3 tips for transitioning your team to remote work

We interviewed a CEO, our VP of People, and a Director of Talent Acquisition to learn from their experiences on transitioning to remote work as a company.

Vanessa Diaz
May 6, 2020

Last week, on Coffee Talk with the Webflow Community, we interviewed Leah Knobler, Jack Altman, and our own Heather Doshay to talk about the transition to remote work. Whether you are a business owner looking for guidance managing your team, or just navigating this new normal, we hope you’ll find value in their experiences.

Leah Knobler has been the Director of Talent Acquisition at Help Scout for almost 5 years, and they’ve been a remote company since day 1.

Jack Altman has been the CEO and co-founder of Lattice for almost 5 years, and they were co-located until the shelter-in-place.

Heather Doshay is VP, People at Webflow, which has over a 70% remote workforce. The recording of their interview on Coffee Talk is available here.

It’s important to acknowledge that working remotely on a normal day-to-day basis is very different from working remotely during uncertain times. Without the ability to get that external connection many of us rely on, it’s challenging to see the full potential of how wonderful remote work can be. Here’s what our guests have learned about maintaining company culture remotely, prioritizing mental health, and adapting a business plan in uncertain times.

3 tips for transitioning team members to remote work

1. Maintaining company culture remotely 

For previously co-located teams like Jack’s at Lattice, working remotely was a massive change. He recognized that concurrent with this shift, employees were feeling anxious about the news, their health, the economy, so he brought in LifeLabs Learning to teach managers about best practices and essential skills for remote work.  

Even for teams who were previously fully remote like Leah’s at Help Scout, there are still huge challenges in that they are readjusting to changing business goals, new hiring plans, and 40% of the company doubling as teachers and full-time caregivers on top of their day job. She recommends doubling down on being human at work, and embracing when our personal lives might interrupt Zoom meetings, instead of apologizing for it. She hopes one positive outcome of this strange time will be that we can all be more human and authentic at work, and as a result our company cultures will be stronger.

Action items

  • Find what makes your company special or unique and find ways to keep doing it remotely or over video ... but don’t just recreate everything that was happening in person. Some things will not translate and that’s okay. For example, instead of meetings, record video updates that celebrate employees, share company news, provide a connection point that people look forward to, and are convenient across time zones.
  • Lean into the advantages that being at home can offer in terms of deepening working relationships. For example, give home tours “MTV Cribs” style and schedule social hours with children, partners, and pets invited.
  • Schedule optional daily or weekly connection chats that are a safe space open to anyone to join and talk without an agenda. For example, hold a weekly time so anyone can drop in and chat, or create a signup sheet to host a chat on a specific topic. The key is to keep it consistent. 
  • Create plenty of topic-based Slack channels. 
  • Reach out proactively to have a short chat with colleagues. 
  • Use the Donut integration on Slack, which matches people to get to know others across your organization. 
  • If you haven’t yet, try virtual backgrounds on Zoom and pretend you’re all in the same place, or each choose your favorite place. The theme possibilities are endless. Have fun with it! Not sure how? Learn all about them here.

Tips to deal with conflict between remote employees

  • Jump into video chats instead of writing messages back and forth. No need to send a calendar invite, just reach out and offer to chat on a quick Zoom call. It gives you facial cues, tone, and context that typing doesn’t. Remember to check in with yourself first — if you are feeling anxious or stressed it might be best to save the conversation for the next day. Be human. Be understanding.
  • Have each member of your team write user guides and make them accessible to the whole company to understand each other’s communication styles and perspectives. Before any discussion, read that person’s guide.

What’s the #1 thing companies should implement to keep employees happy?

Company leaders should first and foremost understand that we can’t force happiness, and it’s okay that people are not feeling like their best, most productive selves right now.

Heather encourages leaders to be vulnerable and open with employees, to strive to connect with them and focus on building psychological safety, peace, and steadiness within the company—not happiness. With that in mind, all communications and policy changes should be captured in a frequently-updated document, to minimize confusion and keep people from having to search through messages for information.

