WORKING VIRTUALLY: BEST PRACTICES AND TIPS TO HELP COMPANIES SUCCESSFULLY OPERATE IN A VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT

As organizations worldwide look to navigating this unprecedented time, developing strategies to protect their businesses and the people in them, there is one major reality that we must face – not only can we not wait until the cavalry arrives… THERE IS NO CAVALRY!

We cannot wait for someone, or some organization, to swoop in and bail us out. There is no magic solution. We have to rely on our connections and networks for experience, advice and ideas in order to support each other through this difficult time. That is why we created this communication – to share with the business community some best practices and tips for working virtually.

As an employer, there are some significant benefits to having your employees work from home. In this day and age, people are being pulled in many more directions and time has become an absolute commodity. Offering employees the option to work remotely provides them with the flexibility they need to more efficiently juggle the increasing demands on their time. Remote work also eliminates the hours and expense employees spend commuting to work. There are also a number of distractions that naturally exist in an office environment which are eliminated in a home office, so employees are more focused.

Offering remote work options means that your talent pool is no longer limited to a geographical area. This opens up significant opportunities to find the best people possible. In addition, if employees need to relocate because of personal reasons (spouse job move, aging parents etc.), it doesn’t necessarily mean you lose the talent (and have to invest the thousands of dollars necessary to hire and train someone new).

Many companies are mandating that their staff work from home for at least the next few weeks. As a 100% virtual company, with staff right across Canada, we have a lot of experience in this area. Here are some of our best practices and tips on having your staff work remotely:

Communications:

  1. Increase the frequency. As described in the book “Installing Change” by Robert H. Kent, the three most important principles in change are 1. Communication, 2. Communication, and 3. Communication. When you are not seeing your staff in the office every day, you need to increase your touch points with them. We conduct weekly team meetings, company meetings etc. on a regular meeting rhythm (the same as most companies), we just do it all virtually. Continue to maintain your regular meeting cadence but look for opportunities to increase your touch points with employees.
  2. Use online platforms. We use Slack as an intercompany communication tool. It allows us to communicate and interact in both fun and informative ways. We have several channels in Slack that we use for information and experience sharing, and then one that replaces the normal “office talk” you get from an in-person office. Our “fun” channel in Slack is called Happy Hour – in it we celebrate birthdays, anniversary milestones, photos of family and pets etc. It’s a great tool to maintain connection even when your staff aren’t working in the same office. Slack isn’t the only great program available, Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp, Samepage, etc. can fulfill the same purpose.
  3. More follow up is required. Seeing as the normal day to day conversations will no longer occur, (i.e. in the hallways, walking by offices, on breaks, by the water cooler, etc.), you need to schedule follow up communications on projects and tasks regularly.
  4. Use virtual video tools to get as much face-to-face time as possible. We are not endorsing any one program, so some examples are: Zoom, GoToMeeting, Google Hangout, Skype, Facebook Live, Microsoft Teams, etc.
  5. It is particularly important to be deliberate in texts/emails about punctuation and verbiage to convey tone and emotional context! Leave as little room as possible for misinterpretation and encourage everyone to remember our “humanness” despite the technology delivering our message.
  6. Measurables are critical. It is easy to maintain trust and efficiency in a virtual working environment if you have metrics set for each employee. When you aren’t available for personal supervision, it is natural to feel some apprehension around employee performance. How do you know they are working? How do you know tasks and projects are still being completed on time? Performance metrics keep everyone accountable to company goals and objectives and should reassure you that your staff are still performing.

Setting Up a Virtual Office:

  1. Remote access. Make sure that your company has worked with your IT provider to make remote access to work computers and files available.
  2. Try to make your work area as separate as possible from rest of house. This helps to reduce distractions and allows you to be in work mode during your normal working hours.
  3. Maintain your normal schedule. Get up at the same time as usual and dress for work. Although it might be very attractive to stay in your PJs all day, if you do so, your mind stays in rest, not work, mode! This will focus your mindset for work, help you mentally prepare for a regular workday, give you more energy, and of course makes you look presentable for virtual calls.
  4. Document sharing. If you’re not already on cloud-based file storage, it’s a good time to get up to date with this technology. The last thing any company wants is files stored on local computers, with no access or proper back up protocols. There are secure cloud-based programs for file sharing such as Dropbox, Sync, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Hightail, Tresorit, Box, Citrix ShareFile, etc.
  5. Schedule everything – block off times in your calendar for every function, action, priority and task. You won’t have the usual triggers from co-workers and management, so it’s up to you to step up and self-manage.
  6. Take frequent stretch breaks – your home office is less likely to be as ergonomic as your set up at the company office. This also helps to reduce the feeling of cabin fever.
  7. Keep your work area and electronics clean. Use disinfectants on your computer, screen, keyboard, mouse, desktop and especially your cell phone.
  8. Did we mention to wash your hands regularly?

Tips for Virtual Meetings:

  1. Use virtual video tools as much as possible. Engagement is much easier to maintain if you have visual as well as audio signals.
  2. Schedule meetings in advance and provide a summary agenda PRIOR to the meeting so that participants can properly prepare.
  3. Have everyone turn off their other technologies so that they can be present and attentive.
  4. Talk slower and enunciate more – there is usually a delay on virtual platforms, and they are not as clear as in person.
  5. Take more pauses – give people time to absorb the message and think about questions and input.
  6. Be over-expressive on video (small movements are unperceivable on screen).
  7. Keep everyone engaged by asking questions and prodding for input.
  8. Always have a WHO, WHAT, WHEN (Who is doing What by When) list for action items coming out of the meeting.
  9. Remember to keep all goals SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound).
  10. Always have a note-taker and send out the meeting minutes afterwards.

Nick Thompson is the Co-Founder and President of VEA – a virtual Executive Assistant and Bookkeeping company. VEA specializes in 100% Canadian staff, providing North American business owners and executives with a better way to scale. Our team understands the complex and diverse job descriptions

faced by many of today’s CEOs, presidents and entrepreneurs. All of our virtual assistants and bookkeepers have multiple years (5+ and most have 10+) of experience in an EA/Bookkeeping role.

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