Chapter 4

Organizational Survival Kit

A successful leader and manager is one that can bring out the best in everyone that they work with. A good leader is one that knows how to spearhead the journey to success. As the leader of a remote workforce, there are a few rules of thumb to think about when you’re trying to communicate with a remote workforce:

  • Stick to the Agreed Upon Norms – This can help to eliminate a lot of confusion and miscommunication. It is always easier to deliver a message when it is done in person. It minimizes the chances of miscommunication happening, and it allows you to get a better read on the situation you’re being faced with, and where remote working is concerned, important messages should ideally be delivered in real-time via video call. That’s one example of an agreed-upon norm that could be implemented. It could also be in the form of agreed response times or standardizing the use of platforms that are used across the company. The important thing is for all team members and key players involved to be on the same page to make collaboration as effective as it can be.
  • Defining Your Goals – A good leader is one who is clear on what the organization’s goals are and what needs to be achieved, and they would need to communicate these goals with the rest of their team, so everyone is working towards the same thing. You need to rally your remote workforce around goals that have been clearly defined and a good leader needs to take ownership of that. Devise a plan to turn those goals a reality together with your team and this effort helps to ensure that everyone feels included.
  • Avoid Brevity Where Possible – Unless you and your team already have an established list of shorthand protocols that are always in use, it is best to avoid making the assumption that other people in the team are going to understand your brevity. Invest in a little extra time to make the message extra clear to your team. It’s always better to have the message delivered loud and clear rather than risk misunderstanding along the way, which could jeopardize the quality of the work that gets produced.
  • Don’t Overdo the Communication – Bombarding your team with one email after another, several phone calls, and multiple text messages are only going to overwhelm them. Imagine that each email you send out is as if you were walking physically to your colleague’s workspace and piling the requests on them. It’s overwhelming, and as anxious as you may be to make sure the job is done, you need to pace yourself and be flexible with your expectations. Give your team members a reasonable response time, given that they are working remotely. This is where an agreed-upon set of norms would come in useful. Keep your digital volume down to a minimum and think carefully before hitting the “send” button.
  • Be Consistent In Your Guidance – There is nothing worse than a leader who is scattered all over the place. As a leader, you need to remember that everyone is looking to you for guidance, even if they are remote. It is you that they take their orders from. In order to be effective, you must be consistent in the way you do things. Be fair in your treatment and your rewards, be consistent in your methods of leadership, and be consistent in your principles.
  • Make All Ideas Feel Like They Matter – There are going to be some people in your team that have better ideas than the next person, it happens. But as a leader, if you want to be successful and effective, it is your job to listen to everyone’s ideas, even if they are not necessarily good ones. Make it your personal policy to encourage anyone with an idea to approach you and give them a chance to express their ideas. Your job is to be encouraging, regardless of whether the idea gets used or not.
  • Transparency Is Necessary – Your remote team is not going to see you every day, and they need to feel secure enough in your leadership to trust you. Being open, honest, and transparent in everything you do as a leader will show your team that you lead with integrity and honesty, and this will help to strengthen their trust in you. Trust and respect go a long way in successful and effective management, and if your team doesn’t respect you or trust you as a leader, your team will be doomed right from the start with no hope of success.
  • Be Accommodating To The Introverts – The more introverted members of the team will really enjoy the aspect of remote working that lets them work at their own pace and within a comfort zone that is easy for them to concentrate in. It is important to keep the introverted members of the team in mind and be attentive to their needs, so they continue to feel nurtured and valued by your leadership, even when they’re working remotely. Perhaps they benefit and prefer written forms of communication rather than constant video calls every other day.
  • Be Respectful Toward All Team Members – Respect is one of the major key principles that absolutely must be present with a team and an organization and even more so among a remote workforce. Respect among leaders and the people that they lead is the glue that keeps the team successful, and when there is no respect, things can unravel really quickly, and not in a positive way. The best type of leaders are ones that provide a working system where employees help each other and value the contributions that each individual makes. Effective leaders constantly encourage their peers to bring their A-game to work every day and help them overcome the challenges faced without belittling them. In a remote workforce, respect will be the key to keeping your team strong, united, and happy.
  • Socialize and Celebrate – Find little ways to celebrate and socialize with your team to help strengthen relationships, even though you may not be seeing each other in person every day. Even a simple gesture like group video calls to wish a member of the team happy birthday can be a way of boosting rapport and a sense of belonging among the group. All work and no play makes for a very dull and demotivated team. Every now and then, you need to break the monotony, let loose and have a little fun to recharge your team, especially if they have been working hard towards meeting a goal or a deadline.
  • Organize In-Person Catch Ups – Go out for lunch together, organize a team get together outside of work for a fun activity, when someone in the team is having a birthday, make a celebration of it. Or maybe even for the heck of it, just go for a movie together as a team. There are lots of ways that a leader can bring a little fun into the mix.
  • Make Connections – Connecting and engaging with team members shouldn’t only happen when an online meeting takes place. Go the extra mile and make a connection with each member of your team. Build a connection that is meaningful that shows your team members you genuinely care about them and their welfare, not just because it is part of your job to do so. Set an example by reaching out to them on a regular basis, congratulate them on little victories accomplished, remember special moments like their birthdays and anniversaries. These efforts will go a long way in keeping your team happy.

