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Work Remotely, Stay Connected

If necessity is the mother of invention, then COVID-19 may be the mother of a new era in the workforce. With limitations on group gatherings, school closures, and travel bans, many businesses are trying to do their part to practice social distancing and limit the spread of the virus. That means many employees and employers are forced to work remotely, with no concrete idea of when they'll head back to the office. For some, this is a welcome change. For others, it may sound like a nightmare.

As a general rule, humans aren't fans of change, and there's no doubt that many people are feeling uncertain and anxious about the many changes happening in the world right now. Employers have to work quickly to provide a sense of stability for their people who are facing a sudden remote reality. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to help the team adjust. It won't be quite business-as-usual, but you can acclimate quickly with the right communication strategy and digital tools.

Have a Plan (Or Make One, Fast)

For the past decade, Voicebrook has placed a premium on functioning remotely. These days, approximately 85 percent of our people work from home full-time, and everyone on the team is remote-capable. 

"More than ten years ago, some people on our team were remote, but we didn't have the tools to be effective remotely. That was a major focus of mine in the early days," says Filipe Carreira, President and COO at Voicebrook. "We quickly implemented Google Suite, and then Salesforce. They are the two main solutions that help us run our business virtually, and we've been continually improving ever since."
 
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If COVID-19 is forcing your hand and shifting divisions or even the whole company into telework, remember that transparency is important. One of the biggest challenges when going remote is keeping everyone informed in an efficient way. Establish a "remote guidebook" for employees and clearly document any plans or changes to processes in a central place. Lean on members of the team who have telework experience, and look to them for advice on how to best manage these changes. Be sure your leadership is on the same page and ready to answer questions (and trust us, there will be questions) in a consistent manner, whenever they arise.
 

Communication is Key

Whatever digital tools you choose, remember the function they're designed for: communication. Good communication is key to help us stay connected and work more efficiently. Just because you aren't in the same building, doesn't mean you can't be face-to-face. Consider looking past the phone and take advantage of tools like Google Meet, Zoom, or GoToMeeting for video calls. Utilize messaging services like Google Chat or Slack for both casual and business conversations. Whatever tools you choose, keep it simple and make sure the entire team understands the intentions for each digital tool. For example, should Slack be used for informal chat only? Be transparent by making your expectations and guidelines clear. 
 
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Take this time to use technology to grow your team's knowledge and connection as a group. To this end, Voicebrook hosts weekly virtual "knowledge sharing sessions." All are invited to attend and learn something new, and each session is led by different employees. Sometimes we hear departmental updates, sometimes we learn about the particulars of a certain position within the company, sometimes an employee gives us a lesson on his or her favorite hobby. Sometimes we all do yoga together. The possibilities are endless, as are the opportunities to team-build.
 
One thing people might struggle with when they suddenly find themselves working remotely is the lack of interaction with coworkers. Most employees find it easier to be productive when working remotely, because there are generally fewer distractions, but for particularly social folks it can get lonely. For those teams that thrive on connection, we suggest opening up a video chat while you work. It's not to have a formal meeting, but just so you can talk and collaborate while also working independently. This simulates the office environment and may keep people more connected. You can set scheduled blocks of time to do this, or be more informal and leave the video chat open all day. The only caveat: if you're not wearing pants, don't forget to turn off the camera before you stand up from your desk. Nobody needs to connect with you on that level. 
 
Especially now, with COVID-19 drastically limiting opportunities to socialize, leverage technology to connect and sustain friendships. Voicebrook started a virtual happy hour on Friday afternoons, where we each grab a beverage and snack and pop onto a Zoom meeting to shoot the breeze. The fact that we're spread all over the country is of little importance when we're laughing together and looking forward to a well-earned weekend.
 

Trust Your People

Trust your people to do their jobs. Remote work is miserable for the micromanaging boss, and miserable for the people reporting to him or her. Embrace the idea of asynchronous communication, when you send a message without expecting an immediate response. Give employees a little more control over their time and when they work. Studies show it results in more productive work and happier people. Sure, mix in synchronous communication where it makes sense, but be willing to be flexible. 

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We suspect this may be a real watershed moment for the remote work movement. What happens now during the COVID-19 outbreak may well determine if the practice is adopted more widely in the long-term. It can be a challenge to implement a remote work system quickly, but Voicebrook is a testament to the value of the practice. Our people are happy, our business is thriving, and our customers are satisfied.

"There's something to be said about our 'agility' as it relates to how we're set up," says Carreira. "Especially in times like this, when so many companies are scrambling to dust off their business continuity plans, we are glad to already have remote capabilities in place with no physical location dependency."

So give remote operations your best shot while you have the chance. At minimum, you can walk away with the knowledge that being remote-capable is another great tool for the company toolbox... just in case.