Managing A Remote or Home Working Team? Advice From Our Managers
While Perfect Image already offered working from home as an option, having our whole team permanently working remotely has been a challenge and from it we have all learned new ways of communicating, collaborating and working as a team. Our managers have had to change how they oversee and support their teams. Learn practical advice and inspiring tips from a select few about what they have learned and how you can manage your teams better during this time.
- Andrew Smith, Director of Sales & Marketing
- Paul Rutter, Head of Solution Architecture
- Kate Thomson, Head of Marketing
- William Donkin, Lead Developer
- Bob McKay, Head of Managed Services & Infrastructure
- Mark Jackson, Account Director
1. What are the challenges of managing a remote working team?
Andy Smith: In my opinion, communication and sharing information in the correct way are two of the greatest challenges of managing a remote team. The key to overcoming them is to apply an appropriate timetable about how you will meet and discuss various topics.
Using video also creates a much more personal interaction which often helps people feel included (particularly when it comes to meetings that involve more than one person).
Bob McKay: The physical separation can reduce the social and cultural element of team working. To get around this we’ve made sure we’ve been running daily competitions, having team calls purely for a catch-up and bit of banter (not all business) and keeping a bit of fun in the work environment.
To keep my team connected, Microsoft Teams has been a must. But the best platform – which we take for granted as we use it so much already – is having all our documentation stored and controlled in Microsoft Office 365 (via SharePoint/OneDrive).
Kate Thomson: It can be hard to run a team meeting without everybody being physically present, particularly when you’re collaborating over new campaign ideas.
Microsoft Teams video conferencing has really helped us to interact as a team without much loss in interpersonal communication. We can even log meeting minutes and actions within the platform.
Fortunately, all of the tools we use to execute our jobs are cloud-based, so we can still collaborate online – much as we do in the office. Microsoft Office 365 Planner (for logging and tracking tasks), SharePoint (our central place to store our documents without emailing them around!), Word and Outlook have been key to our working days, and continue to be so now and in the future when we return to the norm.
Paul Rutter: Keeping in touch with people and staying up to date with where they are on customer projects and internal work has become more challenging. What used to be an informal, “How are you getting on?” across the desk now needs to be done via Teams or a call. However, as a team we’re starting to really get into the swing of things now.
William Donkin: For me, the challenges have been keeping in touch, and knowing everyone’s working hours.
When everyone’s working from home, you have that instant line of sight taken away, and the day to day team chatter. You have to replace this with being just as chatty on Teams and having Teams audio and video calls. We’ve also started including a status message on Teams to show our working hours and when we’ll be taking lunch that day.
2. How are you managing your team differently during this time?
Andy Smith: I have a schedule that ensures I focus on the different areas of the business and the people managing that area. It’s easy to stop communicating if there is no visible activity. The trick is to apply a structure to how often you should be communicating and making sure that’s the priority.
Bob McKay: Flexibility is key. Fortunately, our existing policy of flexible working hours and our well-practised business continuity plan have made this really easy.
Paul Rutter: Our team are now having daily calls and catch-ups. Previously, we could go for a few days without contact if the teams were working on-site, so actually this is probably a positive that we are now in contact every day.
William Donkin: I’m having daily 5 minute Teams calls with individuals in my team to see how everyone is doing. I’m also holding longer one-to-one Teams meetings every week instead of once a month like we normally do.
3. What extra measures are you taking to ensure your team is happy and busy?
Andy Smith: At first, I was concerned with making sure everyone had access to the resources they need to do their job effectively. After that, I firmly believe in trusting my team to work effectively. They all have KPIs and goals which are measure regardless of working from home. In my experience, a lot of people are more productive at home as there are fewer interruptions and a schedule is easier to maintain.
Paul Rutter: The teams have been allowed to take kit home with them such as chairs and monitors to allow them to remain productive at home. This was a great move because not everyone has a home office that they can retreat into.
William Donkin: My team is made up of developers and UX engineers, so we need powerful machines. We ordered some new laptops for the team to use while working from home that match the processing capabilities of their work desktop PCs. We also have a team group chat to post jokes and memes – I’ve found that’s a good one to keep morale high.
