Going Remote Overnight

An emergency kit for newly distributed teams

Those that know me, know I’m somewhat of a remote work advocate. For years, I’ve been praising the steady evolution away from the centralized office. We hire smart adults and we let them organize their work the way they see fit. They know best. Our office is optional.

In the last three years, distributed teams have started to become the norm, at least in certain industries. On Everett Rogers’ famous Innovation Adoption Curve, we’re clearly seeing a steady growth of the Early Majority. That is, until a few weeks ago.

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing otherwise reluctant companies to move to a distributed workforce. They’re going from 0 to 100 in a matter of days. I was a fan of the steady evolution. I do not like the brutal revolution we are facing today. This is not healthy. Yet here we are.

Usually, I advise companies individually, case-by-case. Everyone is different, everything depends. Today, I’d like to take a different approach.

Let’s say you’re a leader that has not invested time in a distributed workforce. Every one of your employees is at home all of a sudden. You’ll need a crash course to get this started. You don’t have much time, so I’ve prepared a very opinionated practical guide to get to at least 75% in a day.

Hope this helps.

Get Slack

No tool is a silver bullet. You could and should spend weeks investigating the best tool for your company. You don’t have the time.

Slack gives you monthly subscriptions and buys you the time to investigate the perfect match. Use it for the first months, cancel it when you’ve found something better.

Slack is like a virtual office. It’s chat, video conversations, screen sharing and file sharing in one. It allows your team to work with one new tool instead of getting used to a plethora of new apps.

Be the conductor

As a leader, you must make sure everyone knows what they need to work on. Communication starts with you and it’s your job to make sure everyone is included. Micromanage a bit more until your team members indicate that they’ve got it. This phase should last no more than 2 weeks.

Fewer, smaller meetings

Don’t take your meeting culture online. It’s the number one reason people think remote doesn’t work. There is almost never a good reason for a 6 person Zoom call.

Find alternatives. That team update could be a video. Discussing that new idea could be a blog post.

If you have to video-meet, keep the group small and stick to one topic at a time. Keep all-hands real-time meetings to an absolute minimum.

Start a weekly newsletter

At the end of each week, send your team an e-mail. This is what we’ve accomplished. We’re struggling but we’ll get there. Jane is out next week but there is follow-up for her projects. This is what we’ll do next week.

Most of your team members will sit at their kitchen table and will feel a bit detached from the overall picture. Make sure they are kept up to date and included in a non-intrusive way.

A newsletter is an ideal tool. It allows you to reach out to the group but gives team members the chance to reply in private. This is an essential feedback capturing device. Use it.

Personal follow-up

Schedule a 15-minute weekly telephone call with each of your team members. Not to ask for status, not to brief them on their next project. Just to hear how they are holding on. Servant leadership really is the key to surviving this.

By no means is this a perfect list. In normal circumstances, we would spend months moving towards a distributed team with a communication style that works for your company. We don’t have that time.

Set up an emergency system and buy yourself time to come up with the real plan.

You’ve got this.