provides a quick option to replace when you would normally pop in on someone to ask a question. Interoffice chat is a key productivity tool, and I guarantee you’ll continue to use it once the urgent need to work remotely subsides.

7. Consider going camera-on as your default

A lot of people don’t like this at first, but the comfort of seeing the people on the other end of a conference call is not to be underestimated. Again, everyone knows we’re working from home, so if you’re wearing a T-shirt, it’s not a big deal!

This is an incredibly challenging time. Thankfully, it’s never been easier to work virtually. With a few key practices and tools, you’ll be able to successfully collaborate with your newly remote team.

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