A remote worker — what’s he like? Last year people would describe him as a young, laid-back traveling nomad who doesn’t have a family (read ‘kids’), doesn’t share your corporate culture, has no interest in your success, and who mainly imitates working while watching a movie or reading social media. Of course, it wasn’t true, but who would dare re-check and dispose of that? 

With over three decades in the IT outsourcing business, we know firsthand that remote teams were previously considered risky or inefficient. It was much easier for business owners and managers to hire specialists locally and watch them coming to the office and spending eight hours at the computer.

It would be the best-case scenario, and so much simpler, if we omitted such factors as a global shortage of IT talent, lack of domain specialists, limited hiring budgets, and others. So, what has changed? 

The COVID-19 outbreak made thousands of executives and managers reevaluate their attitude toward permanent telecommuting and the engagement of at-home workers. On average, it took from a few days to several weeks to shift to WFH.

And about a month or two to realize that it works! Twitter, Square, Upwork, Shopify, Coinbase, Lambda School — all these companies have shifted to remote working on a permanent or long-term basis. Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Slack, Google, PayPal, Zillow, Salesforce, JPMorgan, Capital One, Mondelez, Barclays, Nationwide, Morgan Stanley, and others opt for hybrid models reducing the number of global offices and in-house employees.

The coronavirus crisis has revealed that we can operate in different ways and demonstrated that working remotely can be effective on an international scale. Consequently, in the coming years, the number of companies that are open to not only telecommuting but also offshore/nearshore partnership is projected to grow. Is your enterprise among them?

TEAM’s Remote Work Playbook: How to Establish and Sustain a Healthy Enterprise-Wide Telework Environment

For decades TEAM International has been among the pioneers of IT outsourcing, fostering what it means to build a dedicated software development team or full-scale research, development, and innovation center.

Our experience and best practices about productivity, technology, culture, and cooperation when your entire team is distributed globally can serve as a roadmap for enterprises struggling with new reality or planning for the future. Preparing for future pandemics, emergencies, or other disruptions, companies can seamlessly transit to fully-remote or hybrid models and thus avoid risks of not running operations for weeks, months, or years.

So what do you need to transform into one of the best telecommuting companies? Are there any tricks and tips for working remotely with no loss in productivity? How to hire and retain the top talent? All these and other answers you will find in our remote work playbook.

#1 People: Hiring-Retaining Tips and Other Best Practices for Working Remotely

People are the main asset of any business, no matter if remote or not. Recruiting only local talent actually means that you cut your applicant pool in half and may casually eliminate the most qualified individuals for the job. Meanwhile, limitless hiring capabilities are among the major benefits of permanent telecommuting that can easily evolve into a strong competitive advantage. 

Recruiting and interviewing. With better opportunities come more nuances, so having a clear sourcing strategy is critical. Start by answering the following question: are there any time zone and language fluency requirements?

Having at least a few hours overlap with the team is vital, so this point should be taken into account while choosing candidates’ locations or during the interview since your candidate should be comfortable working either later at night or earlier in the morning. Proceed with the necessary qualifications, levels of confidence, and soft skills.

Finally, analyze the candidate’s cultural fit and ability to share your corporate values and working style. When it comes to job interviews, we recommend video conferencing via Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Skype, or Zoom.

Onboarding. At TEAM International, this process may vary depending on the department or project. However, there are several remote work best practices that may facilitate and accelerate the onboarding process. Planning an enterprise-wide onboarding program is one of them.

The remote onboarding process should be consistent and straightforward; that’s why we recommend creating a digital knowledge base on SharePoint, Confluence, Google Drive, or any other platform with all the learning and introduction materials. Some projects also leverage online training software like Udemy or Pluralsight for various compliance courses, specific technology or tool exercises, and more.

But most importantly, communicate with newcomers across the entire onboarding process, create chats, and assign people managers to each newbie to make their adaptation effective, quick, and inspiring.

Learning and development. Continuing education is an essential component of any future-proof organization, no matter remote or in-office. Such an approach enables team members to not only achieve their full potential but also improve the capabilities of the company as a whole.

We recommend looking to e-learning platforms like Lessonly, Udemy, Pluralsight, and others since they make it easier for team members to attend classes regardless of location or time zone. Additionally, when it comes to internal training for a specific project or department, we suggest using proven remote working tools like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype, or Hangouts and record lectures for future use.

#2 Culture: Dealing With the Challenges of Working Remotely to Build a Value-Driven Distributed Team

Sharing corporate values is among the most frequently mentioned concerns regarding IT outsourcingand remote team management. That’s understandable since various research and surveys prove that a healthy culture is still crucial for striking a balance between corporate agility and strategic alignment.

When employees — remote or in-office — share and rely on your culture, they gain the requisite flexibility to better adapt to the circumstances, embrace unexpected opportunities, and address the ever-changing market environment. 

So, in the office-based environment, it’s rather easy to demonstrate a corporate culture using the so-called ‘surface elements’ like the design of physical spaces, general style of dressing, policies, overt behaviors, and more. When it comes to remote work companies and teams, the lack of shared physical spaces and elements should be compensated with strongly-pronounced values and actions (driven by these values). What does that mean?

Every employee’s behavior should reflect your corporate beliefs, including how they collaborate and communicate with others, how they hold meetings, how they deliver on the intended outcomes, or what remote working software and tools they use. When compared to the in-office model, these behaviors and principles don’t differ much. They are just materialized differently.

Regular feedback loops are another way to reinforce your social norms and sustain a healthy culture. Working with clients, we take on most activities like observing employees’ happiness and loyalty, holding follow-ups if needed, and conducting check-ups with newcomers.