The challenges of managing a remote working team are not going to disappear entirely, but having a set of consistent rules, protocols, and an organized way of conduct will go a long way.

Managing Your Remote Team Effectively

It’s not easy being in a position of leadership. The dynamics of the work environment and setup are constantly changing. Years ago, no one could have predicted we would one day be able to work right from our living room without ever leaving the house. No one might have anticipated we would one day see leaders managing teams virtually. Being a leader is not easy. Not only are you responsible for your own work, but you are also responsible for inspiring, leading, and motivating a team of individuals under you to be the very best that they can be every day at work to achieve the set goals. The toughest thing about guiding and managing a team of people remotely is working with all the different personalities and getting those personalities to work together effectively and successfully. No two people are the same in a team, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach that can be taken because of how different the people in a team can be.

Leadership takes persistence and perseverance, and most of all, a lot of patience on the part of the leader. Leaders need to constantly evaluate their leadership method to see if their approaches are working as well as they should. When everyone in a team can successfully work well together and is the embodiment of what the word “teamwork” means, then you will know you are on the right track. They also need to know the strengths and weaknesses of each member of the team, remote employees included. A good leader is one that delegates the right jobs to the right people, so they come away with excellent results because they know just what to do when a job is given to them. People have been known to become better performers and become more engaged staff when they feel they are really excelling at the tasks at hand, and you would be surprised at just how much this can impact the productivity in a team.

One of the biggest challenges as the leader of a remote team is keeping that team spirit alive. Now, more than ever is when you need to be a walking embodiment of the phrase: There is no “I” in a team. Meaning, that any success in a team is achieved as a team, with everyone pulling their weight equally, and it’s important that both on-site and remote employees are included in this. The best way to spur your team to keep on performing to the best of their abilities? By openly acknowledging when a job has been well done. A good leader is one who not only congratulates the team for a job well done but also provides the right kind of feedback on what can be improved on to do even better. There’s a lot of tact involved here because you don’t want to end up saying the wrong things and making your team feel that all their efforts are not appreciated just because there are some areas that can be improved upon. Constantly encourage your team and always acknowledge when a job has been done well to give them the drive to keep going.

How to Prepare and Track Online Meetings

Online meetings are now an increasingly popular way to connect work when you can’t physically be at the office. Traditionally, meetings can sometimes be one of the biggest waste of time in office culture. You might even say that five out of the 10 meetings that you sit in are either unnecessary or, at the very least inefficiently run. In a remote work setting, the likelihood that meetings are going to continue to be a time-waster is increased even more, especially if you don’t figure out beforehand what you’re going to talk about or whether the meaning is even necessary in the first place. Some things, by their very nature, are just not a good use of group time. For example, if you’re trying to get feedback on an extensive document, something like that might be better handled offline. On the other hand, if items are sensitive or require significant back and forth or clarification. They can be a great use of meeting time.

