March 17, 2020

Moving Your Business to "Work From Home" Quickly!

Much of the business world is figuring out how to transition to a work from home structure incredibly quickly due to Covid-19 quarantine measures around the world.

Jon Tucker
CEO HelpFlow
Moving Your Business to "Work From Home" Quickly!

Much of the business world is figuring out how to transition to a work from home structure incredibly quickly due to Covid-19 quarantine measures around the world. This can be incredibly disruptive to a business, not to mention the pressures of a plummeting economy. In short, you need to get this right and you don’t have weeks or months to figure it out. It needs to be done quickly or you could lose your business.

We’ve Done This Already - Here’s How

You don’t have to scramble around to find a solution to figure out how to operate your business on a work from home structure. I’ve been running remote teams for over 10 years, and our current 24/7 live chat company has been running fully remote for 50 employees for five years.

In this deep dive, I will share how we operate:

  1. Our daily, weekly, and monthly management routine.
  2. How we communicate seamlessly using a range of different specific communication tools. (hint: NO EMAIL)
  3. How we track workflow and collaborate effectively as a fully remote team.

You have to go remote now, and you’re probably already feeling the challenges of that. It’s my hope that this guide will help you transition smoothly so you can focus on other aspects of running your business.

Covid19 eCommerce Industry Townhall is bringing together established eCommerce store owners and industry experts to share insights on what's happening on the ground of their business, and what they're doing to get through this time while coming out the other side stronger! 

Bulletproof Management and Collaboration Routine

The collaboration process in an in-house office experience is not the same as what happens when your entire team is spread out working remotely. Especially if you were not used to working remotely.

You’re probably starting to feel like “this isn’t working…”, “wtf is going on with this project. I need this done.”, and maybe even “ I don’t know if we’re gonna be able to pull this work from home thing off so quickly….”.

Here’s what has been insanely successful for us.

Have a Structure But Make It Lean

What you’re missing that becomes a huge pain point when you shift from an office environment to a remote environment is structure. You need to have a clear way that your team executes and collaborates together, otherwise it doesn’t “just happen“ like it might in an office.

This doesn’t mean you need to have manuals and documentation of how everything in your business gets done. It just means you need to have a clear cadence of how you work together, including how you deal with urgent problems that come up throughout the day.

Daily, Weekly and Monthly Management Cadence

We technically use a quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily cadence, but I am going to skip the quarterly part for this article as many business owners are just focused on getting through the next month.

  1. Monthly goals- make sure everyone on your team has a clear monthly goal they are working towards. The goal is typically numbers based, or a done or not done project that directly influences the number.
  2. Weekly targets- everyone creates 1 to 3 things they will do each week that will move their monthly goal forward. They prepare this and share it on a weekly kick off meeting, which is an opportunity for them to report on the outcome of last week and also share context as a team so that everybody is moving together in the same direction.
  3. Daily huddle- every single day, each team gets together for about seven minutes and shares their main target for the day. Also, any "stucks" they need support on from other team members are mentioned. This is basically a miniaturized version of the weekly huddle, but it gives the whole team context. Don’t say meeting daily sounds crazy. If you keep it under 10 minutes, it provides value without even coming close to wasting the time your team would spend without the context.

Weekly Department Meetings for Context and Issue Processing

We have a weekly department meeting for all departments which is where the majority of collaboration and working through issues gets done.

Throughout the week, if there are things team members know need to be worked on as a department they will flag them for this meeting. When flagging the items, it’s important to define a clear outcome that you want to get to when the team works on it. Leaving things open-ended waste a lot of time.

The department meeting has a tight agenda focused on processing these issues:

  1. Good news – we all start by sharing a business and personal good news very briefly for about 15 seconds each. It sets a positive tone to the meeting whatever is going on.
  2. Metrics review - every department has key metrics they are accountable to and this part of the meeting is focused on just sharing those metrics, clarifying if on track or off track, and clarifying what action is being taken to improve.
  3. Headlines - this is an opportunity to call out any FYI’s that the team needs to be aware of. These might be things that would not make sense to send out in an email message to the entire department but it’s good contexts for them to have.
  4. Issue processing - this is where we work through the issues of the team flagged throughout the week that need to be worked on. These are prioritized at the start of this part of the meeting and we move through them very quickly.

Structure is a good thing and is essential to being effective in a virtual environment. Take the time to schedule your first monthly kick off meeting now and announce the weekly/daily cadence there. It will make this transition to remote setup much easier.

Effective Remote Team Communication

Managing an entire business through your email inbox doesn’t work. It overloads everyone and details get lost. If you have a well thought out communication process and tool set, it’s possible to have less emails, be left alone and effective, but still feel connected and able to collaborate all at the same time.

Use the Right Mode of Communication

The hardest thing to get right about shifting to a remote work structure is knowing which mode of communication to use at different times. People usually stick with email and feel like they are overwhelmed and losing speed, or they shift to a chat room environment and feel constantly interrupted throughout the entire day.

Here’s the right mix:

  1. Only use instant messaging for something you would actually walk in and interrupt somebody in their office for. Otherwise use email.
  2. Have clear standards for how fast people are expected to turn around emails. On our team, we process our message inbox at the start and end of every day. No exceptions.
  3. Rather than deciding a meeting as needed, use one click video screen shares to talk through contexts that you can include in an instant message or a email. This will save a lot of meeting time.
  4. Use the department meeting I described above as a key meeting for the week, but also do very brief ad hoc meetings as needed if a real-time instant messaging conversation doesn’t have enough context or velocity. A five minute video call can go along way.

Tools for Communicating While Working From Home

Below is the toolset we’ve arrived at after 10 years running remote:

  1. for one-on-one and group discussions.
  2. as our project management system.  This is also our replacement for email.
  3. for one-click video screen shares to add to messages.
  4. for easy web conferencing with video and screen sharing.

The tools here matter less than the understanding of the modes of communication above and when to use them. If you’re feeling like the tools are wrong right now on your team, make sure you’re getting the modes of communication part right first.

Tracking Workflow and Projects Together

Keeping track of your workload when you're left all alone in a work from home environment can be tough. But knowing the status of everyone else’s workflow is what makes you feel the most alone. Everyone feels like they’re not sure what’s going on.

If you use a project management system effectively as an entire team, it’s possible to have clarity on your tasks and others without constant check-in’s.

Here’s our project management process:

  1. We use as our project management system but there are a number of other tools out there like Basecamp, Microsoft Teams, and more. As long as you use something that meets the principles in this article, the specific system doesn’t matter.
  2. Have a project for each department, where the work “lives”.
  3. Assign tasks to people while also adding the tasks to the project. This enables anybody to see the status of what’s going on in that department.
  4. If work needs to be done, assign a task for it. You can communicate directly on the task and pass the task assignment around as needed. Don’t let To Dos pile up in outside systems. Work within the task system.
  5. Keep your communication about work within the system, ideally on the specific tasks being discussed. Once you get a balance of using tasks and communicating within the system, you will find that your team has much better shared context about what’s going on.

If you’re not using a project management system at this point, get one set up. But if you already have something that is partially used, go all in and make sure the entire team is using it. That will make this transition to virtual much easier.

Get the Transition Done

For most companies, they are figuring out how to transition to work from home extremely quickly. It needs to get done in a matter of days rather than weeks and months. And it’s a full transition of the entire company.

This can be tough but if you simplify the action items from the above, this is basically what you need to do:

  1. Set a daily and weekly meeting cadence in place for the company.
  2. Set up communication infrastructure as described above and make sure the team knows when to use which mode of communication.
  3. And have an effective way to track workflow throughout the business.
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