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How to Manage Staff Remotely and our 7 Essential Collaboration Tools

Whether you are looking for a solution on how to manage staff remotely for the first time or looking to improve your current systems, this procedure will help show you what has worked and what hasn’t worked. 

Recently due to the Coronavirus, and for obvious reason, I have had some “real world” entrepreneurs ask me questions about how to best manage their staff as they begin working remotely to do their part with social distancing. 

My hope is that I can help contribute to the current situation by essentially open-sourcing all of our procedures for effective remote work. 

My team has been managing 50-100+ full-time employees, part-time employees, and contract team members working remotely for years. We have had some incredible system failures (theft) and also some huge wins (getting invited to a team members wedding in Bangladesh) with managing remote staff. Overall, we have managed almost 200k hours of remote workers on one platform alone: UpWork.  

  • 172k hours managed
  • 2398 people hired
  • 91 active remote workers
  • Over $1M Spent

This has all been done through working remotely on one platform. Here are all of our systems to help you get set up to be effective with remote workers!

how-to-manage-staff-remotely

In this article, I’m going to lay out how we work by breaking it down into 3 parts. 

ONE – Tools: What tools are needed or optional to manage remote workers efficiently and increase productivity.

TWO – Setup: How do you get remote workers setup and excited about the system

THREE – Ongoing Communication Cadence: A system is useless if it isn’t used

I picture this being the most useful for a manager/leader that is taking a semi-remote team of 3-15, that work off of a laptop, communicates via email, typically sitting beside one another, to… a fully remote team, no longer in the office. If a more helpful guide surfaces, I will be sure to try and reference it for additional reading. 

LinkedIn Remote Work Training – Made Available for Free


Please feel free to share and comment so we can try to help as many virtual teams get over the hurdle of remote work. 

For a couple other useful articles on the topic checkout…

Icebreakers for Remote Teams

Always on Video Options Reviewed

ONE – Essential Tools for Remote Staff

These are the tools we use. 

NOTE – Many of these tools have made special pricing accommodation during the coronavirus pandemic to help facilitate remote work.

Security & Password Sharing:

Documents:

Communication:

Recruiting:

Time Tracking:

Other (used on specific projects)

TWO – Setup To Manage Staff Remotely 

This can be the most daunting part of getting remote staff working and managing them effectively, especially if your staff is located within different time zones. 

I will do my best to recommend the sequence of getting things set up so it doesn’t disrupt your company culture. 

Change Management Warning: Managing this much change for someone can be challenging, so below will outline the order of adoption that I would recommend. 

Setup Part A – How We Use Slack – Our Slack Setup Procedure

Getting setup on Slack or a similar team chat solution is a great first step. 

BUT, if you don’t plan or put some thought into the onboarding process, then it can turn into chaos. 

Below is the email I sent to the team to communicate how we are going to transition to and start using Slack. In the end, the transition was successful and people really took to it vs a standard email. 

Hi Team

Slack will become the new standard team internal communication tool – late to the party but now is the right time. 

Objective – Streamline communication across all people and all projects in the organization resulting in improved productivity, communication and culture. 

Good References:

https://system.ly/how-we-use-slack/

Case for Action – As we have more people overlapping between projects and working remote, it becomes more important for us to have standard methods of communication. On any day I might communicate with people using… email (one of 3 different logins), telegram, in person, google chat, skype and text msg. This is a problem with others as well working on multiple projects. Slack will not completely fix the problem but will help. 

Actions Items for All:

  1. Install slack on your computer and phone
  2. Join the channels you have been invited to
  3. Say hi and drop a gif in a channel you have been added to 

What is Slack?

Slack is made up of channels and is essentially a group chat. 

How Will We Use Slack?

I have created a table below with input from many of the managers on…

  1. #Name of the Channel – the channels we will have on launch
  2. Purpose – How we will plan to use the channel
  3. Owner – Who is responsible for that channel being used as intended
  4. Users – Who will be in the slack channel

As with all things this will take some initial uncomfortable work as we break old habits.

