April 4, 2020

AGNES AISTLEITNER & EDO MEYER: How to get your remote workers into a structured workday


You just sent your employees to work from home but are used to having them next to you in the office? Well, the best way to get started structuring your team is to establish some communication rules that will help with workflow and make sure information is exchanged and things get done.

Being able to communicate without creating a chain of back and forth email is key for smooth communication, so it’s important to lay out to your team to make sure to answer at least the four Ws in an email they send to their colleagues requesting things. What, why, when, who – before sending an email the sender should ask him or herself whether these basic questions are answered in his or her email – it will save the recipient a lot of time!

In a remote work setting, schedules and availability tend to shift, so your employees’ ability to plan ahead in order to avoid getting stuck with a task because your colleague is not available, is critical for an effective workflow. But how do you ensure that employees can communicate? What are the best practices? And what does remote work research say?

At eeboworld, we decided to form company habits to ensure that some sort of routine takes place that helps each individual to get started with their workday. We believe that establishing daily habits when starting and ending work is important for a balanced and effective work environment as it helps focus the mind and set it towards the day’s goals.

Another advantage of habits is that they are less exhausting since a habit just needs to be triggered, to start an automatic response. This automatic response is, if the habit is successfully established, is what we are aiming for.

The following set of standard procedures aims to support self-management, effective collaboration and coordination, as well as efficiency.

These procedures were formed according to insights from remote work research and are joint habits that help everyone coordinate, understand their week better and also plan ahead and set one’s mind for focused work in the morning. These procedures are mandatory and are the cornerstone of the whole work organization.

Week ahead emails

Week-ahead emails are intended to help visualize the plan and what needs to happen in the coming week. It will help you to stay in touch with targets, make them tangible and attainable and help stay in control of one’s workload.

The goals of the week-ahead-email are to:

  1. Set your own goals for the week and reconnect with the plan
    • What am I going to do
    • Why I am doing it
    • Who am I going to do it with
    • When am I going to do it
  2. Plan your own time, required resources and the time needed from your colleagues
  3. Understand what your team is up to and whom you need to coordinate your time with.

A week ahead email should be phrased with enough explanation and context so your colleagues understand what you mean in the email.

As a sample email

Dear Colleague

This week I am working on writing 5 articles and 5 videos for the beauty section of next week’s theme spontaneous. I plan on finishing all of them by Tuesday and I will supply @nameofcolleague with the text material on a rolling basis to check for spelling. I need around 30 min of @nameofcolleague time to give me feedback on them please let me know when I can expect that so I can send them to @nameofothercolleague to upload.
We need additional resources to make new fashion review videos for the publishing week 52. @nameofcolleague I need you to check and sign off on a small budget for my items list that will be done after finishing the editorial calendar for next month by Thursday.
Looking forward to a productive week ahead!
Thank you,
Agnes

It is important that the goals you set for your week are realistic and relevant. Colleagues tagged in the email must understand their response is required.

Organizing and balancing email correspondence is crucial, since too little correspondence may lead to extra work or lost tasks, whereas too much can lead to increased interruptions and thus a limited workflow and productivity. Although flexible work, in general, has been around for more than forty-year, there are still ambiguities in the literature regarding flexible work and its outcomes.

For the organization, it can be a way to reduce costs (facilities) and reduce absenteeism as well as turnover intentions. Regarding productivity, the situation is less clear, although some recent studies indicate a positive association between remote working/schedule flexibility and productivity.

As mentioned before, interruptions and blurring boundaries between work and private life are the biggest obstacles for remote working. Interruptions may cost the U.S. economy $588 billion a year, as mentioned in a report by Basex Inc. The exact costs of these interruptions are hard to grasp, but it gives you an idea of the magnitude.

A UC Irvine study mentions an average of only 11 minutes that people have to work on a project before they are interrupted. Those numbers show that managing interruptions is crucial, not only for the goals of the company but also for the well-being of the employee.

Summary

Remote work can be a big opportunity for the company and employee if done right. Apart from the before mentioned “week ahead emails”, we also recommend weekly recap emails.

The week recap email follows the week ahead email format but is meant for one to take the time at the end of the week and look back at what has been achieved, what has gone wrong and reflect on what happened and share the insights and learnings.

For new employees and juniors it may be advantageous to implement daily check-in and check-outs, that foster the habit and make it easier to switch to week-ahead emails.