With concerns about the spread of the coronavirus rising, many companies are trying to figure out how to keep their workers safe and engaged, while navigating the uncertainty of rapidly changing information. Here in Washington, a growing hotspot for the virus, public health officials recommend working remotely, and Microsoft, Amazon, and other local companies have asked employees to work from home for the next few weeks. This can be a big adjustment if teams are not used to working remotely or do so only occasionally. 

At Resourceful we’ve intentionally chosen a virtual office model. Here are a few things we recommend to help make working remotely work for teams.

1. Stay connected with regular check-ins (video on!)

A regular cadence of meetings throughout the week provides structure and helps teams stay connected. You can stick to the meeting schedule you’ve already established, or you may need to increase the frequency to be sure the lines of communication stay open as your team adjusts—be sure to ask for feedback as you go.

We start each week with an all-company virtual meeting on Microsoft Teams to review business results and discuss areas that need input. We hold a consultant meeting midway through the week to review client status, discuss workload, redistribute tasks, and talk through any issues. Just as with in-person meetings, we give everyone a few minutes to greet each other, and then we’re careful to respect everyone’s time by keeping our virtual meetings on topic, clearly assigning specific action items, and tabling items that can be handled by a smaller group. 

We have also found that holding video calls (easily available in Teams and Zoom, another tool we use frequently) really goes a long way to preserving that sense of personal, face-to-face connection. It may be helpful to establish clear expectations here, so all team members are turning video on instead of just some. 

2. Keep lines of communication open (with boundaries!) 

There are so many great tools that make it easy for remote workers to collaborate and stay in touch, just as they do at the office. Internally,  we all log into Teams all day, and we use the chat feature extensively for quick messages. If a more complex discussion is needed, we do a quick video call or just hop on the phone. Everyone is also empowered to set their status to “busy” and block times on their calendars to carve out space for heads-down work without interruptions. You can still contact someone during those times, but it’s understood that you’ll likely get a delayed response.

If your teams are working remotely for the first time, it’s particularly important that managers check in with their employees at least once a day to stay connected. Some people enjoy working remotely, but others find it isolating. Keeping the communication channels open will really help.

3. Carve out time to keep momentum on long-term goals

When people are working remotely, even for just a few weeks, it’s more important than ever to ensure everyone stays in sync about longer term goals. We’ve already worked our quarterly “rocks” check-ins into our Monday all-hands meetings, but if you’re not used to discussing quarterly or annual goals on a regular cadence, it’s an ideal time to start. You could build this into an existing meeting or set up a new one, to make sure the shift to working virtually doesn’t derail your long-term plans. 

4. Try a virtual happy hour

If you’re used to happy hours and birthday celebrations, working remotely can be a big adjustment. You might need to get a little creative to cultivate that strong sense of camaraderie. For some of our video meetings, the organizer logs in 15 minutes early to give team members time to chit chat and connect before the official meeting begins. When it’s time for the scheduled meeting to start, everyone focuses and jumps right into the business at hand.

We’ve also experimented with virtual happy hours, where we share what we are drinking. We’ve learned about new beers and even new kinds of tea. We call our quarterly virtual company meeting “Review and Recharge” to set a fun, welcoming tone for important team topics. We’ve found that adding some kind of visible element to our shared video calls, even if it’s just company t-shirts, makes it more fun—once we all wore superhero capes that we had distributed at an in-person meeting. Have a birthday or an anniversary coming up? Think how you could incorporate a mini celebration into your next virtual meeting.

The support you need

During a time of uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to have HR in place to help you anticipate issues, set up or adjust supports for your team, and alleviate stress for employees. Please get in touch if you have questions or would like to talk through the issues your team is facing. No matter where you are (or we are), we’re here to help!