23 March 2020 10:33

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Are you worried about managing your business' remote teams during the current coronavirus pandemic? John Williams, Head of Marketing at Instant Offices, shares his advice on how to overcome the challenges of managing a remote team, and highlights the main pros and cons of remote working in the long-term… Even before the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, 2020 stats showed that the number of people working from home has grown by 140% since 2005, and telecommuting has increased by 115% in the past 10 years. Globally, 8% of employees work remotely on a full-time basis, while 52% work from home at least once a week. A study conducted by Vodafone (involving 8,000 global employees and employers) also found that three-quarters of companies worldwide had already switched to flexible working options. Additionally, numerous studies suggest that workers would choose flexible working over a pay rise, indicating that more people are interested in a better work-life balance and a schedule that fits their agenda.

The trend for remote working looks set to continue – and now more than ever. As coronavirus continues to spread around the world, more business owners are swapping rigid 9-5 schedules and traditional office environments in favour of remote WFH (work from home) set-ups. At a daunting time for businesses and families, remote working is going to be essential to keep industries going, but also to ensure staff safety. As increased flexibility benefits both businesses and employees, and there's plenty of data to back up the benefits of working remotely, work will likely continue even with the challenges ahead. With planning, open lines of communication, and the right tech, there's no reason why companies can't run successful remote teams for short periods, or even integrate more into their future approach on a permanent basis.

Potential solutions to help small businesses manage their remote teams in the coming months include streamlining your work processes around team communication. For many workers, faster and more reliable Wi-Fi and broadband, access to cloud systems and team collaboration tools mean 'the office' can be just about anywhere. Investing in the right communication tools at this time is imperative so that your team can be more professional, productive and efficient, both now and in the long run. It is also so important to grow and maintain your company culture, so here are some things business owners can do in the meantime with their remote team: Because all communication and collaboration will be done using online tools, it is essential to choose apps and software that match the culture you are trying to create. You also want to make it as easy as possible for your remote team to stay up-to-date and keep in touch, be it via video conferencing tools, chat apps, or the comments section of your project management tool.

Public recognition for a job well done is one of the most effective and most natural ways to motivate a remote team. Team building does wonders to foster communication, especially among remote workers who do not see each other during the working day. These activities should be kept remote in the meantime, but video-based tools can be a great way to virtually bring the team 'together'. Upwork previously predicted that 73% of all departments will have remote workers by 2028, which highlights the many benefits that comes with the flexible set-up. Right now, health and wellbeing has never been more vital – as coronavirus continues to escalate, the Government are now actively advising that people work from home, where possible. Many people are becoming increasingly worried and anxious about being in close proximity with others, particularly during the working day, and remote working offers your employees the chance to self-isolate and somewhat control the environment that they are in, so this should be given as an option for all employees where possible. By proving you are putting the needs of your workforce first, as well as encouraging a healthy work-life balance, remote working can increase tenure and help to retain employees. For example, keeping track of activities, goals and productivity can become more difficult when the workforce is spread out and working in remote settings. It is therefore key to ensure team members are aware of the company's long-term and short-term goals, which will help to further motivate them to continue working as they previously had. We are not going to know for a long time when the baseball season is going to start--if ever. Amid some predictions the country could still be in the grips of the coronavirus into midsummer, we cannot rule out the possibility there may be no baseball season at all this year. Teams like the Yankees, who paid $324 million to one pitcher alone to assure themselves a World Series, and the Dodgers, who added free agent-to-be Mookie Betts to a team that won 106 games last year, were heavily invested in the 2020 season. Presumably, a year from now, after the nation has endured the horror of this coronavirus, the Astros cheating scandal will be last thing on fans' minds. A veteran baseball man who saw a lot of the Giants this spring and labeled them by far the worst team in the Cactus League, had this observation: "How do you trade Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy, who won three world championships and are both going to the Hall of Fame, for Farhan Zaidi and Gabe Kapler? Have to think nobody in baseball is more relieved to see the season delayed than Sox owner John Henry, who was dreading having to hear the Boston media and Fenway fans wailing and moaning every day the Red Sox lost and Betts did something to win a game for the Dodgers. Henry refused to admit the Red Sox are downsizing, but believe it, they were looking at a losing season even before Sale went down with Tommy John surgery. It was entirely possible the worst-run team in baseball could have actually surpassed the 108 losses they endured last season. There is perhaps no more endangered GM in baseball than A.J. Preller, who heard it from Padres chairman Ron Fowler after last year's 70-92 last-place finish that another losing season in San Diego would not be acceptable. What was shaping up as the summer of discontent for Rockies superstar third baseman Nolan Arenado now at least gives the team more time to trade him. As all the normal rules for business and social interactions are shredded daily by the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, working remotely has become a lifeline for UK businesses. Many organisations that have previously ignored remote working are making an overnight u-turn, or those that only allowed hybrid working when team workloads overflowed, now need a framework, some rules and fast ideas for keeping morale up. But with enforced working from home likely to last for weeks and months, how will teams sustain their productivity? As an all-remote company with teams in 65 countries, we researched the working habits of 3,000 remote workers - before the coronavirus lockdowns - to help refine our own policies. We talked to some seasoned remote workers: one third of our survey has worked this way for 3-4 years; a quarter of them has 5-9 years' remote work experience and one in ten has been doing it for between 10 and 15 years. The good news is that these employees are content and productive: more than four in five say they get through their workload and almost nine out of ten are satisfied with the tools and processes they use and think management gives them autonomy. Having a flexible lifestyle is clearly the most popular benefit from remote working - named by more than half of our survey - while almost four in ten say the main advantage is not having to commute. Managers are supporting their remote teams - in and out of work. More than four out of five in our interviewees say their company supports in-person gatherings through events and meet-ups; two-thirds are connected to remote work communities. But remote working takes discipline. Taking this data and seven years of life as a remote company together, we can offer some rules for building remote, productive and mindful teams. Writing things down is crucial to employees breaking away from their co-located habits and enabling remote teams to succeed. Start with Google Docs, a chat tool like Microsoft Teams or Slack and Zoom for video calls. Second, organisations forced to go remote need to take a formal approach to designing informal communication. Companies need to create an atmosphere where employees feel at ease reaching out to colleagues through a video call or a chat function to talk about non-work topics - it's the key to establishing real workplace friendships and building trust with newly remote co-workers. Managers can also use tactics such as an always-on video conference room per team, where team members can come and go as they want - this helps people get used to remote which can seem unnatural at first. Third, all-remote companies need to make the time in their diary regularly to get to properly know one another as people, not just colleagues. Post-coronavirus business communication can be practical, even enjoyable, as long as you give your employees the support and confidence to practice. Zoom calls and emojis that older colleagues and office cynics previously discounted as Generation Z being frivolous could become a staple of home working - as our own survey found. With the right focus and commitment from all sides, remote working will deliver practical working environments and potentially more engaged employees.