#ChannelPurposeOwnerUsers
1DailyDaily – 3 sentence update – done yesterday, plan for the day and any issuesJonCore Team – In House Employees & Critical Few Support
2Random Fun Lots of GIFsNarcisIn House Employees
Project 1 – admin team
Project 1 Manager
Project 1 – operations team
Project 1 Manager
Project 2


etc


Slack Tips:

  • Before you send an email, text, telegram message… think – Can this be done on Slack?
    • See the tips below on when to use Slack
  • Set slack to open automatically on your computer
  • If you want a new channel to send a message to Jon requesting it and why
  • Great gifs can be found at https://giphy.com/ make sure to do the Giphy integration so that you can easily insert a GIF with the shortcode “/giphy keyword”

Slack vs Email vs Meeting:

Reference – https://medium.com/office-hours/slack-vs-email-vs-meeting-5b9acf91396c

When to Slack:

  • If you need a quick answer on something simple
  • If you want to share & collaborate on something in real-time
  • If you need an immediate response
  • If you want to share something random, funny or off-topic

When to Email:

  • You need to include someone external on the conversation
  • You’re sharing something longer with lots of detail
  • You’re sharing something pretty important and want to underscore that importance
  • Something more private then what you want everyone on the slack channel to see

When to Meet:

  • You need to discuss a sensitive issues
  • You need to talk through complicated projects or subjects where people are likely to get confused
  • You’ve been discussing via Slack or email and the discussion has dragged on with no clear next steps or consensus
  • Brainstorming ideas
  • Structured Team Meetings:
    • Weekly 1:1
    • Weekly Business Meeting
    • Monthly/Quarterly Review/Strategy or OkR Meetings

When to do None: (most of these are for me)

  • Asking about a task that isn’t overdue and is correctly assigned by whatever method that business is using (ie weekly sheet)
how-to-manage-staff-remotely
  • Friday at 11:00pm asking for an answer in under 24hrs unless there is a fire
  • Asking a question whose answer is easy to find on Google.
how-to-manage-staff-remotely

Now that you have your backbone of asynchronous communication setup for your remote team it is time to move onto the next step. 

Setup Part B – Security & Password Management

Setting up your remote work security policy is important, however you may not have one and creating a robust policy from scratch will require too much time and effort before you need it. Below, I’ll go over all the essentials in order to implement solid password management for remote workers.

Here are the basics …

Part B-1 – Setup Password Manager

With a remote team, you will need to share login and access information. If you have ever emailed a password, entered into a spreadsheet or shared one through online chat, you are doing it wrong! 

There are a couple of great options out there. We have found 2 that lead to the highest productivity and effectively priced:

  • One Password – Fully featured password manager with lots of ability to restrict team members from seeing passwords, logins, etc..  
  • Team Password – Less expensive and a great option for sharing less critical passwords with a larger number of team members. 

Once you have signed up decide on the vault structure and who will have access to specific logins.

Here is an example table to create before you sign up. 

Vault NamePurpose of VaultWho To Provide Access To
Project 1 – FinanceAccess to payment processing and bank accountsOwner, Controller/Bookkeeper
Project 1 – AdminAccess to logins required to control administrative accountsOwner, Manager
Project 1 – TeamAccess to the logins required for each teamOwner, Manager, Team Members
Team Member NameAccess to any critical accountsOwner, Manager, Team Member(s)

If this structure is followed, then the login for any team member is fully controllable by the Manager and you will never find yourself in a situation where access to a login is unavailable causing the business to grind to a halt. 

TIP – Even if you don’t think you need it make a vault for the person so they have someone to put a misc login that isn’t their personal vault (we don’t want anyone using their personal vault). 

Part B-2 – Security Best Practises

Like any tool, applying strict guidelines and discipline around it always makes it stronger.

Below is our 12 step password and security check. 

  1. Are ALL work-related passwords stored in 1password?
  2. Are passwords randomly generated (i.e. high strength)?
  3. Is your 1password Emergency Kit saved on your computer?
  4. Is your 1password Emergency Kit saved on a back-up (external) device?
  5. Have you turned off your “auto save password” switch on all internet browsers?
  6. Are any work-related passwords saved on your internet browsers?
  7. Are any work-related passwords saved on your computer?
  8. Are Google Drive documents shared with anyone outside company team members? If so, who?
  9. Do you have a procedure for cold/backup storage?
  10. Do you have a VPN on your computer? If so, is it on during work hours?
  11. Are any personal logins or passwords saved to 1password?
  12. Do you ever use your laptop and/or phone on public wi-fi? (Rule of thumb: never login to public wi-fi. Either use a hotspot, VPN, or don’t go online.)

Part B-3 – Assign “Security Auditor” to do a monthly audit

We have an internal security auditor who does a monthly check with all team members and remote workers (who have access to passwords) to confirm we are following our internal remote work security policy. 