Mark Jackson: For me, this is all about regular and useful contact with people. Microsoft Teams is great for this as a hub to collaborate on documents, share ideas, work together on documents, train using video content and generally send daft gifs to keep people smiling.
4. What are your top tips for managing a remote working team?
Bob McKay: When you’re in the office there is an important element of support, banter and fun – this is important to continue when working from home.
Kate Thomson: It’s important to be available by any means if someone from my team or the wider business needs to be in touch. I’m in touch with each team member every day to, primarily, see how they are personally.
I’m finding virtual coffee breaks using Teams video calls work quite well to keep us in touch and catch up over any work updates or concerns the individual may have. It’s not quite like being sat in the office, but it’s as close to it as it can be right now.
Paul Rutter: Communication, and keeping everyone involved, to try and prevent people from becoming isolated. We even had a virtual pub lunch on Friday ?
William Donkin: Communicate more than you would in the office, and keep checking in with people regularly. Ensure people are praised more when they complete a task and the praise is seen by the rest of the team.
5. What technologies have you found to be helpful?
Andy Smith: I have posted on social media before that I didn’t know what I would do without Microsoft Teams. It supports everything above.
Kate Thomson: Alexa has been keeping me company! I like to have the radio on low in the background, using my Echo, to hear the background chatter.
Paul Rutter: Microsoft Teams and Office 365 make working from home possible. I can drop into my laptop, iPad or phone at home and still access all of my files and emails. That’s without having to have a VPN set up, or access to my work laptop. Microsoft Teams means that we’re always just a couple of clicks away from being able to talk face to face.
Mark Jackson: The other systems we use and sell in general can hang off this as well so Qlik dashboards can be shared here via NPrinting as well as accessing CRM and Outlook web access from anywhere.
6. What surprising/helpful things have you found about working from home?
Andy Smith: The mixed response of working from home has really surprised me. Most love it and are super productive but a few people are struggling. For us, and anyone else managing a remote team, it’s these people you need to focus on first. A lack of social interaction can be very challenging for people and make them feel very isolated. WFH is not for everyone.
As business leaders, we’re looking for ways to bring the whole Perfect Image team together. We’ve started different group chats and running fun online competitions in Microsoft Teams, for example, to see who could take the most interesting photo of their workspace. Contributions from the teams have been amazing. We have some very funny people. It has really given those a voice that are otherwise quite quiet in the office.
Bob McKay: My team have been very upbeat and productive working from home, which in itself isn’t surprising, but given the reason for working from home, it’s great to see.
Kate Thomson: Not as many people are tapping me on the shoulder! One benefit of working remotely means I can get my head down and respond to a Teams message or email without disrupting my line of thought.
Paul Rutter: I think it has forced us to communicate with each other more than we possible did when we were in the office/on the road.
7. Final thoughts?
Andy Smith: Technology can be truly transformative during a time like this. Working from home doesn’t have to be confusing. Tools such as Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft Teams can support remote working teams and even just a few of their key features can make a huge difference. AWS Workspaces and Microsoft Virtual desktop are also fantastic remote desktop solutions. They offer immediate benefits and can be implemented quickly.
Bob McKay: Dealing with this crisis has really highlighted just how much flexibility a decentralised system offers. It’s really beneficial for business continuity and disaster recovery. Having this has been great for Perfect Image and made things much easier than they might have been.
Paul Rutter: We’ve seen a big demand from customers for AWS Workspaces and Microsoft Virtual desktops. Cloud technologies – working and accessing data securely online – are something people are finding to be a necessity now, rather than an optional extra.
William Donkin: I’d stress the importance of getting your mind ready for work. Things like keeping your work routine by getting showered and dressed, ready to start the day. It’s also important to have breaks like you would at work and get some fresh air at lunch (remaining compliant with social isolation rules, of course).
Mark Jackson: So far, I’ve been generally impressed by the energy that the Perfect Image team is collectively harnessing during this time. If we can keep this up and stay positive for our colleagues, customers and vendors, it will spill over to our clients and we’ll retain and delight them with our services as normal.