Meetings are resource-intensive, and they take up people’s time. Most people mistakenly think that if you schedule a one-hour meeting on the calendar and if the meeting is not productive, then you’ve only lost one hour of time. But in fact, you have to look at it in terms of the number of people-hours exhausted. If you have five people in your meeting, and you’ve had a one-hour meeting that’s not one hour of wasted time. That’s five hours of wasted time, one for each person, and from there, it’s pretty easy to quantify how much a meeting is costing either your company or your clients depending on how your business is set up. Just multiply those hours by the salaries of the employees involved or your billable rate. One fair way to do it is to assign delegates from each department so that you have one person representing each group or department. Their job is to represent that team, and then filter that information back to them and make sure that their interests are represented and so on. The same principles can apply to virtual team meetings too, where the leader holds an online conference with the respective heads of department, who might then pass the message along to the rest of the remote team members.

Tracking your online meetings these days is easy, with the multiple video conferencing options available. You can see exactly who is logged in to your meetings, and holding group conferences has never been easier. It’s preparing for the meetings that require a little extra work. Here are a few tips to follow as you make preparations to participate in your online meeting:

  • Test Your Tech – It’s always a good idea to set up and test your tech and equipment before the meeting starts, so you’re not wasting any time fumbling at the start of the meeting trying to get your microphone or your camera to work. Make sure these are all in working order well before your meeting, not during. Joining the meeting early is recommended if you can, especially if you’re going to speak during the meeting for just this reason.
  • Getting Rid of Background Noise – Conduct your online meetings while sitting in a quiet space and try and eliminate any noises that may be distracting, including putting your phone on silent. Your microphone may pick up background noise, and that can be a major distraction for other meeting participants. Mute your microphone whenever you aren’t speaking. This simple step is an easy way to guarantee that background noises, movements, breathing, or other sounds are not going to be a source of distraction. Don’t distract from whoever is currently speaking and when it’s your turn to speak, remember to unmute your microphone.
  • Invest in A Good Microphone – Video conferencing tools like Zoom will automatically check for available output devices and allow you to change your preferred audio output source, such as laptops speakers, desk speakers, or headphones. However, if you’re not using Zoom, it’s a good idea to invest in a proper set of headphones if you don’t already have it. While most laptops and computers today do have built-in microphones, they’re often not the best quality or the loudest, so it might benefit you to look into purchasing a simple USB mic or headset to improve your sound quality. You can even use simple headphones with an inline mic like the ones that you might get with an iPhone. Proper meeting etiquette suggests wearing your headphones to keep your speakers from echoing back into the audio feed.
  • Maintaining Good Eye Contact – Eye contact is an important part of any speech, and it’s something that people struggle with when meeting online. The best way to mimic eye contact online is to focus on your webcam and not your screen, or anything else around you. Place your webcam app around eye level for the most flattering angle, and to keep the wide-angle lens of the camera from distorting your face. Even if you’re feeling shy, it’s important to find a way to cope. If everyone else has their webcams on, it’s proper meeting etiquette for you to do the same.
  • Consider Your Background – If there’s anything in your background that may be distracting, try and move it before the meeting. Some online meeting platforms allow you to blur your background, while others allow you to change it altogether. These are both good options to hide what otherwise might distract speakers and fellow meeting participants.
  • Using Proper Lighting – If you’re going to be on camera during an online meeting, you need to have proper lighting. It’s important to make sure others can see you. To ensure that happens, work in a well-lit room and avoid having any lights point directly at your camera. Traditional webcams work by automatically adjusting your settings based on the brightest part of the image. So, in order to get the best out of your webcam video, you want the brightest part of the image to your face. Move away from bright objects behind you, such as lamps and windows to prevent your image from blowing out or becoming too bright in the wrong areas, leaving yourself in the dark. Instead, you can place yourself in front of these objects to light yourself. Keep in mind that if you move too close, you’ll start looking a bit pale and if you move too far away, you’ll start fading into the darkness of the background. The best practice is to evenly like both sides of your face using either too small or one large source of light near us such as table lamps or ring lights positioned at or slightly above eye level to prevent casting unflattering shadows.
