Fostering a Highly Collaborative Remote Work Culture

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COVID-19 is causing more companies to shift to remote work. Here is some guidance to help keep your community and collaboration intact.

While flexible workstyles and remote work have become more commonplace in our hyperconnected society, we’re all currently facing a situation in which working from home has become more of a necessity than an approach companies choose to adopt. This is one of the many challenges and unique considerations our global communities are facing in the wake of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

To minimize the spread of COVID-19, the CDC has advised companies to encourage sick employees to stay home and to consider establishing more flexible work policies/practices in support of “social distancing” that could limit employees’ risk of exposure to the virus. This guidance is being put into practice by the likes of Apple, Amazon, Google, Twitter, and many more as they restrict work-related travel and recommend (sometimes even require) employees work remotely.

As a fully-distributed organization since 2016, DockYard has tested and applied many practices to ensure employees not only thrive while working from home, but continue to feel connected to their colleagues. We wanted to share some of those best practices that may help you support newly distributed teams, while also maintaining a sense of community:

Arm employees with the tools they need: If you want your employees to succeed at remote work, you need to give them the tools to do so. Email is a business standard but often not enough to help employees stay connected. Workplace collaboration technology like Slack chat, Google Hangouts video, and Asana work management tools can provide teams with multiple outlets to stay connected, document work, and engage in real-time. These types of tools are effective in both in-person and remote work environments and can help provide your employees with multiple avenues (email, chat, call, video, project boards) to have the right conversations, with the right teammates — in turn, empowering them to remain productive and communicative.

In response to COVID-19, there are a number of companies offering extended free trials of remote working tools to help organizations that are moving to a remote model, but may not currently have these tools in place.

Have a meeting? Turn on video: We at DockYard rely on video conferencing to get work done on a day-to-day basis and to help minimize miscommunication. As mentioned above, video conferencing serves an important purpose in helping distributed teams to form meaningful work relationships. Unlike a traditional phone call — which we tend to steer away from at DockYard — video calls create more face-to-face time between leaders and their teams. By using video, you can foster greater personal relationships and convey more nuanced sentiments that could be misconstrued if delivered in writing (although emojis can help 🙂).

Communicate (and then over-communicate): We’ve found that the “no news is good news” mantra simply does not work in a fully-remote environment. When information is missing, people will sometimes create their own stories, which aren’t always positive. It is imperative that we over-communicate with each other and clarify meaning — either by paraphrasing or sending an email recap. Consider starting your remote workday by sending a quick bulleted list of top priorities to your teammates. Not only can this provide insight into what you are working on, it serves a dual purpose of helping you stay organized while setting expectations.

Encourage both structured and unstructured meetings: To ensure everyone is connecting regularly, we ask DockYard managers to setup one-to-ones with their team members to cover project progress and professional development. We also host a weekly company standup over video (which we record for anyone who can’t attend). In addition to more formalized meetings, we host unstructured “coffee house” meetings for employees to come together and discuss a range of topics from current events to creating “top ten” lists ranking everything from our favorite sandwiches to fictional bears. Yes, fictional bears. Create space for your employees to continue to engage in office banter and “watercooler” chats.

Lead by example and offer your employees guidance on best practices: Particularly for organizations new to remote work, it’s important for leadership to lead by example: engage in casual conversations over Slack, set a status to let your teams know what you’re working on, don’t send/respond to messages outside of your normal business day. Consider developing a guide for employees that outlines how your company approaches remote work, such as when to schedule a video call vs. send a chat, how to keep your team updated on progress when you’re headsdown, and reminders to sign-off when the workday is done to keep personal and work life balanced and separate.

The Remote Work Association is also an excellent resource to consult for support, expert guidance, and virtual events detailing how to make the transition to virtual work. They are also accepting applications for “virtual emergency supply kits” with supplies and guidance to be sent to qualifying organizations that may not be prepared to effectively make the switch to working from home in response to COVID-19.

We recognize many companies are facing difficult decisions as they consider how remote work can help keep their people safe and healthy and hope our learnings can serve as a resource during this challenging time. If your organization is planning to adopt remote work, consider these *additional resources from our team to keep your workplace community connected:

Above all else, remember that — while many of us may be physically apart — we’re all in this together.

*Note: As these additional resources were released prior to COVID-19, they may include mention of face-to-face or in-person meetings, which are not encouraged at this time.