As businesses work to virtualize their teams and determine how to effectively support first-time remote workers, we’ve discussed the core principles your organization should be focusing on, and methods and tactics to help your team be as productive as possible.
We recently spoke with Vix Reitano—a long-time virtual leader and marketing expert—to discuss how businesses should be shifting their internal processes and standard operating procedures (SOPs) in support of these new virtual workforces. Her insights are below.
This post is part of an ongoing series designed to help businesses successfully navigate the transition from in-office to remote that many are currently facing in response to COVID-19.
Q. How are internal processes, training, etc. impacted when team members make the transition from in-office to remote?
It's 2020 and we live in a globally connected and digital world, but there’s still huge value to in-person human connection. Right now, managers, teams and C-suite members all need to learn how to foster that in a distributed and remote world. It is 100% possible, and it requires clear communication, strong boundaries and a deep understanding of the emotional intelligence needs of your team.
The first thing to do is to have all managers analyze their team members’ LinkedIn profiles via Crystal Knows. From there, managers can get a bit more insight on how their team members will process stress—which allows for a more direct dialogue about their needs during this crucial time.
All processes in the traditional corporate environment (even those with remote flexibility) depend on the ability to connect in person with your team for check-ins. Simulate this via Zoom, but also make sure that your own concerns do not trickle down to your team. For example, if you allow your anxieties about the current situation to lead to texting more frequently than you ever would when your team is in-office, don't. There's no real hack here beyond having a deep understanding of your team, how and when they like to work and having compassion for what is happening in the world right now.
On a practical level, you should be implementing SOPs that include things like boundaries for "on" and "off" hours, or shifts that give team members the flexibility needed to navigate family issues (kids at home, sick parents, etc.). You may need to consider non-traditional options for checking in or updating your teams, managers and all levels of the organization.
Q. What can businesses do to minimize pains and headaches throughout this process?
Communicate and set clear expectations. As a freelancer and as an agency owner, I call this a scope of work. Scope creep is a HUGE issue in the software/web development industry, but in fact it’s industry-agnostic. It happens in influencer marketing, in content creation and even in my personal consulting practice. Setting a weekly to-do list (by team or by group) is key to ensuring that work gets done without overwhelming every individual team member. There are tons of tools that can help manage this; I like Airtable and Zapier, which help set up alerts and quickly mobilize a Kanban schedule. Staying connected and on track while remaining flexible enough for massive changes is key here.
Q. What role does documentation play? Should I be publishing new or revised SOPs now that my team is going virtual for the first time?
Yes, 100%. You need to figure out new ways to maintain business continuity while still managing the significant market shifts and changes of YOUR ideal clients. Again, this goes back to an agreement with your entire team about how to log on to your network, how to protect themselves while working on their personal/private networks, how to handle sensitive information (because many may have never had to do this on personal/unsecured devices) and how to ensure that they are still following best practices for engagement and interaction.
Another thing to consider is a Response Grid. We use these in social media marketing to respond to community commentary on social media (like Facebook comments and Instagram comments/tags) but this can be leveraged internally to Red, Yellow and Green priorities for the team as things shift. Red priorities need to be handled daily, Yellow can be handled weekly and Green can be handled in two-three week sprints.
It takes 21 days for a human to form a habit, and 90 to change a lifestyle; many of us will be in this situation for a long-enough time that we need to create clear systems that make sense for all who are involved now and will be in the future.
Q. How do you maintain the right balance between oversight and management vs. autonomy and giving employees ownership over their work?
I have worked as a freelancer/remote worker since 2008 when I was a Junior at Quinnipiac University. I (along with much of my generation) am built for this. We are always on, connected and ready to find creative solutions. If managers abuse this, you will burn out your talent—and in this current situation that will serve no one. I have been on the brink of burnout and have dozens of colleagues who have burned out of different sectors of marketing, communications and crisis comms over the years.
So how do you handle this balance? Managers must adapt to this new normal BEFORE their teams do. Managers need to understand that having a checklist or weekly check-in is equal (or better than) a daily check-in or running past someone's desk and interrupting their work. This might be a new or unwelcome change for some, and that’s okay; it’s part of the broader need for us to truly consider our teams as PEOPLE and not just levels in a corporate org chart.
Maintaining the right balance means assuming that something will, at a time of crisis, fall through the cracks; and instead of overreacting to that, plan and prepare by setting up fail-safes and backup plans to correct mid-stream vs. after something actually happens.
Q. What's your best tip for organizations that are scrambling to support distributed teams right now?
Download Slack. Setup Zoom. Understand that distributed teams are confused, concerned and overwhelmed. If your org can support it, give everyone alternate days off for the next week to allow them to get into some sort of structure. Figure out who your team members are as humans and THEN reconsider your org chart.
Setup scopes of work vs. job roles and managerial duties, treat your team like the adults they are, and assume that they will get the work done within the parameters given—and have solutions for when things need to shift as we all navigate this new world together.
About Vix Reitano
Vix Reitano is a Founder, CEO, Marketing Expert, Social Media Disrupter and International Speaker. She is also a published author. She built a six-figure side hustle in six weeks (6boro (Social+Studios)) and coaches others to do the same. She believes in ethical content creation, spoiling her french bulldog Fiona and has a deep love for all things community. Connect with her on Instagram, @vixreitano.