With a remote worker, monitoring is performed similarly. Though you can’t ask how your colleague is doing in-person, you can quickly catch up on MS Teams or Zoom. Yes, it’s a different approach, but you get the same outcome.

Finally, one of the hottest topics associated with permanent telecommuting: how to keep remote teams engaged? — Meanwhile, daily behaviors define the cultural tone, and feedback loops help to monitor the general mood, enterprise-wide meetings provide every remote worker with insight into how the company is doing with relation to objectives, KPIs, and other initiatives.

Additionally, such activities help to enhance the overall corporate energy and encourage people to do more, as they see the results. Having employees in different locations and time zones, we recommend choosing neutral timeslots and recording meetings for those who couldn’t attend.

#3 Productivity: The Road to Effective Remote Working is Asynchronous and Adaptive

The most common misconception among business stakeholders and top managers is that telecommuting reduces productivity, so let’s start with a myth debunking. The latest remote working statistics show that the average productivity loss is as low as one percent.

Moreover, work-remote employees demonstrate a 50-percent less attrition and better performance than their office-based colleagues. That’s not to mention fewer sick leaves or PTOs and shorter breaks. So, when it comes to telecommuting, productivity is often underestimated.

At TEAM International, we believe that there are several components that make remote teams effective, and they are: transparent goals, respect for colleagues’ time, strategic alignment, and proper accountability across the company. 

Meetings are an integral part of any teamwork, no matter office-based or distributed. But along with this, they can turn into great distractors if they’re purposeless and unpunctual. So, how to avoid that? — Our managers suggest three simple rules:

  1. A meeting organizer should create and share an agenda (along with the event invitation) that defines a meeting purpose and allows colleagues to prepare for a meeting beforehand;
  2. Ask all the participants to keep their cameras on to prevent them from multitasking and so promote their attentiveness;
  3. Review your recurring meetings, and don’t be afraid to cancel any of them and notify your colleagues as soon as possible. Moreover, feel free to end calls earlier if there is nothing more to discuss. Respect each other’s time.

Strong alignment and accountability go hand in hand with clearly-defined goals, and in this case, they help companies achieve the highest remote work productivity. Currently, most teams opt for the OKR (Objectives and Key Results) framework, where specific initiatives deliver tangible outcomes. Such an approach not only improves collaboration but also guarantees that every team member spares no effort in performing tasks and driving the best value.  

#4 Security: Staying Safe and Secure With Proven Working Remotely Tips and Tools

Connectivity and business continuity were the top-of-mind priority for most executives during the first days or weeks of the crisis. Consequently, remote work security was predominantly put on the back burner. Meanwhile, with the sudden COVID-19 outbreak and unplanned WFH shift, such a situation seems easily understandable. But when it comes to the coordinated hybrid or company-wide telecommuting, ignoring risks is a prohibitive luxury. 

Designing a remote working strategy, every organization needs to elaborate policies to protect themselves from bad internal and external actors. A cloud environment is the heart of any distributed team or telecommuting company, so securing cloud-based services is the first priority. 

Multi-factor authentication or MFA is the initial step on the way to a robust working environment. It’s recommended to enable this feature for all the services and platforms that support it, like Microsoft, Google, Slack, GitHub, and others.

Since all the documents, services, and tools are stored in the cloud, access control policy becomes obligatory for all the team members. Most of the time, it’s role-based and depends on job function or membership. Meanwhile, on some projects, access to servers can be gained only through a VPN. We recommend auditing access controls regularly to prevent data leakage, information loss, and other types of attacks or errors.

It’s also necessary to create clear scam and malware guidelines for all the employees, devices, and gadgets. Any anti-malware solutions should be licensed and properly-configured to perform regular in-depth checks. If any issues are detected, the infected equipment should be disconnected from all the accounts and services until full recovery. 

All the while, choosing remote work tools, give preference to proven cloud computing and software providers. For instance, TEAM is a Microsoft partner, and for all internal and external interactions, we employ MS solutions. Such an approach makes it easier for our managers to provide instant technical support and precise data security to all the workers and clients regardless of the location. 

#5 Tools: Managing a Remote Team Can Be Easy With the Right Telecommuting Software

If we talk about a remote organization, it comes as no surprise that technology tools are vital, and they can either make or break your team’s ability to effectively communicate, collaborate, and deliver results. Over the years in IT outsourcing, we’ve analyzed and tried multiple remote working tools, and below is the roundup of the best ones, divided into categories:

  • Real-time communication: Microsoft Teams, Slack, Skype, Zoom, Hangouts, and Krisp.ai for background noise canceling;
  • Teamwork and document sharing: Sharepoint, Google Drive, Box, Dropbox Business, Confluence, Miro;
  • Productivity management: Jira, Asana, Trello;
  • Polls and user research: Mentimeter, Doodle, Poll Everywhere, Slido.

The success of remote organizations is heavily reliant on software solutions that they select and use. The lack of physical proximity should be balanced by technology tools, and some managers even take it a step further and arrange team building activities for telecommuters via MS Teams or Zoom.

The ‘new normal’ that we’re witnessing doesn’t necessarily mean a business world without offices. It’ll be more than that. It’s about focusing on the work itself, and the outcomes, but not on where we’re getting things done.

Though so many risks associated with COVID-19, climate change, and other emergencies remain unknown, and ‘doing business as usual’ may seem beyond our grasp, there is one factor that you can control, and it’s business continuity. Analyzing the lessons learned, we should define what best practices and approaches should be retained in the future to ensure business stability for employees, partners, and customers.

The coronavirus crisis has shown that we can work differently, that most in-person meetings are unnecessary, and that even if you don’t see people sitting at their computers, they still work, and you can track their results. Consequently, in the post-coronavirus world, we should ask ourselves ‘where are we going to work’? Or should it be ‘how will we work’?