How to set up your employees to work remotely

New to running a remote business? Keep things running smoothly with this guide.

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Due to recent events, many business owners and managers are rushing to connect their employees and get their business operating remotely. This guide will help get you up and running like a digital boss in no time.

Communicate often

One of the hardest things for newly-remote workers is getting used to working alone and in a new environment such as a makeshift home office (or kitchen table). The advantage of having a physical workplace is that staff can chat, collaborate, have meetings and generally feel well connected to their colleagues. But just because everyone is now working apart, doesn't mean that this essential communication has to stop. It just needs to change slightly.

  • Pick a communication channel. It doesn't have to be fancy or even costly. It could be as simple as setting up WhatsApp groups for various business activities or using email. Facebook runs Facebook Workplace, a neat app that enables file sharing, video chats and instant chat. There are other alternatives like G Suite, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex Teams and dozens of other services. Whatever you use, make sure that it's easily accessible. Clearly explain to your crew how to register and set the service up, as well as how it will be integrated into your business operations.
  • Clarify expectations. Your team needs to know how often they should check in with your chosen communication method. Perhaps you want them to send you an end-of-day report or to let you know what's on their to-do list for that day. Tell your employees what you want them to do and then stand back. Be open to change based on feedback from your staff.
  • Meet regularly. Not in person, naturally! But scheduled meetings give structure to your remote workforce and help them maintain that feeling of connection. It could be one-on-one meetings or company-wide meetings. Do whatever makes the most sense for your business. Don't overdo it, too many meetings mean people aren't working and could hamper productivity.
  • Set boundaries. Now that everyone in the business is connected online, likely through a smartphone or app, people are reachable at all times of the day. Resist the temptation to contact staff out of hours when an idea pops into your head. Instead, set clear working hours, as you would normally. This will help everyone maintain a clear separation between work and life.
  • Don't forget chit chat. Now that you have these communication tools, don't come down all totalitarian and ban any non-office related chat. People still need to interact with their work friends, share amusing GIFs or videos and generally encourage one another. You can enable this by creating a channel or chat that is for general conversation and informal communication.

Resist micromanaging

It's very tempting to check in on staff hourly to make sure they're on task and working. But that is really distracting. According to one human-computer interaction professor, it can take the brain 25 minutes to resume full concentration after having to break off from a job.

Sometimes you need to have some trust in people. Sit back and let them get on with their job. You could try implementing a "fair go" policy: as long as your employees deliver what is needed, there should be no questions asked. If you really need to check in on people, at least give the courtesy of notifying them when and at what time, rather than making a surprise phone call.

Get the right software

Picking the right software is going to make your life, and that of your team, so much easier. It's possible to handle project management, communication, payroll, accounts and file sharing remotely, via cloud-based services and apps.

What we use at Finder

Our workforce at Finder is made up of a globally distributed team, many of whom work remotely. Recently, with the COVID-19 outbreak, all of our staff have transitioned to working from home. Fortunately, we already used a combination of Zoom, Slack, G Suite and Jira.

Zoom is an online video conferencing service that's been experiencing monumental growth recently. It works really well and is very intuitive to the point where after a while, you forget that you're not speaking with a person face to face. You can have hundreds of meeting participants, share your screen and files, as well as allow meeting participants to chat with one another.

Slack describes itself as a collaboration hub. Here, we share files, plan projects and stay in contact with the entire company using text chat. Slack works really well for large teams like ours, spread over different continents and numerous timezones, as it tells you what time it is for the person you're contacting. It also integrates with pretty much every other web-based service out there, such as Zoom, Dropbox, G Suite and more. We use it often to make new "channels", essentially group chats, to quickly plan new content and projects. There are company-wide channels to help us all keep up to date with important internal updates.

G Suite is like Microsoft Office, but online. It also includes email hosting, provided by Google. It works very well. Teams can collaborate on spreadsheets, documents and presentations, there's in-built chat, the ability to add suggestions to documents for the original author to review and implement, and it does all this with a very simple and easy-to-use interface. Plus, there are heaps of add-ons that can unlock extra functionality, templates and themes.

Finally, Atlassian's Jira is our go-to for organising to-do lists and managing projects. Managers can see what members of their team are currently working on, as well as the workloads they have on their plates. It can also be used to create support tickets for the IT department, for example. Jira can also help managers to prioritise work and set the current status of a ticket or task, as well as produce reports. Confluence, also made by Atlassian, allows businesses to create and share private wikis with all kind of internal information and guides.

Used together, these pieces of software help us work across borders and enable our Australian team to work with remote workers around the world.

Remote working software comparison

Choosing software that is affordable, easy to use, quick to deploy and flexible is really the key when setting up a remote workforce. Done properly, you can do everything you'd do in an office space, just faster!

Data indicated here is updated regularly
Name Product Starting price Features App integration Tech support
Zoom
Free
Video
Yes
Phone
Email
Live chat
Powerful collaboration tools to host virtual meetings or provide education services
Slack
Free
Direct messaging
Public chat channels
Video
Project management
Yes
Email
Helps streamline communications across company teams and projects
Monday.com
Monday.com
$39/month
Direct messaging
Project management
Calendar
Yes
Phone
Email
Connect to run projects and workflows with confidence
Jira
Free
Project management
Calendar
Yes
Email
Plan, track, release and report your workflow
Microsoft Teams
Microsoft Teams
Free
Direct messaging
Public chat channels
Video
Yes
Phone
Email
Invite everyone you work with to chat, meet, call, and collaborate all in one place
Asana
Free
Project management
Calendar
Yes
Email
Live chat
Helps you organize projects by task, milestone, assignee and deadline
Trello
Free
Project management
Calendar
Yes
Email
Collaborate on projects from beginning to end
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Compare up to 4 providers

Get the right hardware

Cloud-based software goes a long way to helping people work from anywhere, but they still need a decent computer or device to access it. If your workers don't have a laptop, for example, you might consider purchasing one for them. If you're going to bulk buy devices, you should get a mean discount on them. You could do a quick poll to see who has what device already.

