Back in November 2017, we decided to take our real estate tech start-up RealScout fully remote. We closed our office in Mountain View, California, and transitioned our team to work from home (WFH) permanently. Given the massive increase in WFH mandates in the past week or two in response to COVID-19, I wanted to quickly share the best practices that made our transition successful.
My hope is that this guide will help CEOs, managers and individuals like you, who may be scrambling to make the most of their new WFH situation. Even better, these best practices could help solve communication and productivity challenges back in the office and improve your team’s long-term performance regardless of where you work.
1. Conduct daily stand-ups
Our entire team joins a 15-minute, stand-up Zoom video call every morning to kick off the day (yes, even non-engineers). The emcee — a role assigned to a team member on a daily rotating basis — calls out each person, one by one, to quickly describe:
- What they focused on yesterday
- What they plan to focus on today
- If they are experiencing any blockers or challenges
When everyone is done, high-priority announcements can be made with the remaining time, but the meeting must conclude in 15 minutes.
The benefit of the daily stand-up is straightforward; it establishes the team’s physical presence, communicates individual priorities succinctly and fosters social accountability.
2. Explicitly allow over-communication
In a WFH environment, one of the core reasons for failure is the breakdown of communication. To prevent this, we explicitly encourage over-communication. This means we send an email, but confirm in Slack.
We don’t get angry if we get bugged by a team member for the sixth time. We take and share notes. We start many sentences with “to reiterate,” “just to be clear,” and “to make sure I’m over-communicating.”
It’s also important, whenever possible, to carry out business-relevant conversations in “public” chat rooms instead of direct messages. Even quick questions like how to pronounce a customer’s name correctly are fair game. Searchability is a huge win of modern workplace chat systems, so public conversations accumulate over time into a robust knowledge base.
By giving leaders clear permission to over-communicate, the natural fear people have of being annoying or redundant can be set aside, therefore improving the flow of information.
3. Choose video calls over phone calls over long text
One of the least productive things that can happen during a workday is a massive email chain or hour-long Slack communications, and this is exacerbated in a WFH environment. Most of the time, a phone call, or even better, a video call, can solve the problem much sooner.
Our rule of thumb is that whenever text threads seem to be getting out of control, the entire group should hop on a video call and come to a decision quickly. Video calls are also preferred over phone calls, not only because of the flexibility to share your screen, but also because phone calls drop all of the non-verbal communication that happens via video.
A side benefit of video calls when compared to in-person meetings is that it’s not uncomfortable for video calls to wrap up really quickly. Our overall meeting times plummeted after our WFH transition without sacrificing the quality of coordination and decision-making.
4. Establish/reaffirm metrics-driven accountability
Although establishing accountability through metrics should be the norm even in a physical office setting, it is an absolute necessity in a WFH environment. We vigilantly track critical key performance indicators (KPIs) at every relevant level and make them as transparent as reasonably possible to make sure everyone is on the same page.
We also established common definitions and language across the board, so every team member has the ability to talk intimately about both their own and company KPIs, which also helps to foster healthy social accountability.
If you already have a strong KPI framework, focus on visibility and how KPIs get incorporated into management practices. If you don’t have a good KPI framework, there is no better time to invest in one.
5. Invest in presence and culture
From the outside, the day-to-day of working from home can seem lonely and sterile, but we’ve made an effort to make it exactly the opposite. Here are some ideas that have worked well for our team:
- During work hours, let the team know if you’re setting out for lunch or an errand, and let them know when you’re back. Sign off with a “good night!” at the end of the day.
- Create non-work Slack channels and threads like #cooking-nerdz or “What are you listening to right now” Fridays.
- Create or continue company traditions remotely. Celebrate individual business and personal wins wholeheartedly.
- Take time to talk about vision and reflect on accomplishments. I write a week-in-review every Friday afternoon to summarize the past week and set up the following week.
- And most importantly: custom emojis on Slack.
Just because an organization is remote, doesn’t mean the individuals — and especially the leaders — should hide behind the fog of physical distance. Personalities, relationships, attitudes and morale are still major considerations in running a remote team and appropriate investment should be made to ensure the best outcome.
These five best practices will hopefully help your organization make the most of the sudden transition to WFH. Done right, I think you’ll find that the benefits extend beyond this temporary situation to the health and performance of your team in the long run.