If you have read Part 1 of this article, thank you. I am overwhelmed by the grateful messages of response received. If you have not had a chance yet, you can acquire it on our website at www.bateleurbp.co.za.
Part 1 of the article began with a short introduction describing the context of working from home, and went on to describe the circumstances leading to favourable conditions for Bateleur to take the decision to abandon the concept of communal offices and go “into the cloud”.
The article then described in detail the benefits of working remotely, especially the unexpected rewards. These included paybacks to the company, benefits to employees and advantages for customers.
The problems associated with working remotely, were described in some detail, with advice on remedies shared.
In this Part 2 of the article I will detail the ideal characteristics for remote workers. Getting the best out of a remote working situation implies best management practices for this scenario. 4 key tips for management practice in order to get the best out of a remote working environment are shared.
Also in this Part 2 is a detailed section on principles, guidelines and tips for everybody who is working remotely. This very important advice comes from a brainstorm of our own members at Bateleur who have been working remotely for 8 years now.
Part 2 concludes with a list of invaluable tools, mostly technology, which we have found essential to improving communication, productivity and camaraderie in the remote workplace.
It is true to say that some people are more suited to remote office environments than others. By our experience, there is a definite set of desirable personality characteristics defining members who adapt well to working from home.
Ideal Characteristics for Remote Workers
It is useful to consider the characteristics required for successful remote working. Individuals who are naturally endowed with these characteristics will perform better than those who don’t when working remotely.
In addition to recruiting for these characteristics, management would do well to nurture such characteristics in their existing workforce in order to successfully work remotely.
- Self-motivated, independent and confident individuals are excellent candidates for remote office environments. Individuals who are prone to procrastination, needy for face-to-face interaction and infirm of purpose may well flounder in such environments. Working from a remote environment requires resolve. It means replacing one’s wishbone with one’s backbone!
- Focused, engaged, energised employees thrive in remote working situations. More than that, they pass on this sense of engagement to their co-workers as well. There is no room for vacillation and relaxation in the workplace, whether communal or remote!
- Communication skills are implicit. That goes without saying. Poor communicators in general create confusion and breakdown team cohesion. This effect is only accentuated in a remote workplace environment. It is good to remember that communication comprises of both receiving and sending messages. Listen well to your co-workers, express yourself in a focused, clear and unambiguous manner, and you will enjoy the success of working remotely.
- Disciplined, structured and well organised people, who have a keen sense of timeline management, do well in home office environments. It is much easier to “march in time” when on the communal parade ground at the behest of the drill sergeant. Discipline without orders is required in a remote working environment, and needs to be self-administered.
- Critical thinking and problem-solving inevitably benefit remote working environments. Applying one’s mind to best adapting solutions to problems as they emerge is more important when working alone and bereft of the opportunity to “leave it to somebody else”. In communal corporate environments, it is very easy to pass the buck … one merely has to recall how many hours are spent, by so many people, in so many meetings, who contribute absolutely nothing at all. Far less so in a remote workplace, it is often up to the individual to find the solution.
- Availability and affability are crucial to remote workplaces. People who are inclined to absence or to hide behind curtness very quickly become left behind and isolated in remote workplace environments. Availability and affability live at the heart of the culture of “How can I help?” discussed in Part 1 of this article.
- Being tech savvy definitely helps one succeed in a home office. Whilst IT are able to assist remotely with ease these days, employees who yearn after the DOS days, or who claim to be technology challenged, often find themselves floundering without foundation in the remote working environment. Being tech savvy these days is fundamental.
- Open-minded individuals are a boon to business at the best of times, but especially in a remote working environment. Members who are passionate, willing to learn and innovative we find to be far more successful at working remotely than those who are lacklustre, complacent or stuck in routine. Bateleur is a full service corporate member of the Southern African Marketing Research Association. Bateleur subscribes fully to the Association’s stringent code of practice for ethical and quality standards.
Whilst these characteristics are extremely important in any work environment, they become critical in a remote working environment. As one can see, people who have these characteristics do not need to be clock watched or micromanaged!
Talking of management, now is the time to go on and deal with management style required for effective remote workplace operations.
