A guide to successful remote working for your team

If there was a tale on how remote working went mainstream, it would have to list, on top, a nefarious illness that sent our countries into quarantine. Sure, it wouldn’t be the only reason. One can cite factors ranging from technology developments, cloud computing, work-life balance or even employee retention as contributors. However, how remote working became our way to cope with clients and stakeholder needs amid an unprecedented health emergency, is, by no other means, a consequence of COVID-19. It hasn’t given us, so far, any other better choice.

Until recently, remote work was performed by a minority of employees at dedicated points in time and under specific conditions. Now, it has become the new norm for many organisations. This move, powered by fiber and silicon, is stretching their ability to organise team work and to maintain efficient coordination across teams and departments in the present, but especially on the long run. On that journey, collaboration tools have gained media attention over the past weeks. They are, doubtless, of great help but they will not solve all problems.

What the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed forward is the scale of remote working usage; it’s now ubiquitous and intensively used. While remote work was involving a minority of employees at dedicated points in time and under strict conditions, it is now the new norm for many organisations. This move, powered by fiber and silicon, is stretching their ability to organise team work and to maintain efficient coordination across teams and departments, especially on the long run. On that journey, collaboration tools have gained media attention over the past weeks. They are of great help but will not solve all problems.

But there is more. Crises are the best breeding ground for bad intentions. Cyberthreats are multiplying, taking advantage of the disruption COVID-19 is causing to our lives. Even though companies are trying to respond, some good cybersecurity habits are being left behind because people’s attention is focused on other priorities like health or business continuity.

In the current situation, businesses shall accept that an unavoidable evolution of work behaviors, especially managerial, is on its way, and the need to adopt innovative tools for the business activity to continue and normalise, even under the scenario of an extended state of emergency. At company level, businesses are facing two more challenges: keeping employees up and motivated and making sure that, despite the impossibility to be physically present, they are equipped to work together, as a fully functional squad, in the best possible way. On that matter, our HR Director Lieven Lambrecht gave ten interesting tips to survive isolated remote working.

The above mentioned matters triggered this blog story. Even if the nature of the job differs from company to company, all of them must manage teams remotely and, likely, you too. We’ve been working almost remotely for the past few weeks.

We have purposely turned this article into a go-to guide, by Patrice Witz—our Digital Leader and Koen Maris—our cybersecurity leader to boost remote collaborative work. It includes security tips for your team and handy advice to run team meetings, workshops and gatherings in an efficient way.

We want to remind you to stay positive. Throughout history, humanity has proved its resilience, that’s what brought us here. We all know that every cloud has a silver lining. This crisis will likely trigger advancements in the technology around remote working, and a more consistent use of it even after the crisis is gone. It’s already making us reconsider what really matters, and the societal, business and personal aspects we must rethink to live better.

IT Security comes first: COVID-19 is an opportunity to hack

In several countries, the recommended social distancing and quarantine have been already in place for two or more weeks. Crisis management is crucial, yes, but there’s more to it than that. Most organisations have already put in place sound cybersecurity measures but you and your team play an important role for those measures to work. Bear in mind that hackers like to target employees and take advantage of their habits to find a way to attack your systems.

This is a gentle cybersecurity reminder for you and your team members:

1) Hardware and software 2) Internet and peripherals

• The technology (equipment and software) your organisation has provided you with is prepared to guarantee an optimal level of security. Avoid using personal equipment.

• Always ask your IT department for permission to install third-party software.
• Use your home connection, avoid free or public wi-fi connections.

• Avoid using external devices such as usb, external disks to copy files.
3) VPN and Operating system 4) Exchange of documents & data

• Activate your VPN before opening your internet browser or any other tool requiring internet access (emails, SaaS-software as a service tools, cloud-based solutions, etc.)

• Update your operating system and your antivirus / antimalware, especially if you use your personal computer.
• Avoid putting sensitive or confidential information —employee or client documents, for instance—online (social media, cloud storage services, etc). The same goes for sending and receiving emails from your personal mailbox.
5) Emails 6) Time to work

• Beware that phishing campaigns have increased during the COVID-19 crisis. These emails, that seem official at first glance (e.g. an email seeming to come from the Ministry of Health), encourage you to click on a link that takes you to a malicious site that collects all your data, including your bank details saved in your system.
• Avoid, as far as possible, mixing leisure and professional activities during home-based working hours to stay focused and limit any cybersecurity risks.
Remote working by design

Remote working needs to be purposely designed. Leading successfully from a distance is possible but you’ll face new challenges. It calls for defining new routines or processes and thinking of new ways to organise your team. Each member’s daily routines change as well. 

Have a look at these five aspects to implement remote working by design: 

  • Think of defining small cross-functional units if your team is large. Appoint a person responsible for that sub-team and define with her/him clear objectives, at least every week. 
  • Communicate consistently, honestly and humanly. To do that, harness the power of technology, but smartly. Working remotely in teams is primarily based on video conference technology and chats. The former is useful to address topics in real time and to keep the team spirit; the latter helps you run quick one-to-one conversations or address quick questions. Email plays the role of formaliser, as you can use it to record agreements and share them with all the team members and team coordinators.
  • Keep the personal connection. Make sure to meet each of your team members regularly. You can then understand their personal context, issues and concerns they encounter.
  • Strive for alignment. Because of the change of work dynamics and lack of physical contact, things can go messy and disorganisation can take over. Make available any common source of information that all team members can access to track progress of tasks and projects. 
  • Switch on the “beta version”. Because remote working demands a learning curve, be ready to change or adapt what isn’t working. 
Working remotely: kilometers apart but close at heart

Now it’s time to put the team to work! Start off by defining guidelines to frame interactions and keep collaboration and the team spirit alive. To help you out, we’ve imagined two of the most common situations when teams come togetherexchange meetings to manage projects (or priorities) and workshops. In addition, we have also thought of virtual informal gatherings to reinforce the team connection. We encourage you to share them creatively, eliciting a real sense of discovery. For instance, you could send recommendations by using a daily infographic, a haiku or videos. 

