work remotely

03.17.2020

leadership  |  7 min read

How to work remotely, remain connected as team during coronavirus crisis

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Syed Balkhi

With more companies asking their employees to work from home as the coronavirus spreads globally, many find themselves in a new situation. Today, people have to learn how to work from their dining room tables, company leaders have to figure out how to manage their newly-remote team, and IT professionals will hope their computer infrastructures can take the added bandwidth.

You might be worried that working remotely means you can’t stay connected with your colleagues. Sure, you’re digitally connected and are all working away individually, but you wonder if you’ll be able to maintain the sense of connection between you. A feeling of cohesion and togetherness is very important right now in these uncertain times.

As the founder of a 100% remote company, I’m here to say that it can be done. We use several software applications and company processes to keep us connected and united as a company. They help us collaborate, communicate, and maintain a close and connected company culture, even though we’re far apart geographically.


But if you’re new to remote work, you might wonder if you can do it too. It does take time to get used to and to discover the right tools for your company, but once you do, you’ll feel like you’re still in the same building.

Here’s my advice to the newly-remote employees out there on how you can stay connected with your colleagues during the coronavirus pandemic:

1. Have face-to-face meetings

Video calls are a great way to stay in contact and to put a face to the name you might chat with online every day. We use Zoom for any of our calls, including our weekly company meeting, which can handle meetings with many people. Cisco Webex is another good one for large meetings. You can also try Skype or Google Meet for one-on-one meetings.

Provide some quick instruction on how to use the tools if they’re new to your employees, and also some guidelines for best practices—such as how to default the microphone to mute in Zoom when you join a call or the keyboard shortcut to turn off the video camera.

Bonus tip

Don’t stress about uninvited guests to your calls. We all remember the viral moment when a journalist doing a video interview on an international news broadcast was joined unexpectedly by his children, who wandered into the room to see what daddy was doing, right?

In these strange times, we should forgive each other (and our spouses, kids, pets, etc.) when they accidentally wander into a video call. It’s going to happen at least once a week, so just laugh it off and move on. This is where knowing how to quickly mute the audio on your call software can be very useful.

2. Provide an online space for workers to chat

Email is fine for official communications, but many companies have moved to another chat platform, even if they work in-house. Slack and Workplace by Facebook make it very easy to send a quick message to a colleague about anything work-related.

It’s essential that you provide employees with a way and a space for them to have non-work-related conversations too. People will want to talk about other things, like their families, the weather, or in these strange times, what’s going on in their community. In recent years, we’d gather around the coffee machine at the office; before then, it was the water cooler. Slack and other online chat tools give remote employees a digital version of this, and it’s essential for team building.

In our Slack workspace, we have a channel for #announcements (a read-only announcement channel), one for each team, one for #general (discussions about things that affect the entire company), and #family (non-work conversations where people talk about everything else—right now it’s filled with stories of coronavirus closures in their part of the world and how they’re dealing with it all.

3. Create an online bulletin board

No, I’m not talking about the old BBS kind, but a digital version you can use for employees to share more information about activities they’re participating in, such as a charity bike race or in today’s case, a social distancing running club where you can pair with someone virtually to get some exercise. We’ve created a company cookbook in a Google Doc where we’re sharing our best pantry recipes to help us get through this time where outside time is restricted and most restaurants are closed.

An online bulletin board option is great for this kind of communication because it’s not a discussion where information could get lost in the feed of conversations in a tool like Slack. Share a Google Doc everyone can edit, create a group page in Workplace by Facebook, or create a public Trello board where everyone can add contributions.

4. Have a virtual company retreat

Our company has an annual company retreat where we fly employees into a single location. It’s a great time where we get to meet and chat in person, share stories and company successes, and generally just connect in real life. We humans are social beings and connecting in person is a very fulfilling experience, which is why we hold our annual retreat.

This year, however, we’ve had to switch it to a virtual retreat due to the coronavirus crisis. Our employees understood why we changed plans, which we explained on the #announcement Slack channel. With the virtual retreat, we plan on featuring a shortened agenda where we’ll celebrate the company’s success, hold an online trivia game, and gather as best we can as a company. We even mailed out the swag bags we were giving everyone too, so they can still enjoy that perk.

A gathering like a virtual company retreat is different than just a massive conference call, as it does have a different timeline, flow, and feel. While we haven’t decided how we’re streaming our virtual conference, there are various tools we could use, such as Zoom, Google Meet, and Livestream.

5. Use the status features of chat software

Another good way to ensure you stay connected when working remotely is to use the status features of your chat software. Slack, Skype, and Workplace by Facebook let you update your status to show if you’re free, at lunch, away from your desk, and more.

Make sure your employees know how to use this functionality in the apps and the policy for using it. For example, at lunch, should they log off entirely or just change their status to “away”? Working remotely doesn’t have to be an isolating experience for employees. We’ve been doing it successfully for over a decade and enjoy good employee engagement and connection. Use these tips to help set up your company to successfully handle remote work and offer a bit of stability in these uncertain times.


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