How to Create a Productive Remote Team During the COVID-19 Crisis

At Main Street ROI, our team has been working remotely for the last 10 years, so the COVID-19 pandemic has not affected our work environment.  Except, of course, for our team members with kids who are now juggling working from home with home-schooling (myself included).

But for many businesses working remotely is new, and likely scary, territory.  How do you ensure productivity across your team when you’re not physically in the same office?  How do you maintain your company culture?  How do you maintain work/life balance?

Those are just a few questions you may be asking yourself in this new remote environment.  The goal of this article is to answer those questions and hopefully relieve some of the stress you’re likely experiencing.  I know because I’ve been wrangling with these questions for over 10 years!

Based on my experience, here are the 6 most important lessons I’ve learned about creating a productive remote team…

Lesson #1: Do Not Rely On Email Alone

This is by far the most important lesson I’ve learned over the years.  As you and your colleagues work remotely it’s easy to fall into the trap of overly relying on email communication (or worse, text messaging) because of its convenience.  This is a trap you must avoid because it kills productivity.

Here’s why…

When you’re working in an office and talking in-person, then you’re able to communicate effectively using all of your senses.  You can read body language, see facial expressions, listen to which words are emphasized in a sentence, hear the tone and volume of the person’s voice, and most importantly recognize the context of what was spoken to you.  For example, “Did you really do that?” could be a playful, happy question or a stern, request for clarification depending on the delivery.

But all of these critical communication signals are lost in email and text messages.  Ultimately, that leads to miscommunication, frustration, errors, and lost productivity.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you ban email in your company.  Use the phone when possible, and when you need to use email, then take the extra time to make the email 100% crystal clear.

Lesson #2: Establish Regularly Scheduled Huddles

The next lesson is to create structure in your remote team by using regularly scheduled huddles. Huddles are either conference calls or video calls where you meet with your team to push projects forward.  For most businesses, weekly is the best frequency.

There are two key benefits of making these recurring meetings:

  1. Eliminate the unproductive time of scheduling ad hoc meetings throughout the week.
  2. Reduce the amount of time spent on 1-to-1 emails and calls throughout the week because your team will know they can bring issues to the recurring weekly huddle.  This is a meeting that actually saves you meeting time throughout the week!

Remember, in a remote environment, there are no impromptu “water-cooler chats” and no “lunch meetings” where your team can collaborate.  So you need to proactively create these interactions with team huddles.

Depending on the size of your business, you may need one or more huddles in a week.  For example, at Main Street ROI, we have a weekly SEO Team huddle and a weekly Ad Team huddle, in addition to a weekly Marketing huddle and an Operations huddle.

These meetings will ensure you maintain productivity across all the key functions in your company.

Lesson #3: Use a Cloud-Based Project Management Tool

The third lesson is to use a cloud-based project management tool if you’re not already.  There are a lot of tools available like Basecamp, Asana, Monday, Hive, and the list goes on and on…

At Main Street ROI, we’ve tested several tools and ultimately chose Basecamp because each client project has its own “home base” with tasks and files.  That’s important for us, but another tool may be better for your operations.

Regardless of the tool you choose, you’ll want to use a cloud-based project management tool for the following benefits:

  1. Your team’s discussions and files for a particular project will be stored in an area that will be easy to reference in the future.  Sure, you could use email, but over time it’s nearly impossible to track down a particular discussion or file about an old project you worked on.
  2. Tasks can be assigned, reassigned, discussed, and updated across your entire remote team.
  3. Management can monitor productivity across your team.  In an office, it’s easy to keep a pulse on who is getting work done and who is not, but when your team is remote you need a tool like this.
  4. Management can monitor workloads across your team and then reassign tasks as needed.  The project management tool gives you a birds-eye view of your tasks so you can ensure all the work gets done and no one on your team is over or under capacity.

Lesson #4: Use Cloud-Based Files

Lesson four is to use cloud-based files rather than files saved locally on individual computers.  At Main Street ROI, we use Google Drive files like Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Forms.

Cloud-based files will improve productivity because your team will not have to worry about whether or not they are updating the most recent version of a file.  It also reduces the risk of work being overwritten or lost as multiple team members edit a local file.

Plus, cloud-based files can be accessed and edited by multiple team members at the same time, which facilitates more collaboration.  I recommend creating a cloud-based agenda file for your meetings so that everyone shares the same file and you can all take centralized notes.

Lesson #5: Establish Your “In Office” vs. “Out of Office” Schedule

When you have an office, it’s much easier to maintain a healthy work/life balance because there is a physical difference between your work and the rest of your life.

Without an office, it’s easy for you and your team to slip into an unhealthy lifestyle that will not be sustainable and will ultimately hurt productivity.

One way to encourage a healthy work/life balance across your remote team is to establish “in office” vs. “out of office” days and times in your shared company calendars.  For example, I urge you to create blocks in your calendar that specify when you’re “out of office.” That will alert your team that you’re not available during those days or hours.

Of course, you and your team need to respect these hours by not calling or texting team members when they are “out of office.”  Email is OK to use because it can be dealt with when that person is back “in the office.”

This will not happen overnight, but with frequent reminders, your team will eventually learn to check calendars to see who is available.  This will help keep you and your team sane by building in downtime in your schedule.

Lesson #6: Maintain Your Culture via Video Conferences

Lastly, lesson six is to maintain your company culture using video conferences.  The “huddles” explained above can be done via video conference, which will reinforce your culture on a more frequent basis.  At a minimum, you’ll want to schedule monthly company-wide video conferences so your team gets some face-to-face human interaction.

This can be done using Google Meet, Zoom, WebEx, GoToMeeting, or any other video conferencing tool available.

Remember, there’s no substitute for face-to-face meetings and there’s no reason your team can’t see each other with all the online tools we have now.

Take Action!

If you implement some or all of these lessons, then I’m confident your business will stay productive through this COVID crisis.