So, you’re on WebX and feeling like you solved your work-from-home challenges. Your staff is staying connected and working on tasks. But there is more. The success of continuing effective collaboration in a remote business model is dependent on the training of employees in best practices and clarifying expectations are the real make-it-or-break-it. (Technology Enables Staff, Culture Empowers Them).  After sixteen years of managing an all-remote business structure, there are some pillars to success for both external and internal interactions that my team and I have discovered.

Virtual Meetings with Clients and Colleagues

  • Everyone on your team needs to be empowered to set up a virtual meeting. We use Microsoft Teams to conduct our external and internal meetings. It proves to be easier and more effective than calling someone’s cell phone.
  • Set up the meeting for success. If you initiated the meeting, it is your responsibility to take a minute to ensure that attendees can hear you, you can hear them, and they can see your shared-screen. If there is audio feedback or background noise, lead the resolution of the issues before starting. Far too often, we hold an online meeting only to find out afterward that a client called in and didn’t see the presentation and felt too awkward asking for help in-the-moment.
  • Turn off your camera. There is plenty of sound advice to teach you how to present yourself on video. If the meeting is an interview or a leads group, great, dress the part, move minimally, and smile away. For every other meeting type, turn it off. Sure, you can argue that body language is critical, but your clients, your team, and pretty much everyone hates being on camera. Turn on your phone and have someone record you for two minutes. Have I made my point? If you are having a virtual happy hour, by all means, turn on your camera. Otherwise, focus on the task at hand and not each other and or distracting backgrounds.
  • Share screens. The majority of online meetings center around a task that calls for collaboration. Share your screen to get everyone on the same page by showing the agenda, meeting minutes, or drawing; this will keep participants focused. If you don’t create this collaborative tactic, they will be off reading emails. Calling on people during the meeting ensures they remain engaged.
  • Mute is your friend–use it as often as needed to minimize distractions. If you are in a place conducive to leaving your microphone on, do so. This will allow for the natural reactions of laughter and groans to be heard. Just watch “Jimmy Fallon at Home” monologue, to see what I mean. Start at minute 3:30.
  • Please know how to use your chosen technology. I have been on meetings where the leader didn’t know the difference between the share-screen and the share-screen control, or couldn’t find the mute button. Take the time to learn how to run a productive meeting.
  • Stop multi-tasking. You were invited to the meeting because you have something to offer. It is easy to work on other tasks while hearing, but you won’t be listening and certainly not comprehending.

Inter-Office Strategies

  • When working from home or any remote setting, collaborative software platforms will change your life. For us, Microsoft Teams has increased our collaborative processes and provided logical organization of files. The integrated tools allow for OneNote tabs and project conversations to be tied to project files. The amount of emails is reduced while a stream of communication is stored in the chat function that is visible to everyone involved and for others to review, like a nosy manager.
  • Three instant messages in the chat feature and you’re out. When a seemingly short chat turns lengthy, hit the phone button, and call your colleague. Share your screen and resolve the issue.
  • Transparency rules. Give your team access to company files. If your team doesn’t manage files through a cloud service, then a remote desktop with access to the server is necessary.
  • I suspect many businesses may be struggling with the new blurred lines of who is responsible for providing a cell phone, computer hardware, office furniture, and internet service – the employer or employee. Our business model calls for team members to provide internet and furniture while we provide other tools. I imagine that this overnight switch to home-based working is a bit of a scramble to provide staff the tools they need to be successful. Some team members may be ok with sharing their personal phone number, but others are not (several of our staff commit to carrying two phones). Did the staff take monitors home? Are they now using personal cell phones? I would love to hear from you on your strategies to manage this dynamic.
  • Shared calendars are critical. Knowing each staff person’s availability allows anyone to schedule meetings with multiple team members without having to ask, “does this time work for you?” By requiring staff to plot their week out in their calendar, it also provides management insight into who has availability.
  • Simultaneous editing of documents is of heightened value when staff are in different locations and can’t look over someone’s shoulder to see if they are working in a file that you intended to access. The pop-up notifications alleviate confusion as to why the document might be changing before your eyes.

There are many tools from which to choose that will empower teams to operate efficiently, but the platform needs to be easy to use and staff is given proper training to ensure they are used consistently across all of your team members. Invest time to ensure everyone consistently engages the features and develop best practices to empower everyone to use the tools in the manner for which they were intended.

If you and your team are looking for guidance on the cultural and technological shift, our team has the advice and insight to offer. Don’t hesitate to reach out.  We are happy to exchange our guidance for a donation to the Food Bank of the Rockies.