Ideal Management Characteristics for Remote Workers
Having staff members with the right characteristics for working from home is only half of the story. Management styles that are conducive to remote working operations are essential.
Managers who are control orientated typically have trouble with the remote working concept.
Managers who are able to garner followers through their leadership skills typically do well with the remote working environment.
Here are 4 key tips for managing in a remote working scenario:-
- Give clear direction and expected outcomes and manage employees by these objectives. This requires excellent communication skills, flexibility, support and regular engagement to assist employees in arriving at the end goal. Be sure to not set unrealistic goals and deadlines. Set clear, definite and fair boundaries and make sure that these are well communicated, understood and agreed upon. Make no exceptions, and show no favour, in respect of these protocols.
- Don’t micromanage employees, but rather learn to trust their integrity, motivation, skills and abilities. It is not necessary or desirable to require employees to constantly “check in” to prove that they are working. Treat your employees like the adults that they are.
- Give recognition and show appreciation for goals achieved, work well done and innovative contributions. Remember that production and turnover is actually generated by employees. Managers merely manage the process. We need to show immense gratitude for this production process.
- Lead by example and motivate employees by being approachable, encouraging helpful, sympathetic and constructive in helping to achieve objectives. Be organised, respectful and give regular feedback to members. When working remotely, it is especially important for managers to adopt a leadership role and host regular online meetings and discussions for the purposes of imparting direction and motivation.
- Open door policy is crucial in a remote working environment. Having no corner office, or door to close, makes it easy to forget about the importance of being available to employees. Especially in a remote working scenario, managers need to be available, to everybody, all the time!
Principles, Guidelines and Tips For Working Remotely
Here is an interesting collection of pieces of advice that we at Bateleur feel are worth sharing with anybody who is considering working from home. These tips have been generated from first-hand experience.
- Dress for work just as if you are going to the office. This is a formality that is essential in preparing your mind for the work day and the psychological boundary required to separate work from play from home activities. Dress for success!
- Create a bright, airy workspace that is clearly demarcated as a work area. Choose a place that is quiet. Keep your workspace neat and tidy. Definitely resist the temptation to work anywhere that pleases you on any whim. It might be at home, but it is definitely a “Home Office”.
- Manage your time properly just as you would in an office environment. Take regular breaks, do not eat lunch at your desk, and finish your day at an appropriate time as far as is possible.
- Communication is key to successful remote working! Formal status meetings on a daily basis, interspersed with regular informal communications with team colleagues are essential. Technology enables remote workers to be in touch with each other and communicate more so than many employees do in a formal office workplace.
- Create simple and effective systems to assist members to keep abreast of work activities, project milestones, key tasks and progress reports. Preferably these systems need to be collective as opposed to directive. In other words, they need to be owned and operated by all rather than imposed by one.
Tools of the Trade
Working from home, or other remote places definitely requires the skilful use of a wide variety of technology-related tools. Here is a list of the ones that we use at Bateleur, and find invaluable to our work processes and teamwork:-
- Email (obviously).
- Word processing, graphics and spreadsheet packages are also obvious, and of course are used in a communal office environment as well. However, working remotely reveals the need to explore these packages in more depth, especially in respect of their deeper features designed for collaboration. Remote workers need to be power users of such packages.
- Communication tools, especially Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Office Teams, WhatsApp (especially the desktop version) need to be available across all platforms from PC to cell phone.
By our experience, it is not necessary to use video features much. It tends to consume an inordinate amount of data, produce turgid response times and consequently create frustration. Convening meetings on Skype, for example, and sticking to audio only is the way we do it. It’s just like talking on the telephone, except it’s a group conversation. Works like a charm!
In addition, we often make use of the recording features, especially when conducting technical briefings or training sessions.
Of course, all these platforms are excellent ways to share documents, share screens, and generally speaking create a virtual boardroom / discussion room. With a little practice, it’s amazing what one can do with these wonderful tools.
- Project planning, coordination and milestone management programs are important in the ordinary course of business, but really come into their own when working remotely.