Here is an example of our verification process for the security audit:

Download a Copy

Setup Part C – Time Tracking

There are 2 main systems to use for time tracking. The first is:

UpWork – If we hire someone on Upwork (which as mentioned above we do A LOT), we leverage the platforms built-in tools.

Clockify – This is a FANTASTIC freemium tool whose functionality for this free model is sufficient. There are paid alternatives like Timedoctor, but after using both I see no reason to not use the free Clockify option (at least in our case). This may vary depending on your needs. 

Get started with Clockify

  1. Decide on your structure: this will likely be similar to how you have 1Password set up. For us, we have everyone on the same team and then allocate their time to different projects. Look at the “getting started” articles shared by Clockify
    1. Introduction to Clockify
    2. Onboarding checklist
    3. How to track billable time
    4. How to track time with a team
    5. How to track project profitability
    6. How to track team productivity
  2. Sign up here (free)
  3. Invite team members
  4. Create projects
  5. Assign team members to projects
  6. Confirm your controller/bookkeeper has access 

Setup Part D – Documents, Files & E-Signing

How you manage access to the documents and files people need to work will be very much unique to each company.

Most companies will need to decide between: 

  • Remote Access – Ctirix
  • Cloud-Based Microsoft Office Documents – Dropbox or Microsoft Offerings
  • Full Cloud-Based – Google Drive 

Whatever is the lowest pain point of change is likely the best option for your situation. 

For us, we are 99% Google Drive/Gsuite, with some documents (typically larger Excel files) shared via DropBox. 

If you haven’t made the move to Google Drive and its free options, then now might be a great time to make the change. 

Document Signing for Remote Workers

When dealing with remote employees, document signing is something that is obviously more challenging because people are not located in the same area. 

We have used a few different solutions, but landed on PandaDoc as being by far our favourite. 

The ability to have templates, users and rules makes this a very easy solution. 

Many other businesses that require proposals to be sent and signed will likely want to look at Proposify or the other one we use, Qwilr.

Setup Part E – Meetings

A LOT of buzz has occurred around video conferencing and certainly, this increase has been warranted and makes sense in today’s technology and remote workforce.

However, there are many solid and (mostly) free options out there. 

  • Zoom – Getting an unreasonable amount of love right now in my opinion… it is fine but don’t see how/why it is so much better than other less expensive options
  • Skype – An original chat/video platform that is used by many
  • Google Hangouts – A great option for anyone using Gmail or GSuite

Like anything, it is best if you can pick one and decide that is your go-to for the team. Jumping from one platform to another can get confusing and messy, not to mention it can make your team look unprofessional to clients. 

Which Video Conferencing Solution is Right for your Team?

If it is just your team and you know who you will be speaking with, then Skype is one of the best options. On the other hand, if you need to do conferences with other tech-savvy people then Google Hangouts is a great option. Finally, if you require a little more robust solution with access to specific controls, etc then Zoom is better. 

Here is a comparison of solutions for always on video for remote teams.
 

PART 3 – Effective Remote Staff Communication and Collaboration

If you don’t yet have a meeting cadence, I highly recommend you decide on one now to provide structure to your remote workers. 

All the tools above are useless unless there is a system around how to use them to manage staff.

This typically revolves around a series of meetings each with a specific objective. Our system is based off of several great books, including Traction, anything Scrum/Kanban/Agile and the OkR goal-setting framework.  

Based on the books above, here is the basic structure of meetings for our teams (which are currently 100% virtual):

Daily Standup Meeting or Update for Remote Teams

Also referred to as an all-hands meeting, this should be either on a video conference call or the Slack daily channel. The update should quickly cover 3 things for each person.

  • What was done yesterday?
  • What is the plan for today?
  • Are their any issues preventing you from completing your daily tasks?

Make it snappy and take any issues offline to resolve them 1 on 1.

Weekly One-on-one Meetings with each Staff Member:

Of all the meetings this is by far the most important! 

Any staff/company alignment failure can typically be traced back to a root cause of not having a good enough weekly one-on-one meetings that flagged the issue early enough to be addressed. 

