[Company & Managers Handbook] Are your employees working from home due to the COVID-19 virus? – Here is your guide to make it work

During these difficult times where the COVID-19 virus is spreading in Morocco, many companies are letting their employees work from home. As you know, this is a hard shift for you and your employees. This guide is here to help your company manage this change. Another guide is also available for employees to help them work from home. Please feel free to share it with yours.

If you are new to this blog, I’m Ahmed from Morocco and I’m working with the team at Automattic. I’ve been working from home for 2 years now, alongside more than 1000 folks.

I’ll help you manage a remote company by sharing tools and methods to use in these times. Also, your way of thinking needs to shift a little bit, but I’ll help you with that too. In fact, let’s start with that.

A new way of thinking

You are not used to the idea of seeing your employees working from home. Yeah, that’s new and strange. But you can make it work.

In fact, there are a lot of companies completely remote. Their employees work from home all the time. Some of them are Automattic, Basecamp, Buffer, and Doist. And there is a lot more.

These companies are all doing great, and there is no reason your company can’t do the same. You just need a new way of thinking.

Also, your employees will not be as productive as they were. Not because of working from home. But because of all the insecurities related to the COIVD-19 virus. Please have empathy for them.

Don’t monitor your employees

You’ll ask yourself questions like: how do I know they are working? What if they are just chilling? How should I make sure they are really working from 9 to 5?… The simple answer is: There is no way of finding out.

The same goes for the office. Seeing people in the office, sitting on a chair, and typing on a keyboard gives you the false idea of “they are working”. But in reality, it’s not always the case. A lot of people can just surf the Internet, or visit memes websites. And you won’t even notice.

You’ll be tempted to introduce policies like: you should always be near your phone. You should always be online… Those are for babysitting. You don’t babysit your employees, you lead them. Be a role model. Trust them!

Instead of saying “You should always be near your phone”, you can say “In case of emergency, we will call you. So please keep your phone nearby”. The former is ordering, the latter is trusting. And they all know they must be around in case of an emergency.

Trust your employees. Don’t monitor their work. Set expectations and let them work the way they want.

You don’t need to all be in the same room

It sounds like a lie, but it is not. Chances are you are already doing it!

Unless you are running a big company, odds are you don’t have a full-time accountant. You are outsourcing your accounting work to someone from outside your company. This person is never (or rarely) in the office. But at the end of the day, they still manage to work and deliver. You can do the same with your employees.

In reality, every team needs a first call or meeting to get an idea of the work they need to do. But after kicking the project, everyone starts working on their assigned work. In their own corner. And that corner can be at the office, or at home. There is no difference.

Dismiss the idea of “we need to be all in the same room”, and try to be open about the idea of working from home. Give it a try now. Study the results, learn from them, and adapt your way of work accordingly.

Everything is online

Everything is in the office. You can go and ask anyone about anything”. But now, it’s different. Everything is online.

In the second part of this article, we’ll talk about a variety of online tools you can use for nearly anything. Instead of asking for information, you can just check one of these tools and get it yourself. Everything is online.

If you have concerns about security, – and you generally should -, rest assured all the tools in this article have enterprise-grade security. They are used by big companies worldwide and all implement Two-Factor Authentication (2FA), private spaces, etc.

Make sure to check them out. If you have a need I didn’t cover, just drop me a comment, and I’ll add it.

What you need to make it work

We’ll cover the following:

  • Communication tools
  • Video conference tools
  • Documentation tools
  • Storing tools
  • Project management tools
  • Design and prototyping tools

All the tools here have a generous free tier. For small companies, they only need the free tier. For large ones, they may need to purchase a premium one.

Let’s start:

Communication tools

There are some tools out there to help you communicate with your team. It’s like a WhatsApp group, but with more features built for remote teams. If you’re using WhatsApp groups btw, that’s a good idea to start with. But definitely not the best platform for the job.

You can use Slack (Security at Slack), Discord (Security at Discord), or Microsoft Teams (Security at Microsoft Teams). My advice is to go with Slack.

Slack is like WhatsApp but more organized. Instead of just one conversation, you can create multiple conversations (called “channels”) per group. These channels can be: Announcements, Marketing, Sales… This way, instead of one WhatsApp conversation where the messages get buried, use Slack to organize them.

Create channels for each team and/or project to make collaboration easy. Only restrict access to channels you think will contain critical information. Leave the channels public by default. This way others can follow conversations they may be interested in.

Video conference tools

Your meeting will likely move to a video conference tool. The good news is there are a lot of tools out there for this. And the free tier is enough for all use-cases.

Some tools to use are Google Hangout, Zoom, loom, and BlueJeans. We personally use Zoom and like it. It’s pretty straightforward to use. You don’t need to create an account to join a meeting. By default, you used to be limited to 40-min calls. But with the COVID-19 virus, they are removing this restriction. So thank you Zoom!

Documentation tools

There is no need to send notes or word and excel files in emails. Just use online tools that always keep the latest version and the change log in one place. Google Docs and Office 365 are good for Word, Excel, and presentation files. Or you can try other tools like Notion for general note-taking.

With Google Docs, you can even collaborate in real-time. This means two or more people writing on the same file, at the same time. I still find this mind-blowing. Also, if you’re using Slack, you can easily connect it with Google Docs.

Storing tools

If you have a need to store large files, or moving a lot of files around, there are tools to help you with this too.

You can use Google Drive, Dropbox, or Box. Think of them as a folder in the cloud. This means you can organize your files in folders and sub-folders. Share them using links. Giving access to people to add/edit files. etc.

I personally prefer Google Drive given I can store my Google Docs and other documents in one place. Also, you only need one Google email to use all Google products!

Project management tools

You may be using a physical board to manage projects in the office. So what happens now that you don’t have access to your office? Rest assured, there are plenty of tools out there to help you with that.

Use tools like Asana, Trello, JIRA, or Monday. My advice is that each team create a simple Kanban board on Trello with To-Do, Doing, and Done columns. Something like this. Let the team create tasks and assign them to the members. They can move cards between columns when the status of the work change.

On your end, you can visit the board and oversee the projects. You can see what’s going on without asking specific people each time. Make sure to communicate to the team that it’s their duty to update the board once the work is done. Advise them to use comments to share milestones, extra info, or just useful links.

Note the board link in the team’s Slack channel (or any communication tool you use) for easier access.

Design and prototyping tools

If you have designers in your company, or you are in need of some design work, there are online tools for that.

You can use Figma, Marvel, inVision, or Zeplin. All these give you the possibility to share links to designs (or design files) with others. There is no need to send files over emails. Just create a link and send it to your team. They will be able to see the latest version every-time you update something.

My advice is to go with Figma. The interface looks easy and you can use it to design, prototype, and even animate things.

I know it’s hard for your company to do this all at once, especially in these times. But please help your employees and simplify this phase for them the best you can. Make sure to send them the Employee Guide to help them work effectively from home.

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