Employees Working Remotely for the First Time? Here are 5 Tips from the Experts

by Heather Wilson, CMP March 4, 2020

Recently many co-located companies have tried for the first time to allow employees to work remotely. Whether this is in response to the particularly nasty flu season or the COVID-19 news, many companies have found themselves suddenly remote with no preparation.
TaxJar is a completely remote team composed of more than 160 employees. We’ve been fully remote since the day we opened our figurative doors seven years ago.  It’s taken successes, setbacks, and some truly remarkable teamwork to glean the knowledge we have. We’re proud of our remote team, and grateful to be able to share tips on how to set your team up for success while communicating and collaborating remotely. 
Whether you’re temporarily going remote or looking to switch long term, here are the top lessons we’ve learned:

Above all else, trust your team

Trust is the backbone of successful remote work.  We believe this so strongly that it’s baked into our company’s Core Values.  Managers should be prepared to set clear expectations for projects and deadlines and trust their teammates to work autonomously.  Don’t expect to be able to see each step of your teammates’ processes, but do expect to check in when needed, and to provide resources and clarification. Trust your team to get the job done, and challenge yourself to drop antiquated micro-management tactics. 

Adopt the right collaboration tools

The right tools are essential to the success of your remote team. While there are countless resources out there, some of our favorites include: 

  • Zoom Video Conferencing for all video calls
  • Basecamp for project management, all-company messaging, and direct chats
  • Mural for brainstorming (think: virtual whiteboard)
  • Airtable for spreadsheet and database management
  • Fellow for agenda-keeping and note-taking/documentation

Many tools out there offer a free trial. We encourage independent research to find what works best for your team. 

Communicate routinely and effectively in written form

Communication is the #1 key to successful remote work. We have fine-tuned our communication over TaxJar’s 7-year history, and these are our top learnings: 

  • Working remotely is not an excuse to vanish. Consider always turning on your camera on video calls. We learn a lot about one another through visual cues in virtual meetings, and in environments dominated by written communication, “face-to-face” connection is invaluable.  And think of the folks outside of the “room.” Is it a good idea to record the meeting, designate a note-taker, or record the agenda for perpetuity? These decisions can help all parties to the conversation feel included.
  • Keep your written communication clear and concise, and make sure it happens. A good rule of thumb to consider for working remotely: If it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen. 
  • Encourage leadership to provide daily, weekly, and team updates on the health of your business and large projects
  • Encourage managers and teammates to have regular video 1:1s, ensuring alignment on goals and deadlines, and creating a regular cadence for facetime

Connect Often

Remote work can breed isolation and loneliness.  Opportunities to learn from one another, support each other, and share outside-of-work interests create connection, and connection is vital to remote teamwork.  
COVID-19 response remote work
We’ve experimented with all sorts of ways to build connection – from the goofy to the profound – but here’s what we know for sure:

  • It’s not enough to assume everyone will take the initiative to reach out.  You need to create, enable, and facilitate opportunities to learn from, support, and get to know each other.
  • Teammates need permission to connect.  Create designated social and chat spaces.  Facilitate and encourage peer learning opportunities.  Most importantly, actively and eagerly demonstrate the importance of connection at the leadership level.
  • Be connectable.  Keeping your calendar up to date, communicating your availability, regularly vocalizing support of team connection, and engaging in ongoing conversations are all ways to demonstrate your approachability.

Be ready to love working remotely

Here at TaxJar, our 160+ employees love working remotely and wouldn’t have it any other way. And once you and your team have experienced the benefits that working remotely bring to both productivity and work/life balance, we’re willing to wager that it’s going to be tough to return to co-located work.
We recommend treating a temporary remote work situation less like a field trip and more like what it truly is – the future of work. And if you take your company remote for a time and decide to switch back to co-located work, be prepared with a strong argument as to why you’re making the change. 

Last but not least

As we learn more about how the global response to COVID-19 will impact the world of work, we know one thing for sure: working remotely enables our team’s best work.  A well-supported remote team is an adaptable team, one well-suited to be there for their teammates and their customers in myriad unexpected circumstances. If you have any questions about how to support your team within short or long-term structures of working remotely,  we’re here to help.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll be here on the blog and our social channels sharing content we hope you will find helpful. We’d love to connect with you, or feel free to leave your questions and comments below. Find us here: LinkedInTwitterFacebook and Instagram.

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