In all cases, we have used a personal tone that talks to your team members directly, so you can use these tips right away if you need. 

This is the ABC for any remote meeting you want to organise. 

Ask  your team members to:

  1. Test internet connection, device batteries, microphone and camera.
  2. Use the video for more proximity. It humanises the exchange.  
  3. Have a second medium to communicate, like a smartphone, in case the video conference software fails. 

For a more effective and fruitful interaction: 

  1. Plan the meeting so you can optimise time. It shouldn’t get any longer than 30 minutes.
  2. Send any needed information beforehand to make the online interaction more productive
  3. Be a facilitator. Animate the meeting by carrying out virtual roundtables so you can give all team members the opportunity to express and share ideas. 

Record the meeting if it will be helpful later or if any key team member is absent and required details of the exchange. Always ask the team permission for recording.

Scenario 1. Project management (pilot activities remotely)

To manage remotely a team, think of these requirements: 

  • A real time formal communication channel, especially for team meetings (e.g. Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts Meet or Zoom) 
  • A real time informal communication channel, for one-to-one discussions (e.g. Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts Chat, etc) 
  • A progress-tracking shared tool, to have an overview of tasks. You could use a simple spreadsheet  file or project management tools such as Asana, Trello, Notion, Hubstaff or Workflow, to name a few, to follow the progress of your tasks and use them as meeting support. This is one of the key success factors in managing the project or priority. 
  • A shared repository to organise information within the team. 
  • A shared report that includes the results / advancements of the required project. 

Nurse the team spirit by:

  1. Making a checkpoint with the team once a day via the video conference software your company has put in place. This shall become a new routine. Keep it short and concise (e.g. 15 to 30 minutes at maximum).
  2. Tracking the progress of tasks together. Share your screen during the video conference to update the task list with your colleagues. Have your team members discuss their priorities and their tasks accordingly.
  3. Deciding together the next steps to take and who is accountable for them.
Scenario 2: Animate a team workshop 

To animate a team workshop, these are the basics you need: 

  • A virtual tool that plays the role of a whiteboard. In this case, you could bet on Jamboard, Klaxoon, Miro or Mural to mention some.
  • A channel to debate, for instance Google Hangouts Meet or Microsoft teams. 
  • Production and informal exchanges could take place via a chat tool chosen beforehand such as Google Hangouts Chat, Slack, Microsoft teams, etc.

Nurse the team spirit by: 

  1. Assigning roles in advance: define with your team members who is to facilitate the workshop or if there are co-facilitators (this is the most recommendable option), who will take notes, among other tasks.
  2. Defining a clear workshop dynamic to make sure that one person speaks at a time but every team member has the chance to intervene. Don’t let strong personalities take over the exercise. 
  3. Keeping the workshop short. While maintaining the team dynamic up in a physical workshop is already a challenge after a few hours, you will find it even more challenging remotely. Patrice is in favor of short but fruitful workshops (e.g. 1h to 1h30 at maximum)
  4. Taking small “breaks”, so you can talk about something non work-related or, simply, to get away from the screen for a while.
Scenario 3: Informal gatherings

As you do when working at the office, take the time to meet with your colleagues and team members and exchange more broadly. Give a chance to virtual informal team gatherings to keep the team spirit healthy, have the occasion to discuss spontaneously the team or company news, how to improve teamwork, or any other concern that the team may have. For instance, Patrice told us that he always organises these meetings at least once a week, depending on the situation of the team. You can always adjust the frequency to your needs.

  1. Make the agenda open;
  2. Take adequate time to exchange (better to close before the formal end of the meeting than rushing into topics);
  3. Communicate more on your company news or department and seed feedback;
  4. Assign whenever possible roles to some of your team members to animate the community;
  5. Act on questions or issues raised by the exchange.

Other types of gathering are gaining popularity lately such as e-breakfast, e-aperitifs, sport sessions, movie sessions or even a collective cooking class. In these cases, don’t forget to respect certain rules:

  1. Do not make them compulsory. 
  2. Define together the date and the timing. 
  3. Give a name to the event, and send reminders so nobody forgets it! 
  4. Decide, if that’s the case, the music you want to play or the film you want to watch. There are numerous on-demand streaming services to create and share music playlists and to watch a movie! 
  5. Always encourage respect and courtesy.  
What we think
Patrice Witz, Digital Leader and Technology Partner at PwC Luxembourg

We are facing very challenging times. The Covid-19 crisis is both testing business resilience and organisation readiness to foster the benefits of digital. It is forcing businesses to quickly transform to keep up with clients and workforce needs. While we have to acknowledge that some tactical responses are required to handle this unprecedented situation, it is important to remain focused and vigilant in the long-term objectives, making sure the business endures, and to avoid business misalignment. This situation will probably continue far beyond the past and the next week. It is hence team leaders’ responsibility to make sure that employees remain engaged on the long run despite the social distancing, and stick together as a team. It’s a time that calls for coordination, cooperation and security.

Next week we’ll have a dedicated article on remote work and cybersecurity. So stay tuned!

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