  • Be Natural – Treat it like any other meeting. Online meetings may be awkward at times, but behaving as you normally would, in person will make it less so. If you wouldn’t do it during an in-person meeting, don’t do it in an online one. Dress, speak, and behave as you would during any other meeting, and you’ll be just fine. It’s also important to remember that once you join a meeting, there’s always a possibility that your webcam is on and that someone is able to see you. Dress appropriately, at least from the waist up. If you don’t stand up, you can be wearing anything for pants, and no one would be none the wiser.
  • Avoid Being Distracted – Remember that just like in a face to face conversation, it’s all too obvious in online meetings when you’re too distracted or if you’re looking off to do something else. Be engaged by keeping yourself in the camera view and looking at other people that are talking in the virtual meeting.
  • Username and Profile Picture – Encourage all members of the team to use their real names and profile pictures to make it easy to identify the participants in the chat room before the meeting commences. Putting a name to a face will make it much easier for everyone involved to know exactly who they are speaking to, especially for the new staff who join the business.
  • Time Zone Confirmations – If you’re conducting virtual meetings with employees based in different time zones and locations around the world, confirm the time zones beforehand so everyone is on the same page about what time the meeting should start. Time zones can be a tricky one to navigate, so be sure to confirm well in advance a suitable time that works for everyone who is going to be involved in the meeting.
  • Be on Time – Make an effort to be punctual, especially if you are the one who is hosting the meeting. Time is money, and you don’t want to be wasting anyone’s time or wasting time waiting for members of the team to join before the meeting can commence. You wouldn’t be late for an on-site office meeting, and it is important to remind your team to maintain the same punctuality etiquette as this is still a professional meeting that is being conducted.
  • Call If There Are Last Minute Changes – If you or any member of the team has a last-minute conflict or emergency that prevents you from attending the meeting, it is best to pick up the phone and give the people who are going to be involved in a meeting a heads-up. Since it is at the last minute, they might not check their emails in time, so a phone call would be more appropriate in this instance.
  • Dressing Presentably – You might enjoy the luxury of being able to work in your pajamas, but if you know there is going to be a business meeting video call scheduled, proper etiquette requires that you dress appropriately for the meeting. It simply won’t do for the rest of the virtual team to see you rumpled or disheveled like you just rolled out of bed (even if you did). Be presentable and dress the way you would if you were attending an on-site meeting. Professionalism is still necessary, even when working remotely so your team members can take you seriously.
  • A Quick Round of Introductions – Where necessary, always do a quick round of introductions and acknowledge everyone who is on live during the virtual meeting. New employees will appreciate this and feel welcomed. If you are aware that not everyone in the meeting might be familiar with each other, do a quick round of introductions and mention the names and various departments that are currently participating in the meeting.
  • Internet Connection – Even after all this prep, the meeting can still fall apart if you have a poor internet connection. Always check your connection before you begin your meeting. If you’re on a laptop, move closer to your Wi-Fi router and close down all unnecessary applications on your computer that rely on an internet connection. If you’re on a cell phone or a tablet, try switching your connection to Wi-Fi instead of cellular data because data plans can often cap your internet speed to very low numbers, which will result in choppy audio and drop meeting calls. You can always check your internet connection speed by going over to Google and sourcing for an internet speed test website like SpeedTest.net. A good standard speed is about 20 megabits per second for download and five megabits per second for upload. That’s a loose guideline to use as a point of reference, and it really depends on your internet provider speeds.

