In light of the global health concerns due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), many companies are considering whether to allow their employees to work remotely. You might be as well – but how do you make sure it can actually work in your office?

The case for remote work

I know there’s a fair number of skeptics out there who need to be convinced that remote work is effective in running a business. As a former chief operating officer who implemented a flex work policy at a large firm and as a current manager of an entirely remote team, I’ve seen firsthand the benefits of a setup that allows your team to work remotely.

Before I share the benefits, I’ll start by getting the most frequent objection out of the way: “But if they’re not here, how do I know they’re actually working?” Listen, if you’re really worried about that, it comes down to one of two things: Either you don’t trust yourself to manage your team remotely, or you’ve hired the wrong people to begin with.

If you’ve hired great people and are willing to put in the effort to learn how to manage a remote team effectively, you’ll be in good shape. Here are four of the biggest benefits you’ll see from allowing your team to work remotely, whether full time or part time.

1) Working remotely gives you flexibility in times of crisis.

Remote work should be a foundational piece of your business continuity plan. When *stuff* hits the fan, whether that be a pandemic, natural disaster, office flooding or fire or downed internet lines, you need the flexibility to keep your business up and running, so that your team can continue taking care of your clients.

2) Working remotely allows you to hire (and keep!) the best team members.

Allowing your team to work remotely allows you to hire the best employees – no matter where they are. If you are open to allowing remote work, you open up your business to all kinds of possibilities. Now you can hire incredibly talented people who can take your business to the next level but aren’t in your geographic area (and aren’t willing to move). A remote work policy also allows you to keep great team members who would normally have to resign due to things like a spouse relocation.

3) Working remotely reduces downtime.

There’s nothing more frustrating for a high-performing team member than being forced to take a vacation day to stay home with a sick child who is planted firmly in front of a screen all day. Wouldn’t you rather have them working and taking care of your clients? Because many times, they sure would! And wouldn’t you rather have a contagious-but-still-able-to-perform employee work from home than come in and infect the rest of the office? Because they – and the rest of your team – sure would! And if you get hit with a nasty winter storm, wouldn’t you rather your team stay home and take care of your clients remotely than risk their safety by getting out on treacherous roads? Because they sure would! Working remotely through these issues is a huge benefit to you and your employees.

4) Working remotely improves engagement.

Being able to work remotely also helps improve your team’s engagement. When I worked full time at a traditional office, I would often take my laptop out to the picnic tables or to a nearby coffee shop for a few hours for a change in scenery. While some people love working in an office, many others find an office distracting or challenging for creative and focused work. And if a team member has a long commute, skipping that commute even one day per week can give them hours of their life back every year!

How to make remote work actually work

Now that you’ve seen the benefits, let’s cover how to make a remote policy work well in your office – in a way that doesn’t just prevent a decrease in productivity, but could actually increase it!

1) Make sure you have the right technology in place

With the technology available today, your team should be able to do nearly 100% of their job from your office or Timbuktu. The bulk (if not all) of the tools you use daily should be cloud-based and accessible from anywhere with internet access. This includes:

  • CRM
  • Financial planning software
  • Trading platform
  • Reporting system
  • Research program
  • Email
  • Desktop programs like spreadsheet, word processing, and presentation software
  • Project management tools
  • New account opening platform
  • Document storage system
  • Email marketing system
  • Phone system
  • Website
  • Social media management tool

In addition, your team should all be equipped with:

  • A laptop (with appropriate antivirus and encryption protection software)
  • Computer camera
  • Videoconferencing system with dedicated user license
  • Remote phone capabilities (either a VoIP phone or cell phone at least partially subsidized by your business)

2) Set guidelines and expectations

Managing remote work starts by setting clear expectations. Create a written policy for remote work so that everyone is on the same page. Your policy should answer questions like:

  • How much remote work is acceptable? Full-time? One day per week?  Does it depend on the role?
  • What are the requirements for the location – internet, privacy, dedicated and professional-looking space, etc? Does it depend on what kind of activities will be taking place?
  • When do you expect employees to be available for phone calls, emails, and meetings? Keep in mind that it can be hard for fully-remote employees to feel like they can ever fully “shut off.” They might feel the need to “prove” that they are able to do the work remotely – so support them by establishing clear boundaries about when you do and do not expect a timely response.
  • What kind of a turnaround time do you expect when you, a client or team member sends an email or leaves a voicemail?
  • Are team members expected to include a special email responder or voicemail message when they are working remotely?
  • Who do team members need to communicate with if they are going to be working remotely for the day?
  • Who is responsible for adding video conference links to meetings when someone will be working remotely?
  • If you’re hiring a remote team member, what travel to the office is required?
  • How should company property and sensitive client data be protected?
  • What is the process if a laptop or sensitive client data is stolen?

3) Support collaboration and teamwork

One of my biggest learning curves with an all-remote team has been how to create that same sense of camaraderie and teamwork you might see in an office when the team is scattered around the country. I’ll distill what I’ve learned down to four key points:

  • Make sure everyone has the resources to do their job well, whether they are at the office or a remote location.
  • Leverage technology to support the sense of team. Use a video conference system for all team and one-on-one meetings; an instant message program for quick questions and “virtual water-cooler” talk; and a project management tool that allows for transparency and accountability.
  • Include remote team members in everything you do – build a step for this in all of your processes – so that they never feel “forgotten.”
  • Be intentional about building relationships. Have a standing agenda item during scheduled meetings to share personal and professional good news, encourage team members to spend time getting to know each other, and try to get your team together in person at least a few times per year.

4) Have clear communication channels

You should always have regular one-on-one meetings with your team. When you can’t just pop your head into an employee’s office (or they into yours), it’s even more important that you have scheduled times to connect with your team members and that you have dedicated communication channels that allow for quick responses for pressing issues. For most roles in an advisory firm, you’ll want at least a weekly check-in meeting to touch base – definitely by video conference so that you can see each other and share screens. Between meetings, be clear about the best way for your team member to get a timely response from you, whether that be by email, text, call or instant message. And also be clear on how you will reach out to team members if you have a pressing matter that needs immediate attention.

5) Create or modify processes to support remote work and business continuity.

Some of your office processes will need to be revised to support remote work. Consider your office opening procedures, for example. In case of emergency or inclement weather, how is your phone system turned on and rerouted? You’ll also need a procedure to notify employees and clients that the office is closed, and the ability to modify in-office appointments to be held virtually. Normal operating procedures might need some updates as well. Perhaps all client meeting invitations need to include a virtual meeting link, and new hire onboarding should include laptops and training on remote work policies.

6) Set yourself up well to manage the team remotely

As your team’s leader, you should know what is going on for your team, regardless of where they’re located. Can you easily pull a report to see what your team is working on that day? Yes, this helps you manage underperformers – but it also helps you stay in touch with what’s going on for your best team members. Remember, you can’t always “see” when someone is over capacity or struggling with a client challenge – especially when they’re remote. If the workload seems to be trending up significantly or you see a serious drop-off in calls logged, it gives you the opportunity to check in with your team member. How are they in relation to capacity? Do they need additional resources or support in another area? If it seems they got very little work done in a given day or week, touch base to see what’s going on, just like you would if they were in the office. And as always, assume the best of your team until they prove you wrong.

Allowing your team to work remotely – whether full time or just one or two days per week – can make a huge positive impact on your employees, your clients and your firm. By taking the time to communicate clear on expectations, ensuring your team has the right setup, and learning how to effectively manage remote employees, you can make sure your firm is positioned to respond to both risks and opportunities, now and in the future.

The opinions are those of the writer, and not the recommendations or responsibility of CWM, LLC

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