Working remotely is a skill. People often don’t realize this.
Working remotely is something you learn to do and you get better at with time.
As a manager, you have to recognize this as much as anyone on your team. You have to recognize this because you have to take responsibility for your team members’ ability to deliver.
That’s why I’m writing this article to give you an insight into some of the processes we use to keep our team’s productivity high while working remotely, and to give you some idea of how we constructed these processes.
We’ll look at:
- How to build a process without bringing in consultants
- Tools you can use to improve remote working
- How to optimize these processes over time
How to build a process without bringing in consultants
The first step to running any remote organization well is to create processes.
The thing is, you probably already have a stack of processes you use day to day whether your team realizes it or not.
As such, the first thing we need to do is identify one activity central to your team’s activities so that we can begin to look at the method of improving the team’s performance.
To make this easy, we’ll take an example process that I would use within my team as a writer – the content creation process.
This process already exists. Let’s say it happens in the following way:
- An article is assigned
- Keyword research is undertaken
- I do research for the article
- I write the article
- The article is formatted
- The article is approved and published
Super simple, no?
What we have above is the most basic iteration of a documented process. Once we have this, we can start analyzing its constituent parts; adding detail or assigning roles where necessary.
How is the article assigned? Does an editor send an email? Does the writer propose the article and have the idea accepted or rejected?
These are the little questions that need to be asked of that basic documented process.
Eventually, we’ll start to see that there are multiple smaller processes within this workflow. The process of researching for keywords could be considered a standalone process. The process of formatting an article could be too. You can see two basic version of these processes here:
You don’t need to go into this level of detail at the beginning. Start by doing what you normally do and document each step of it. Every action you take, note it down.
This will give you a clear linear flow of how your team operates on a daily basis.
From here, you can present this process to your team and collaboratively improve it. Some team members might have tools they use to improve steps: e.g. Use an extension like Grammarly to be continually checking spelling and grammar, saving time in the proofreading.
Your team are the ones who will be using this process regularly so they need to be the ones most comfortable with it.
When your process is fully documented, make sure your team use it each time they undertake that activity. Over time, this will highlight any obvious mistakes in the process and naturally result in proposed improvements.
In the meantime, we want to find ways to improve these remote processes. Which brings us to the tools which help remote teams thrive….
Tools you can use to improve remote working
I’ll give you our 4 key tools to help a remote team get more done. I’m of the school where I believe less is more. Every interruption during a task is a potential moment for lost productivity. As such, if you keep your team working from the smallest number of platforms, you’ll see less moments of distraction.
My 4 recommended tools:
Slack keeps your team connected
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I hate email.
I blame it on having done sales in the past. A few quick reasons:
Email just isn’t fun to use. It feels formal and stale. Even the best organized inbox will distract you with unimportant mail. It’s terrible for multiple people to communicate through together. I don’t like using it on mobile.
All of those problems, conveniently, are items where Slack does well.
Provided you learn to use asynchronous communication techniques, a remote team using Slack can be really well connected. Slack’s instant message approach with both individual messaging and team channels creates a really well streamlined way of keeping up to date with each other, and other teams.
We have a rule where all communication must exist in public channels. This fosters a stronger sense of company culture, and means that you learn from reading other people’s conversations. The knowledge spillover which results from public channels is a resource and you should be using it.
Keeping communication strong across your team will make sure productivity doesn’t take a hit. No one likes mass emails, but a post in a public channel feels less intrusive.
Process Street lets you track your processes
Process Street lets you build your processes in template form and then run each process as a checklist whenever it needs to be done.
As a manager, you can see these checklists and monitor the progress. It also means that when the template for the process is updated as part of your never ending attempts at optimization, all employees will now be working from the updated process.
This simply allows you standardize company activities and iteratively improve them.
What’s not to like?
When you’re part of a remote team you need to make sure everyone is doing each task properly. The best way to do so is to Stick To The Process.
Airtable is your database in the cloud
We’ve moved a huge amount of our activity to Airtable over the last year.
Airtable is primarily a cloud based database set up which allows you to view your data in a spreadsheet form. Much faster than Google Sheets much more comprehensive, Airtable lets non-techies manage data like they’d just done a course in MySQL.
It’s a great place to store information and we first started using it to archive and track all of our output – articles and the like.
However, in 2017, Airtable released a new feature which allowed line entries to be viewed as cards on a Kanban board. This along with an improving calendar feature encouraged us to switch over for our task management.
The result being that all information entered into our task manager was now archived forever in our database. Very smooth and very manageable.
Trello manages your tasks so you don’t have to
Full disclosure: it is Trello which we’ve been moving away from.
For us, the amount of data we had on our Trello boards made it slow and difficult to find things from the past.
However, for less data-intense teams, Trello is a great option because it is intuitive and the Kanban system is a very effective means of organizing.
When you’re working remotely, it is beneficial to be able to hop onto someone else’s Trello board, find the task they’re working on, and check their progress. Particularly if your work is reliant on some of their work.
You don’t need to reach out to that person, you can simply enter their virtual office and see if they’ve uploaded that file you need yet.
It saves you interrupting them and it saves you waiting for their response.
How to optimize these processes over time
Once your team are working from standardized documented processes, your job as the manager is to improve those processes.
Utilizing tools like the ones mentioned above can improve your processes through speeding up communication or making helpful resources easier to locate.
But optimizing a process requires you to pick it apart and look at different sections:
- How well is the desired output being achieved?
- How often does the process break down, and why?
- How much of the process can be automated?
There are whole libraries of books to help you improve your processes. You could use techniques related to the Deming cycle, like PDSA or PDCA to improve the quality of the output.
Or, you could employ Six Sigma techniques to reduce the defects in the process, like DMAIC.
But point three is even easier.
Tools like Zapier, IFTTT, and Flow can be used to cut out some of the more time consuming menial tasks like data entry. They can also be used to set up notifications to other team members automatically when another activity is created.
These third-party automation tools – of which Zapier is my personal favorite – can shave time of your processes and allow your team members to focus on the work they do best.
Build effective processes designed for your remote team
According to the McKinsey report Four Fundamentals of Workplace Automation, the typical marketing executive could save 15% of their working hours by automating simple tasks.
Automation is here and it can help you.
But automation will be of little use if you’re not working from set processes. Because if you’re not working from set processes, how will you know what to automate to attain best results – not just for yourself but for the whole team?
With a mix of process management philosophies, cloud based modern SaaS products, and one eye on the future, you could drastically improve the performance of your remote team.
Not with a whip. But by building processes which help them focus on what they do best.