Construction companies know this all too well. By definition, the construction industry works remotely. Every single construction site is remote from head office, and from time to time relocated to a new site! The construction industry possibly is the most skilled in the use of production planning coordination and milestone management techniques. Let’s learn from them!
- Cloud backup systems have revolutionised opportunities for remote workplaces. In a formal communal work environment, protection of information and data is normally left up to IT, and becomes automated as part of the corporate systems network. When one works remotely, there is more responsibility placed on each individual, along with discipline and protocols required to effectively uphold information integrity and safety.
In this respect, we found that the most important ingredient is in fact the human factor. It becomes very difficult to systematise data integrity in a remote working environment. The systems don’t work well unless individual member discipline supports them properly.
Further to the need for data integrity is to remember that when multiple members are working on a project, it is very easy to wind up with multiple versions of the same document. Facilities like Microsoft Teams allow many users to work in the same document at the same time, addressing this problem quite neatly.
- Facilities for large file transfers such as Dropbox / WeTransfer are familiar to most, but really come into their own when working remotely. We find that documents of more than 10 MB are often problematic to email. WeTransfer is free, and has become a staple tool at Bateleur.
- Video camera, speakers, microphone for virtual communication are obvious and essential. What is not obvious, is to invest in reasonably good quality hardware in this respect to ensure good quality audio and, where applicable, video.
Further, user training is often advisable, especially on how to speak into a microphone, believe it or not. Many people talk directly into a microphone resulting in a disruptive, frustrating and irritating staccato of “popping” interspersing each word.
Rather than talking directly into the microphone, place the microphone to the left or right of one’s mouth, imagining that your voice is coming from your cheek. That way produces really clear audio, with no popping.
Further on the topic of clarity, it has proved useful for members to develop the habit of attending to the “mute mike” button on communication software when their dogs bark, the vacuum cleaner is put on, and aeroplane goes overhead, and so on and so forth. Being attentive to disturbing environmental noises transmitted to others in the group call is good etiquette in remote workplaces.
- 2 screens per PC dramatically helps productivity in all work environments, and especially in remote work environments. Invariably, one ends up with a communication program open on one screen during an online meeting, and referring to an Excel spreadsheet or PowerPoint presentation open on the other screen.
I personally use 3 screens. My 3rd screen is dedicated to emails alone, meaning that I can communicate, calculate and keep emails all at the same time. I often feel the need for a 4th screen!
- Team Viewer on each PC is essential for remote IT support. Our IT specialist makes heavy use of Team Viewer to tinker with our PCs. It seems that 95% of IT issues can be solved remotely using this tool.
- Dictation software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking is made possible by remote working environments as one does not have the problem of disturbing one’s co-worker a desk away.
I personally use Dragon all the time, for all my writing, including this article. I have found that dictating rather than typing reduces my time spent writing by a factor of about 4. But, more importantly, my writing style has become more colloquial and hopefully more readable as a consequence. It’s definitely more fun than typing!
- Recording and transcribing software to record and share important meeting notes can be very helpful in a remote working environment. Recording software is as old as the hills, and transcribing software is becoming reliable and useful.
- A printer can be useful, but we have found these to be less than essential in a remote working environment. In fact, one of the operating cost saving benefits of moving to home offices has been to dramatically reduce our company printer ink bill! It’s also good for the environment.
- Relaxing music has been reported by Bateleur staff members to be an important background companion in a Home Office environment. I don’t for a moment advocate hectic house or growling metal as a work aid, but having a playlist of one’s friendly favourites definitely helps time fly by and assists in productivity.
Being forced to transition from a communal work environment to one that is remote need not be feared, and, done properly, may well in fact yield benefits that outweigh its problems.
We learnt the hard way, by bitter experience, how to do it properly. I am quite sure that every organisation will find its own nuances both in terms of opportunities and problems in respect of working remotely. However, hopefully the core of these opportunities and problems have been adequately described in this article.
I thank you for reading this far, and trust that you will find value in the learnings shared here. I would be most grateful for any comments, especially in respect of your own experience of working remotely.
Issued by Gordon Hooper from Bateleur Brand Planning / http://bateleurbp.co.za/
Images by Pixabay.