The weekly one-on-one meetings follows this agenda:

  • Biggest win – What was the staff members biggest work win over the last week? 
  • Issues, Questions and Concerns – Is there anything they need to discuss, such as pay, HR, team issues etc. Non-work but workplace issues can go here to ensure they don’t gather energy in the dark. 
  • Training – Progress and discussion against any training initiative. For instance, a book, topic or Udemy course. 
  • KPI’s – List of the KPIs they are responsible for and the results. Typically no more than 5 at a time.
  • Summary of what was done last week and the plan for next week – Same as the weekly business meeting but not in as much detail.
  • Tracking of any special assignments – If it is not on the weekly then they are not responsible for it. Since we tend to drop a lot of different tasks on staff, this is where it should always get caught. 
  • Hours worked review (if hourly) – Link to Calendly and the number of hours worked that week.
  • Feedback – NOT ANNUAL but weekly coaching opportunities with some quick improvement feedback. This is not always easy so here are some helpful tips. Ideally, this is always constructive, but if an issue needs to be addressed, then it is done here. 
  • Tasks for the manager to do – What does the staff member need their manager to do to ensure that they can complete their work/tasks? It gets listed here. It’s obviously important to set the tone that work on the weekly gets crushed so your team members aren’t delaying tasks. 

As with almost everything, this lives in a Google Sheet (you can also use Google Docs, but Sheets is much easier to organize) and a column is inserted each week so that the most recent week is right beside the first column. Tasks can be added to the projects Trello board during weekly meetings. 

It’s important that the staff member completes the sheet before the meeting in order for all 1:1’s to be done effectively and quickly.  Each meeting should take 15 – 30 minutes. 

As my staff like to say only an engineer would create a spreadsheet and consider it an aid for human interaction. But everyone that has bought into the system has either immediately or come to really appreciate the structure and clarity this meeting provides. 

Part of the magic of the daily and weekly meetings is they dramatically cut down on all the important, but time-consuming logistical questions that can pop up as a manager. By collecting and responding to issues and tasks during the weekly, you will avoid getting bogged down with menial questions multiple times a day. 

Weekly Business Scorecard Meeting:

This meeting is very metrics-driven, with a review of a kanban to-do list that lives in Trello. 

Agenda (varies for each business):

  • Mission/Vision/Values recap – 2 minutes
  • OkR Reading (equivalent to rocks for the Traction fans) – 2 minutes
  • Sales & Operations Scorecard –  revenue, calls, output outstanding etc, PnL review, cash flow requirements, etc
  • Marketing Scorecard – posts, social media, podcasts etc complete
  • TO-DO List that is on a Trello kanban board prioritized into 4 columns with each to-do assigned to someone with a deadline. This has been a significant upgrade from a to-do list that can seem to grow infinitely and doesn’t help prioritize the immediate tasks people are responsible for during the week. Additionally, moving the card from to-do to done in the weekly meeting is fun! The result is the entire team has 52 sprints in the year to do things that help grow the business.
    • Backlog – Great idea… but don’t have time right now (add it into the backlog)
    • To Do This Week – Add in your to-do’s what you are going to get done for the project this week (this is your sprint) 
    • Done – Move the cards you completed this week into this column
    • Completed/Archived – Once a task is done for 1 week it gets moved to the completed/archived column 

Here is a great guide for a different take on this meeting – https://jake-jorgovan.com/blog/the-lead-cookie-playbook-how-we-run-our-weekly-meetings

Monthly Performance & Quarterly Goal Setting

This meeting is mostly focused on two things:

  1. PnL Review for Last Month – If we are doing the weekly correctly, there shouldn’t be any surprises. 
  2. OkR Goal Progress Review – This is where people will identify if they are at risk of achieving their OkR and additional resources will be brought in to help if needed. 

The books Traction and Measure What Matters both go over this meeting in great detail. 

At the quarterly meeting we do a review of the successes of the previous quarters OkR’s and then set the next quarters. 

Summary

As managers struggle with team members going remote we will all need to find ways to adapt. 

My hope is that by essentially open sourcing how we manage staff remotely companies will be able to be just a little more efficient. 

If there are additional guides you think I should be including here please let me know. 

Good Reading:

https://zapier.com/learn/remote-work/how-manage-remote-team/

https://system.ly/how-we-use-slack/

https://slack.com/resources/using-slack/slack-remote-work-tips

About the Author Jon

I am a 33 year old husband, father of 3, engineer and a huge fan of developing systems to build useful and profitable websites. The reason I build online businesses is to provide financial independence for my family and yours AND so I can spend time outside skiing and biking with my family.
Jon Gillham, Online Entrepreneur

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