What to Do After the Meeting

Once the meeting is over, as the leader, you’re going to be responsible for following with the rest of the team to make sure everyone has a clear idea of what their objectives, next action steps, and deliverables are. Once the minutes of the meeting have been finalized, send an email to all the meeting attendees. The attendees should be clear on the following aspects: – What are their next action steps moving forward

  • What they are responsible for and what needs to be reported at the next meeting
  • What are the expected deliverables and deadlines
  • Who is the person in charge of each deliverable that has been set
  • The time and date of the next meeting to check-in and report on progress

Touch base with each meeting attendee individually too and have a quick chat about how well they thought the meeting went. A quick phone call will suffice for this one, and all you need to do is confirm they’re happy with how the meeting went and if they would like to clarify any questions or concerns that they might have felt too awkward to raise in front of the rest of the team. Alternatively, you could create an anonymous feedback survey if your team members are more comfortable with that approach. Feedback is always appreciated for ongoing improvement to make virtual meetings even better moving forward.

Seeking feedback is part of making yourself an accessible leader, even more so when you’re managing a remote team. Making yourself accessible here means making yourself not just an approachable figure to your team who is willing and ready to listen to their complaints, but to be a successful leader, you need to make yourself open and accessible to receiving criticism too. No one likes being criticized, and it takes real courage for a leader to make themselves open to it because no one ever likes listening to negative things about themselves. But avoiding the issue is not the way to go, and if your team feel like you are willing to give and receive, and listen to criticisms with an open mind, in the long run, it will benefit everyone (both leader and the team) because when you know what the weaknesses are, you can work to improve on it. And that is what being successful is all about.

If you have questions for your team, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask either. Just because you are the leader, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have all the answers to everything. The worst thing you can do as a leader is to pretend that you know it all and to end up making a mistake in the end because of poor judgment. A successful leader that practices transparency will be honest if they do not know for certain what the answer may be. A successful leader doesn’t pretend to know it all for the sake of keeping up appearances but instead tries to gain access to the resources that are able to provide those answers and then share them with the team.

Best Tools to Backup and Secure Documents

Keeping your files safe and secure is not a problem anymore with the myriad of tools available. Saving documents and backing up your files is the greener way to go, in fact. You save the environment by not using as much paper, and you keep your files safe in the cloud, and there they will remain forever until they get deleted. Many of these options are available for free too, so there is no reason not to backup your work. It cannot be emphasized enough just how important it is to always back up your work. Imagine spending hours on a document only to lose it or accidentally delete it? That’s hours of hard work that you’ve put in gone in a matter of seconds. There always needs to be copies of important company documentation online other than your computer hard drive, since a hard drive crash could also happen when you least expect it.

Store your documents on a USB drive, a hard drive, an external hard drive, and store them in the cloud too. Cloud backup tools like Google Drive and Dropbox have made it much easier, and it’s a good idea to have multiple backups on separate devices. That way, if one gets compromised, you still don’t break a sweat when you know you’ve got a spare. Access your files anytime and anywhere while you’re on the go on any device with any of the following options to choose from:

  • Google Drive
  • Paragon Backup and Recovery
  • Dropbox
  • Cobian Backup
  • Microsoft One Drive
  • Office 365
  • Nakivo Backup

Remote working teams can easily collaborate on the same document and make changes in real-time with the right tools. Who says working in a team has to be difficult when you’re working remotely? File-sharing tools eliminate the need for multiple documents and multiple files when several people can work on one document at once. Most cloud services and file-sharing services come with extensive security measures, making this the much safer option in the long run. One document, multiple people, and one perfect finished product later are absolutely possible with some of these excellent file-sharing options:

  • Google’s G Suite on Google Drive
  • Dropbox Business
  • Microsoft’s One Drive for Business
  • Apple iCloud (although this option is limited to only Apple and iOS devices)
  • File Whopper
  • Box Business
  • File Cloud
  • Citrix File Share