You still need to make sure staff are working safely and healthily. It's best for the body to be sitting or standing at a desk. Correct posture will go a long away in preventing repetitive strain injuries and backaches. Taking regular breaks from screens helps keeps the eyes healthy and feeling less strained.

Don't forget to ask you IT team (if you have one) to assist your employees in getting their laptops set up. They'll want to keep on top of things like operating system updates, cloud-based storage and back-ups and perhaps even the setting up of virtual private networks to improve digital security. It might be a good idea for the IT team to install remote desktop access software so that they can log onto your employees' computers and fix any problems they are having.

I need to get everyone up and running right now!

If you're in a rush because of the COVID-19 pandemic, don't worry! Every other company is hustling to get online too. If you're in a rush to get workers online, here's what you need to do at a minimum:

  • Make sure all staff have a computer or device. Check in with staff to see what devices they have access to. You can, with some adjustment, get by on even an iPad or tablet nowadays. Most modern devices have built-in webcams, but you can connect external ones. If some members of your company don't have a suitable way of accessing the remote working tools you set up, prioritise them. You could ship them a spare laptop that you already have or arrange for a new one to be delivered to them.
  • Buy some keyboards and peripherals. Laptops, as their name suggests, are intended for use on a person's lap. Once you place them on a desk or table, they can become uncomfortable over long periods of time and can be quite cumbersome to use. Ditch the trackpad in favour of a USB or Bluetooth mouse, and for the ultimate in productivity, purchase your staff some external keyboards. They'll thank you for it. Some roles also really benefit from having external monitors to increase screen real estate. If that's the case, assist them in buying one.
  • Use free software. Going remote doesn't have to cost a lot. Many of the available services offer free membership options, though these can come with limits on meeting durations for Zoom or file storage capacity for Dropbox. It is possible to do things for no upfront outlay if you're patient and willing to jump through more hoops and accept the extra restrictions. A neat bonus is that you can try the products before committing to them on a paid membership basis.
  • Strengthen security. Once everyone is working remotely, digital security is extremely important. Ask staff to enable two-factor authentication, a way of requiring a second form of identification in addition to a password for logins. Password managers like Dashlane let you share company login credentials without giving the specific password away. Ask your IT person about whether you would benefit from installing Secure Socket Layer (SSL) VPNs on your company servers.

Don't forget your company's culture and future

Right now, you might not be able to think beyond the end of today or the week. That's understandable, but don't forget that you want to lay the foundations for future growth, as well as keep up staff morale and happiness.

You can do this by:

  • Taking time to speak with staff about how they'd like to progress in the company and if they have any other skills or ideas that they could develop and employ to help in the short and long term
  • Scheduling video conference coffee breaks
  • Holding virtual exercise, dance or yoga sessions
  • Hosting team wellness seminars (or providing access to one online)
  • Sending out monthly care packages (loo roll anyone?) or healthy food boxes
  • Creating challenges, either performance-related or exercise/skill-learning based
  • Creating a pets/cooking/random/favourite Netflix show communication group
  • Showcasing staffs achievements/news
  • Running surveys and polls for ideas on how to improve your new distributed workflow and consider staff feedback

Finder's US CEO Jon Brodsky spoke about how the crew hangs out, even when they're in different parts of the country:

"At Finder US, over 65% of our crew works from home on a regular basis and so we try hard to make them feel like they're part of the office culture. For example, we match perks – we provide lunch in the office and so we send snack boxes and gift cards to people who work from home. We also have a bunch of Slack channels that are dedicated to having fun, like our pets channel, Strava groups so that we can all work out together even though we're far apart, and even daily yoga video sessions!"

Get your ducks in a row

Now is the time to get everything organised and to set up the methods that your remote team will use to work from home. Make a to-do list based on the above advice, not forgetting things like:

  • Payroll continuation. If you can't get into the office, how will people get paid? Could you switch to using something like PayPal or a dedicated online payroll service? Make sure you have your internet banking set up so you can bank transfer wages if needed.
  • Internet. It should go without saying, but working away from the office requires internet. It doesn't need to be too fast a connection, but assisting employees with upgrading their broadband is helpful. Some might need to work on mobile broadband using 4G modems.
  • Clean out the office fridge. You don't want to get back to work and find that the cheese left in the fridge has broken free of its chilly confines and enveloped the entire office in a mouldy growth! If possible, you could ask around to see if anyone needs anything, or you could donate the surplus to local food banks.
  • Don't throw out those receipts! Ask everyone to hold onto business receipts so you can claim them back as allowable expenses come tax time.
  • Start speaking individually to staff now. Start communicating with staff immediately to check in and see how they are fairing. Find out what needs they have and help them if you can. If your company is large, contact managers and ask them to do this.

Need a business loan?

Need a business loan to get some new tech for staff or to tide you over in the meanwhile? Check out our 2020 small business loans guide, including finance options and relief for businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak.

TL;DR

The takeaway from all of this is that more businesses are going online. After the pandemic has eased and we all go back to work, for some, that might mean working from home more often. Done right, it's a productive, healthy and freeing way to operate. It's also very cost-effective. Picking the right software and tech will make the process that much easier.

If you need more help regarding the COVID-19 outbreak, check out our daily-updated coronavirus hub.

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