Lean into transparency and over communicate as much as possible to give the team a sense of trust and security. Shoot for company updates at least every 2 weeks to keep people informed of your company’s shifting plans.

2. Prioritizing mental health

We've all felt the effects of stress in these strange times and can appreciate how important it is to take care of our mental health. Here are 5 ways you can prioritize mental health in the workplace:

  1. Normalize therapy. Leah encourages everyone to block out an hour on your calendar for teletherapy visits, update your Slack status, and show that it’s okay to take this time for yourself. Jack reminds us that mental health is equally as important as physical health. Just as exercise is done to keep our body healthy, therapy should be done for mental health.
  2. Start meetings with a check-in to see how people are feeling and make space for that. Try a stop light check-in where red means you might be in a dark place and not at your best, yellow means you might be a little off but are trying to get things done, and green means you are feeling good and productive. 
  3. Realize that a day full of Zoom meetings can be more draining than a day full of in-person meetings. Try setting limits for your daily time spent on Zoom.
  4. Make time to go out for walks (if it’s safe and available to you) or include some form of exercise in your day, as this can also impact your emotional health.
  5. High impact perks you might consider: open mental health channels on Slack to give and get support, Bravely professional coaching, low copay for teletherapy. If you’re not at a company that offers these: try EmpowerWork.org for free text based counseling and many companies are offering free trials right now so that everyone can benefit from their support even if you don’t have a team.

How do leaders cope with being the ones everyone looks to for guidance during a time of need when they are also feeling that same stress?

  • Remember that we are experiencing this collective trauma together and use it to be more real, vulnerable, and human at work. 
  • Acknowledge that it’s normal to feel emotions and care deeply, but then allow yourself focus on something else as an outlet to detach. Try taking walks or silly TV shows, or whatever it is that brings you joy.
  • Rely on your community and networks for support and learnings. 

Balancing productivity and mental health

When a company is going through changes or difficult times there's often a lot more work that needs to be done.

Jack suggests that what needs to happen now is working smarter and more strategically and you can only do that if you've given yourself the mental health space to do so. For many this means taking advantage of an integrated work life. For example, if you need to take the time to be with your children during the work day, take that break without feeling guilty and then allow yourself to find time for some work on a weekend if necessary.

3. Adapting your business plan in uncertain times

Whether you're doing your own freelance work or you're a small or medium sized business, in general business planning is basically trying to predict what you think the future will look like, and then building for that. In normal times the difference in the outcomes that might happen is small enough that we can plan.

Currently the range of possibilities in how things will go is so much wider. So for most of us, the right thing to do is to plan more conservatively. If things go much better than you can scramble and ramp up but that's usually a much easier position to put yourself in than getting ahead of yourself and having to scale back.

Tips for leaders

  • Slow hiring to take care of your current team in the best possible way. Critically consider all new hires to ensure they have all the resources they need when they start.
  • Consider all practices and policies while recognizing the needs people have during this time. Try to find what you should stick to and what you can step back on.
  • Reset expectations and communicate to your team. Encourage every manager to spend time clearly laying out what is expected of employees, especially if the current climate has brought specific changes to roles. 
  • For those adapting to planning virtual retreats, Leah’s team recently planned a very impactful, meaningful week and you can read about it here.
  • Acknowledge this high volatility situation that we're in and prepare for all of those cases, but also look for where your opportunities are and where there might be a new need in the market that you can meet. 

Whether you’re new to working from home or not, this new normal affects everyone in different ways. We appreciate Leah, Jack, and Heather’s insights and hope you’ve found a few useful tips. To learn more about working remotely, check out our recent blog post that explores the good, the bad, and the unexpected.

Join us for the next Coffee Talk with the Webflow Community, which airs every other Thursday at 11am PT (register here).

Vanessa Diaz

Events Manager at Webflow

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