2020 has been a turbulent year for us all. For business leaders and their employees alike there have been some distinct challenges arising from COVID-19. For many companies fortunate enough to weather the worst economic effects, one of the key issues has been transitioning from an in-person workplace to remote operations.
Businesses that have only functioned within traditional offices may well have effective working practices in place. However, this doesn’t always necessarily translate to keeping your team tight and productive when forced to move outside of the working environment your practices have been designed for. As a result, some previously successful companies have found themselves on the back foot and struggling a little.
On the plus side, this period has taught us how important aspects like infrastructure and peer-to-peer interactions are in remote conditions. An effective and agile working structure is one of the keys to overcoming remote work challenges.
We’re going to examine the importance of structure to remote operations. How can it make a tangible and positive impact? We’ll also look at some of the tech tools that can prove vital to supporting your structure in an increasingly digital-reliant workspace.
WHY IS STRUCTURE IMPORTANT?
Any business leader knows that organization can mean the difference between success and failure. An established working structure helps to ensure that all essential tasks are completed correctly and efficiently. When basic tasks are well structured, this can also forge an environment that gives space for creative thought and innovation. As the structures within the office are unlikely to be easily duplicated outside of it, the change to remote practices without a new structure in place can very quickly lead to chaos.
In many ways, your staff relies on the structure of your business. Structure helps to set the expectations for how they should complete tasks and gives stability to their day. Structure can also impact the culture of the business itself.
When there’s a strong framework in place, this demonstrates to staff and consumers that the business can be trusted to function, and bolsters confidence. Interrupt essential components of that structure, and there can be domino effects across all areas; from production to potential for employee burnout due to additional stress.
This is why creating a business continuity plan is so vital. Take the time to identify how key areas of the business would be affected by a disaster — whether natural or malicious. Plan what adjustments need to be made for each area of the company, and create a step-by-step guide for execution.
When an issue such as our current pandemic occurs, forcing a shift in operations, a continuity plan provides a road map to ensure that the transition to a remote working structure is smooth. Your plan minimizes unnecessary disruption for both customers and staff.
HOW CAN YOU CREATE REMOTE STRUCTURE?
We know that structure is important, but how can we go about creating it? Obviously, there will be nuances for each business, but there are some core areas on which you should be focusing.
These should include:
- Workflow. Create a formal structure for how employees’ day-to-day workflow should look in remote circumstances. Clarify how this differs from usual processes, and why. Produce a step-by-step handbook that makes it clear who is responsible for each aspect of a project, and set out a clear chain of production. Formalize what tools should be used for each part of the production pipeline.
- Communication. Away from the office, communication can be one of the elements that very quickly falls by the wayside. This can be disastrous. Clear remote communications policies should therefore be implemented. Adopt secure video conferencing software that is easily compatible with calendars and scheduling software, and arrange regular one-on-one and team meetings with staff. This structure should include adherence to a single, secure communications platform — this not only helps to keep important business data safe, but it also promotes consistency.
- Trust. The structure for remote operations certainly needs to include robust and consistent elements. However, micromanaging can be destructive. Leave room in your structure for staff to have some flexibility — perhaps in their working hours, or setting priorities. Being constantly monitored is not practical for management, and it gives employees the impression they’re not trusted. Provide them with the remote tools they need, and let them work. However, part of your structure should also include regular reviews to assess how successful this is for each employee.
WHAT TOOLS CAN HELP?
Our digital landscape is frequently producing new tech solutions to business challenges. The growth of remote operations over the last decade or so has also resulted in the development of effective tools to support this way of working. Many of them work in conjunction with popular platforms, and the key is to choose tools that best suit your workflow, the assets you will be producing, and the needs of your staff.
Project management platforms count among the most popular structural tools for remote teams. These are designed to be intuitively navigated, often using drag-and-drop card systems to keep tasks organized and visible. Many, such as Asana and Trello, also incorporate calendar and scheduling tools to keep projects running in a timely manner. These platforms also tend to be loaded with messaging options, and some offer video calls too — wrapping your workflow and communications needs into a single, simple package.
Especially if you’re a small business owner, the tools you use need to also free up your attention from administrative areas to focus on the new remote running of the business. According to one study, 97% of business owners polled stated that they take care of aspects such as human resources (HR) and accounts personally.
Part of your remote structure should include clarity on whom these tasks should be delegated to, and what software tools you can use to ease their workload. Software such as BambooHR or Hubstaff can help to automate aspects such as payroll and onboarding, reducing additional pressure on the staff these tasks are allocated to.
Structure is a vital component of any business, but an unexpected shift to remote operations can make traditional office organization impractical. Take the time to understand the challenges your staff will face working from home, and build your structure to meet the business and employee needs in the middle. Tools that automate tasks, making organization clear and visible, can help smooth the bumpy period of transition.