New to leading a remote workforce? Here are three essential concepts to transitioning your business and employees into telework.

Remote work is nothing new; for the past decade, workers have been clocking in and putting in their time via their computers as technology enabled organizations to conduct business online. According to research, as of 2020, 4.7 million U.S. workers reported to their jobs remotely.

But recent circumstances have pushed the whole world into the biggest trial run of telecommuting as the Covid-19 pandemic forces the temporary closure of offices, schools, and retail.

As an organization that has practiced virtual software development for nearly two decades, Softjourn would like to offer some insight in the most important aspects of leading a remote workforce. We develop global technology solutions in the Ticketing, Fintech, Cards & Payments, and Media & Entertainment domains, and do so for companies all over the globe.

Working with clients and employees through virtual channels is not only more productive, it can offer a better work-life balance for all involved. But making the switch from an office to remote work requires some thought and some groundwork to ensure that all goes smoothly.

There are three main areas to focus on when it comes to transitioning to online work: clarity, communication, and community.

Clarity

Making sure everyone understands obligations, requirements, and goals is just as challenging in an online environment as it can be in an office environment. Aside from different levels of knowledge, training, and understanding, leadership is presented with the complications of different locations, access, and connectivity.

By making boundaries and guidelines clear, employees can work autonomously on their responsibilities without needing additional direction. However, this isn’t to say that you should encourage employees and teams to work in silos; communication is still important, and we’ll get to that.

But make clear which tools are being used, and for what. Are you using Slack, Google Hangouts, Skype, or another messaging system for communication? Are there specific web pages or portals where employees can find answers to questions? What about project management systems, to encourage collaboration, and get important information out of workers’ inboxes?

Aside from that, how does your company use these systems? Establish workflows, review processes, and other important procedures so employees understand the checks and balances involved in meeting milestones and goals. Softjourn uses Asana and Redmine as our main systems for task tracking; we also abide by our clients’ wishes and can pivot to software they prefer, like Jira.

The most important part? Document all of this. Write all guidelines down and place them where employees can easily access it when they have a question. A company intranet is immensely useful for storing standard operating procedures, project outlines, and other accountability measures so all are clear on what’s expected, and work can proceed as normally as it would have in an office setting.

Communication

Even in the best of times, communication is a puzzle. Office environments have battles over meeting rooms, difficulties in schedule alignments, and the struggle of deconstructing a coworker’s body language to understand if they really get what you’re trying to explain. Now put all of that behind a screen, separate coworkers by hundreds if not thousands of miles, and we’re playing a whole new game.

With a digital environment, some of this is easily dealt with: Softjourn uses shared Google calendars to better ensure a proposed meeting time is good for all, and encourages on-camera discussions for more familiarity.

Especially now, with businesses cutting costs due to the uncertainty of the pandemic, employee’s minds are less on their work and more on whether they’ll have a job. It’s important to communicate what the business is doing in these difficult times, how it affects employees and their roles, and that the situation will be all right.

Share company updates: whether it’s business as usual or pivots related to the current crisis, this information should be outlined, documented, and kept available in a central location that’s accessible.

Situational updates are similarly important, especially as our current circumstances are changing so rapidly. Softjourn uses email and Workplace by Facebook to disperse important information across the company, especially now that we are 98% telework.

It’s also important to choose tools for different types of communication: will you use one communication platform for meetings as opposed to one-on-one check ins?

If possible, also provide channels for informal communication (think coffee breaks or water-cooler chats). This can help also encourage and build community.

Community

Creating community requires four elements: identity, trust, participation, and reward. This is much easier to accomplish when employees are under one roof; people generally feel included simply by being in the same room as others.

Just 21 percent of respondents to a 2019 Buffer poll about remote working said that loneliness and isolation were their biggest struggles. And these issues can have a direct impact on efficiency and engagement—but leaders can prevent this by not only being clear and communicative, but also by ensuring that employees feel valued as people and not just as workers.

Loneliness is an emotional issue that can stem from being shy, introverted, or lacking self-confidence. Isolation is structural, and is often the result of an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. Getting insight into both types of issues can reveal nuanced problems that might not yet have been realized or fully appreciated.

Aside from regular meetings to ensure that all feel connected, understood, and listened to, leaders can also provide forums where information is shared, groups are created, and a collective, online identity for the business is formed. Softjourn has guilds that meet every other week to discuss topics within their domains, and anyone can participate or present; and a very active HR department that’s always thinking of fun ways to promote inclusion.

Kudos, congratulations, and announcements can be posted in these forums; whether it’s wishing coworkers happy birthday, giving a special thanks for a particular assist on a project, or talking about what others are up to in their off time, by providing areas for employees to talk about their work, and more than their work, trust and participation are encouraged.

Conclusion

Technology has changed how we work before—with the invention of the telegraph and the railroad, we got retail, advertising, and mass distribution.

The last 120 years have been spent trying to figure out how to encourage productivity in an office setting. And now, because of the novel coronavirus, we are embarking on a new avenue of how work and people fit together.

Remote-first workplaces are the future of software development teams, and it’s only a matter of time before more organizations adopt this philosophy. Productivity, people’s lives, and so much more can be positively impacted by teleworking—now we’re going to see that firsthand.

The above are some of the core things to consider when making the transition from office to online; no two businesses are the same, so tailor them to what works for you. And once that structure is in place, don’t be afraid to make changes. Listen to your employees and get a feel for what’s working and what needs improvement. Change is a part of life, and should be embraced.