Below are some rules, principles and tips for how to successfully set up a remote office and have staff working in diverse locations around the nation (or the world!) – synthesised from best practice OPEN has seen in action.
1. Have a brilliant attitude
Everyone having a brilliant attitude and is very helpful because working remotely can be isolating. Waiting for a decision, or a tech fix or a UJ can be frustrating. If someone’s working out of the office, they don’t know if someone’s been pulled into a meeting in the same way as if they would if they were there.
2. Set up your tech right.
Zoom works fine for big meetings. Google Hangout for small, quick gatherings. And there’s always the phone.
Tip: If there’s a bandwidth issue, lower video settings or switch to audio only.
Heaps of organisations use Zoom video conferencing software to connect staff and campaigners who aren’t in the same physical location. Setup regular meeting URLs, and include them in calendar invites for meetings. If you use Slack, make sure you get the Zoom extension.
Guidelines for video conferencing
- Let remote workers know who’s at the meeting, voices appearing from nowhere can make a meeting seem like a seance.
- If you are far from the mic, please lean in and speak up.
- Also, if you look away from the mic while talking remote workers can’t hear you.
- If a laptop’s being used for a video meeting and you’re behind it, the mic won’t pick you up.
- Please keep an eye out for the remote virtual finger
- Background noise is a big problem during small meetings, so selection of venue is important.
- Please provide an electronic version of materials. A phone pic is fine. Or a diagram.
- If you do that, the camera can be pointed at the meeting attendees rather than the board.
Getting hold of people:
Google Calendar is the best way of letting remote workers where you are. The most difficult aspect of working in a different location is not being able to glance around and see who’s about. Here’s the escalation scale of trying to reach someone:
- Google IM / Slack – This is the remote working version of strolling across the office to ask a question. It’s the quickest, easiest form of getting hold of someone. It’s really very much appreciated if people answer in a timely fashion.
- Text – This is the remote working version of “ahem”. If they don’t get back after that, the next step is a mobile phone call, which is more intrusive.
- Asking someone else to find you – If a remote worker’s really struggling to find you they can ask someone else to track you down.
Set norms that work for everyone – and revisit them often
While the above suggestions are great for basic organisational hygiene, every organisation (and staff member) is different. Set aside some time for the entire team to discuss how they like to work – and workshop ways to facilitate them.
Then take an iterative approach, and regularly assess what’s working and what’s not – if something’s not working, try a new approach for a few weeks!
This might happen on a slack channel dedicated to process feedback, or in a ten-minute standing agenda item in your monthly meetings.
Be generous, trusting, and have some fun
Remote collaboration necessarily means we have to trust ourselves and our team to work efficiently outside of a traditional office environment – whether that’s two offices in two different cities or people working on their own in homes around the world.
Different people will want different things, and that’s OK!
Perhaps someone working alone easily feels isolated, and asks to set up a channel on Slack to post the songs they’re listening to at the moment, or to swap cool articles they’ve read this week with other team members. Give it a go! It’s the digital equivalent of a water cooler chat.
Or perhaps someone asks to mute all their notifications for a 3-hour block every two days, to really get that work done. Sure, why not? In an office, it would be sneaking off to a cafe or an empty room (and we’ve all done that). The critical thing is they let people know.
Give unconventional ideas a go – just make sure the team is regularly assessing whether or not they’re actually useful!
Assuming the best of people and maintaining an open dialogue about work practices are critical ways you can build a healthy remote working culture.