When the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a global pandemic and Canadians were encouraged to stay home, Evans Hunt, a Calgary-based digital marketing agency with clients across the country and around the world, was ready to transition to a remote workforce without any significant hiccups.
Allard Losier, director of operations at Evans Hunt and one of the agency’s first hires, says it’s always best to establish remote-work tools, policies and training in advance.
But no one anticipated how quickly things would change for the workforce. Thousands and thousands of Canadians have switched to remote work in the last few weeks.
If you’re a small business owner, you may have been working remotely for the past few weeks. Or you may have some employees at home, while others are on the frontlines. No matter what remote work looks like for you and your team, there are relatively simple things you can do to ensure working remotely is a success.
FBC spoke to Losier to find out the best tips and practices for supporting and managing remote employees.
Losier says there’s always going to be challenges when you’re working remotely for the first time. Maybe you and your employees are using new technology. You’re probably heard about the employee who ran to the bathroom with her video on. Or the manager who accidentally turned herself into a potato on Microsoft Teams.
You could be feeling disconnected from each other since you’re no longer meeting face-to-face or bumping into each other in the hallways.
You’re also working in different environments. Your employees might not have a dedicated office space. Or their kids are at home because of school and daycare closures.
You’re going to have to accept there will be challenges and that your employees may not be as productive.
“Be understanding,” Losier says. “Even with the perfect set-up it's going to take awhile - but people simply won't be as productive. As a business you need to embrace that a little bit and help mitigate that as best you can through rolling out the tools your employees need, while also making sure you engage your team every week.”
Keep up communication with a variety of tools
Provide your employees with a few different tools to communicate with you and their coworkers.
Videoconferencing is a great tool that will help your employees feel connected. Email can’t replace face-to-face meetings, especially when it comes to body language and visual cues that are critical to sensitive conversations.
Evans Hunt uses the Google ecosystem, so Google Hangouts is their videoconferencing tool for employees. They’ll hop on Zoom for clients who use the platform. The company has been using Slack for many years as their go-to instant messaging system. After they shifted to a remote workforce, they made use of the video call feature in Slack for quick one-on-one calls.
At FBC, we primarily use Microsoft Teams for videoconferencing and collaboration among employees, and Skype For Business for chat and calls.
Many platforms have extended their free plans during the COVID-19 crisis, so it’s a good time to sign up and give the technology a try if you’re not happy with your existing option.
Provide onboarding for new tools
Losier says it’s important your employees know what tools are available to them, and more importantly, how to use them.
You should establish an onboarding process for any new technology you introduce. Videoconferencing is no help to your employees if they don’t know how to unmute or invite another person to join the call mid-meeting.
You could set up a virtual training session for your employees, send them links to tutorials, and compile a document with frequently asked questions and screenshots showing the steps on using the technology.
Build a sense of community
To promote socialization and a sense of community among your employees, Losier suggests a short daily or weekly call. You don’t have to talk about work either. It could be a virtual coffee or lunch break. Voice calls, instant messaging and video chats will all help build rapport with remote employees.
“I miss the day to day,” Losier says. “I miss the casual interactions, the kitchen conversations, all of those things that exist in a group of people. You can't do much about that, but you can set up a daily call.”
Social interaction will go a long way to make your employees feel connected to their team.
Give your employees a chance to voice concerns or stresses
The world is changing at a rapid pace as public health bodies attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19. Your employees are likely anxious, stressed and facing an increased or decreased workload, depending on your type of business. They may also be facing several demands you’re not aware of - their work is less visible to you now that they’re at home.
It’s important to acknowledge these mitigating circumstances and listen to your employees.
“If somebody is feeling stressed out or is challenged maybe all they need is an opportunity to vent, at minimum,” Losier says. “And at most, maybe a solution will come up or somebody will say, ‘Hey, I'll help you out with that.’”
Losier says your employees might not be set up to work from home: “Being at home is fine, but working from home is another level. What if you don't have a room to go to? And you're sitting there and you’ve got your toddlers running around. I can't do much about that. But getting the tools in place, getting people to use them helps.”
Maybe your employees would benefit from a flex time policy while they’re juggling childcare. You could set specific times they need to be available, like when meeting with clients, but otherwise they could choose their daily start or end times.
Teach and follow videoconferencing etiquette
Losier says it’s easy to be distracted on video calls if employees aren’t following proper videoconferencing etiquette. He recommends treating it like any other meeting - set up your laptop up so you can speak face-to-face, make sure the technology is working before the call, and mute yourself if there’s background noise.
Here are some additional best practices we follow at FBC:
- Like any meeting, you should be on time, so give yourself a few extra minutes if you’re concerned about your WIFI connection or your audio working properly.
- Just because you’re at home, it doesn’t mean you should wear your pajamas. Dress how you usually would at the office to maintain professionalism.
- Take care to position the camera in a way that feels natural for a face-to-face conversation.
- Have good lighting in the background, or sit in an area with natural light, to improve video quality.
- Pay attention while videoconferencing. You probably wouldn’t check your email in a face-to-face meeting, and you shouldn’t on a video call either. Especially if you’re asked to speak up - you don’t want to come across as distracted or aloof.
Develop a permanent strategy for remote work
You might see a major shift in the marketplace for your business. Many businesses are working remotely. Canadians are increasing their online orders since storefronts are closed.
It’s a good time to establish a remote work strategy, which will allow you to adapt seamlessly in there’s another disruption to your work situation. It can be tough to remember that this crisis is only temporary. But building resiliency and flexibility into your business plan will put you in better shape for the future once the pandemic is over.
If you’d like to learn more about how FBC can support your business, call us at 1-800-265-1002 or email [email protected] Unlimited consultation related to tax matters is a key benefit of FBC Membership. You can also book an appointment online.