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How To Keep Sane Managing Remote Teams Not Used To Working From Home

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Global Workplace Analytics estimates that "56% of the U.S. workforce holds a job that is compatible (at least partially) with remote work", yet "only 3.6% of the employee workforce works at home half-time or more." There are many reasons for this. Many office-based employees enjoy the social aspect of being physically co-located and, for some younger employees, a hip workplace is a big plus when accepting a job offer. On the hiring side, managers fear losing control of their workforce and not being able to tell if people are slacking off. And, of course, there are the misconceptions from friends and family about whether or not you have a "proper" job.


But successfully working from home has made a huge difference in my personal life, in the business, and in the lives of our employees. It also is having a very real and positive impact on our bottom line. Today, I want to share some insights, tips, and words of encouragement with all businesses and employees who are suddenly finding themselves stuck working in their bedroom or at their dining table.

Juriba: A Fully Remote Company From The Start

Juriba has been a fully remote company since day one. Born out of a desire to reduce the London commute, our absence of office space soon become part of our identity as a company. When the new company directors initially got together to start Juriba, office space was a luxury that we couldn't afford. The initial answer was to put three desks in a spare room in my house with the goal of creating an office environment where we could collaborate. But because we lived quite far from each other and each person was deep into their own discipline, the hours spent there reduced relatively quickly.

While we used the space occasionally, we made the decision to stay remote when we hired our first employee. We were cautious about our costs for a long time, and committing to a long, expensive lease on an office space that we might not fully utilize (or might even outgrow) wasn't something we wanted to invest in. Being office-bound would also mean that we could only hire in and around London, competing with much larger companies there. Instead, we decided to invest in people rather than office space, and we employed each new hire on a working-from-home basis.

Of course, it has not all been smooth sailing, and this article will highlight the lessons that we have learned. But we have made it work. To put things into perspective, in January 2018, Juriba had 32 members of staff. Twenty-four months later, in January 2020, that number had grown to 68 people. In the past five years, Juriba's revenue has increased by 226% and remote working is ingrained in our company culture.

Working From Home (WFH) Has Extensive Benefits For Us As A Company

From a business point of view, there are some key advantages to a remote working environment.

For one, you are recruiting in a much wider pool of people. For example, we can employ someone who is in remote Wales, in Newcastle, or in the Ukraine. It doesn't really matter to us where you're based, as long as you have the qualifications and the facility to work from home effectively.

Without the commute, employees gain back 1-3 hours in their day (the average commute in the UK is 59 minutes), plus work tends to get done faster and with more focus at home without constant interruptions or distractions. Employees are less tired and more productive. Depending on their personal circumstances, some people put a tangible value on being able to work remotely and that can translate to a better affinity with the company they are working for. They might have small children or an elderly parent to care for and spend quality time with, or they might want to have some more space to spread out, afford a bigger house, or send their children to a better school when working remotely.

Also, if everyone is working from home, it brings a certain equality to the company. A major benefit is that remote working seems to remove a lot of the politics that happen when people are together in an office. Maybe it is because cliques are harder to form, or that status symbols, such as private offices, are removed. At Juriba, we find that working from home creates a level playing field for all staff, and this brings you closer together as a team, as long as you have the right tools in place to effectively collaborate.

On the downside, in my experience, the concept of remote working seems to narrow the demographic of people applying for jobs to those whose stage of life or home situation is compatible with home working. For example, younger people might not apply for a remote position because they like the social nature of going into a physical office or they might not have a living situation suitable for working from home as they often have room mates or small spaces to live in.

From a business perspective, a remote working environment allows you to quickly scale up or, if necessary, flex down, giving you much more agility than a physical office space with a long-term lease would. Disaster recovery plans are much lighter in a technically flexible environment without many of the usual single points of failure. As we can see during this pandemic, this is really important. With more than 1 in 10 Americans out of work right now, office spaces remain empty and unused, yet the companies continue to incur significant fixed space costs.

Tips For Managing Remote Teams

In my role as Chief Operating Officer, I am responsible for overseeing the product development and business operations. Here are some personal tips based on our lessons learned:

Adopt Agile/Scrum. I think that working remotely is especially easy for a software company because Agile and Scrum (project management methodologies) both lend themselves very well to this scenario by providing regular touch points and short term goals. When working in sprints, you commit as a team at the start of the week to the work that you are going to do. Then you either pass or fail the sprint based on whether you have delivered that work or not.

Hold Daily Morning Stand Up Meetings. Each morning, the team has a short morning meeting called Stand Up. This serves as a daily checkpoint — a time to communicate with the team what team members did yesterday, what they are going to do today, and if they have any blockers. This ensures that everyone's working in sync.

Invest In The Right Technology. At Juriba, we use Microsoft Teams for team collaboration and productivity. It has been working extremely well at facilitating more team conversation. That constant stream of chat replaces, to some extent, the natural dialogue that happens in an office environment when you are physically co-located.

Switch On Your Video During Conference Calls. We didn't do video for a long time and it was scary at first. But gradually, the tide turned. We didn't force people to use video, but we encouraged them to do it. I always use video now as it adds an extra dimension to the dialogue. Not only is a conversation much more engaging when you can see the other person, but you also get the benefit of non-verbal communication.

Consider Increasing Security. When you have people working from home and using their own devices or even company-issued devices, you will need to be more conscious about security. At Juriba, we have everything in the cloud, which means you can't lock physical servers away. So, you have to invest a lot more effort and time into your cybersecurity by, for example, creating firewalls, multi-factor authentication, and device encryption.

Allow For More Small Talk At The Beginning Of The Meeting. It is crucial for virtual teams to have the time to get to know each other and build stronger relationships. So, for the first five or ten minutes, we talk about non-work stuff. It gives people that important water cooler moment.

Focus On Output Rather Than Hours. At some point, any company working remotely will settle into a natural structure and routine. While some companies define certain core hours where everyone has to be working, we are more flexible. I find that if you allow your employees more flexibility, they are very willing to accommodate a once-in-a-while evening call with a colleague working in a different time zone.

Have In-Person Team Meetings Once a Month (Once This Is All Over). While we are an entirely remote company, we do have monthly team meetings called HUGS for staff in the same country. These allow everyone to spend some quality time with each other while tackling bigger projects or meetings at the same time. Of course, our team meetings are now suspended for as long as required, and so this is a recommendation for when quarantine is over. I am including this tip because the pandemic will have a permanent effect on our working practices, with 25-30% of employees being expected to switch to fully remote positions as a consequence of having to work from home during the lockdown.

I hope you found this helpful. Some of our co-workers have shared some great tips from an employee perspective which I will share with you in the coming days. Please feel free to share any additional tips or even pitfalls you have encountered in the comments below.

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