So you're ready to go 100% remote in the wake of COVID-19. Great! Many agencies have been doing this already and are very comfortable with remote work. However, not everyone is there yet. If you're used to an in-person experience and your agency is set up around physical proximity in an office, it can feel a little scary to make the leap to 100% remote cold turkey.
Let me first reassure you that life is good as a remote team. Inbound Back Office has been 100% remote since day one back in 2015 when my business partner, Amy and I founded the company. In fact, we don't even have a physical office! Our entire team works from home (or the coffee shop, the beach, the pool, etc.). We are extremely comfortable as a virtual team and we get a lot done. With 60 team members, we deliver between 1,500 and 2,000 hours of work per month for our agency clients and that number is increasing every month.
We use lots of technology to accomplish this, but it's not just about technology. While we're not perfect, we feel that we have cracked the code for working as a virtual team.
So if you're ready to make the leap to a virtual team, let's dig in and help you get there fast.
It's not all or nothing
First, let's remember that responding to COVID-19 does not have to be an extreme option of "no one goes near the office." While we don't have an office, we understand that most of our agency clients do and it's certainly ok to still use it. Maybe you make remote work the norm but you get together when it makes sense or only occasionally in limited bursts.
Don't feel like you have to abandon your office space. Use it as a tool, not a requirement. Give your people the choice and let them use good judgment.
Let go of the need to see your people working
The biggest objection I see to remote work is the mindset that "if I can't see my people working then how do I know if they're working?!" Here's the thing: you don't know if they're working even if you can see them. And guess what? It doesn't matter. What matters is what they get done.
When you let go of worrying about when or where people work, life gets so much easier. It doesn't matter if your team is working from 9 to 5 or at 8pm or at the beach or at home. What matters is what they get done. Are they doing their jobs? Great. Forget about the rest. I know it sounds all hippy-dippy but I promise it works.
This also has the side effect of increasing productivity because your team can decide what style and schedule of work is best for them. This makes them happier and more productive. Easy peasy.
At Inbound Back Office, we use a lot of tech to operate our business. Since we're a virtual company with no physical office, we've had to be very creative from day one. We knew we had to think outside the box a bit when it comes to setting up our infrastructure.
Sure, we use all the usual stuff you would expect: Slack, Zoom, G Suite, ClickUp, HubSpot, etc. But beyond that, we are always thinking "how can we take a standard business tool and replace it with a virtual alternative."
For example, rather than setting up a standard phone system with "real" phones, we had to find a cloud system since we have no office. We did some research and landed on Zoom Phone because we already use Zoom for video conferencing. It requires no hardware and lets us make and accept calls from our Zoom apps. We get a main company number that routes anywhere and to anyone no matter where they are.
For agreements, we use PandaDoc. It allows us to get agreements signed electronically without the need to be in person. Easy and fast with no paper required.
What about paper mail? We have team members in over 20 states and we get a lot of mail from all the various state tax agencies (government, #amiright?). So rather than have it all dumped at someone's house (neither Amy nor I want it dumped at our houses), we set up an address through Anytime Mailbox. Mail gets sent to our mailing address and all mail is scanned unopened at first. We then get an alert so we can go online and take a look. We can request that envelopes be opened and scanned, recycled, forwarded, or shredded. If we request opened, then we get a PDF scan of the contents in a few hours. We can then download the PDFs and have the originals recycled or shredded. It's incredibly convenient.
Another service that helps is FAX.PLUS. I hate faxes but since we deal with lots of government agencies for employment, we have to fax things sometimes. This service makes it easy to turn a PDF into a fax and send it off.
Establish guidelines for collaboration
I'm not going to pretend that virtual collaboration is the same as in-person. It's not. However, there are things you can do to fill some of the gaps.
One thing we do at Inbound Back Office is to have a "webcam on" policy for meetings both internal and client-facing. Any time we have a meeting over Zoom, we have cameras on. This ensures that we are seeing each other face to face and it helps keep us focused and present. It also helps add an element of non-verbal communication which can be important for context. I get it, many people are resistant to turning cameras on (like developers, ahem...) but making it a policy will help everyone have better meetings with better human connections.
We also have a #water-cooler channel in Slack (we just renamed the #random channel) so people can just talk about nothing. It's a great way to let people blow off steam with dumb GIFs, random chatter, and just general socializing. It's important to have a place to have fun and this helps.
We also needed to find a way to replace "quick huddles" that pop up during the day when you need to look over someone's shoulder for some help. We've found that making Loom videos is a great way to share visual knowledge without having to be working at the same time or in the same place.
Business as usual
At Inbound Back Office, we feel like virtual work is business as usual. But again, we've been doing it for years so we understand that it may be new territory for some. I think you'll find that if you embrace the tech, let go of the need to "see" your team, and trust that they are getting the work done, you will be pleasantly surprised at how productive your agency can be. You may even want to continue "working virtual" even after the pandemic has passed.
If you need a little more help getting there, don't hesitate to reach out. Amy and I do consulting with agency owners all the time and we would be happy to offer more personal guidance if you have questions.
Stay safe and healthy and good luck going virtual!
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