How to set up a remote office

Because businesses from all sectors in South Africa have been encouraged to work from home wherever possible to limit interaction with others during the Covid-19 outbreak, it is important to know how to set up a remote office.

Because we already are well practised in the art of managing and working with a cloud based team, we thought it would be outrageous not to share with you, some of our most important working from home tips and tools;

  1. Setting up your work space
  2. Really useful tools and software
  3. Filing, sharing and orgnising tools and software
  4. Project management tools & software
  5. Staying sane

We discussed the challenges you might face when setting up your remote office and have listed some really useful tools  and working from home tips that will be useful to both business owners, team leaders and employees alike.

Use our working from home tips below or book an appointment for online assistance, in order to manage your remote office team, streamline your workflow, maintain productivity and keep everyone sane during this period of social distancing.

1. Set up your work space at home

It is easy for your personal life to interfere with your work when working from home. Self-discipline is essential and having a few structures in place will help you to stay focused and be productive.

Here are a few pointers for employees when setting up your work space at home.

  • Choose a quiet space with no background noise for when you make calls or have online meetings. It is imperative that you try to avoid any unnecessary distractions or interruptions.
  • Make sure you have the best internet connection you can afford, or that your company supplies you with. If necessary, upgrade your existing package, even just for a few months, to ensure you always stay connected. It will also make you much more efficient!
  • Make use of a proper desk and comfortable chair.  
  • Set up all your internal communication and project management tools properly. 
  • Plan and structure your day so that you know exactly what you need to accomplish and ensure that nothing falls through the cracks. Start off your day by making a “to do” list in order of priority.
  • Don’t eat at your desk. Make time for regular breaks and when you are taking your lunch, step away from your computer.
  • Get up, dress up. Stay in a routine, as you would with a regular workday. This includes getting dressed for work. This is not just for routine sake, but also to keep your mindset in work mode – (If it means slapping on some mascara as well, do so)!
  • Stick to your regular work hours. Bookmark your day! Make a clear distinction between work and personal time…. “but I just want to send another email…”, “I just want to finish this task…” NO! Log off at the end of the day and switch off your computer. You don’t want to burn out or neglect your personal life and relations by working crazy hours.
  • Even though your boss is not in close proximity, do NOT go on social media or surf the internet for non-work-related topics. It’s also bad etiquette to do so- respect your boss and the firms difficulties right now – be grateful that you still have work. As a general rule of thumb, if you’re not allowed to do it at the office, don’t do it at home during work hours!

2. Finding the right software and really useful tools to use

Making use of the best tools and technology to streamline your workflow is key! Here are some of the most popular tools to use.

Tools for Internal Team Communication

Making use of reliable internal communication software will keep your team up to speed on combined projects, and make everyone more productive. Look at the available options and choose the tool that will work best for your team according to the types of communication required. Careful not to use too many platforms which could get messy.

Stick to one tool for instant messaging like Skype or What’s App WEB and another for longer, more formal communication that requires a record of the communication thread, and for that, email is still best. 

Here are a few popular applications you can investigate:

Skype: Skype has been around the longest. It features group chats, file sharing, video / voice calls and screen sharing. You can also allow Skype to view all your phone contacts in order to link them up on Skype.

Zoom: Zoom has become the virtual meeting application of choice for many as it has a lower bandwidth requirement which will prevent a drop in connectivity during group meetings. As with Skype, you can also record your meetings, which can be shared with your team members to refer to later. For those that could not attend the meeting, this will also allow them to catch up on what has been discussed.

Microsoft Teams: Microsoft is now offering their MS Teams application free for 6 months to help virtual teams stay connected. This is a comprehensive application that not only offers a platform for virtual communication, but also task management.

What’s App WEB: If you have a small team and don’t want to set up too many new systems like Skype for instant messaging and file sharing, you can set up a What’s App group and add WhatsApp web to your browser by simply scanning the What’s App Web QR code on your PC screen from your phone’s What’s App application. This way you can link your What’s App to your PC and then check and receive your messages on screen so that you don’t  have to check your phone all the time. Be careful though, if you use WhatsApp mostly for personal communication, it can distract you from work. Another very useful tool to help control this, is a business WhatsApp profile to keep business and personal separate.

Google Hangouts: This nifty application even supports speech recognition, so that when you are holding a video conference, it only shows the person that is talking in the video window. If you already have a Google account you can start straight away.

Tips for team leaders holding online meetings and employees attending them;

  • Start each meeting with a quick catch up of each attendant. Ask your team how they are doing or feeling. This will give your meeting a more “personal” touch and narrow the virtual distance.
  • Always send out an agenda before the meeting to make sure everyone knows what needs to be discussed and to keep the conversation on track.
  • It is important to stay connected with your team, but respect your teams status; …“busy” or “concentrating” means just that so don’t disturb them. Come to an agreement with your staff and colleagues on how to alert someone if a matter is urgent. If it is not urgent, rather contact them later or book a meeting as you would do in a normal office.
  • If you have a problem that you need a colleague to assist you with, but you can’t explain your problem verbally, make use of a screen sharing application or remote access software like AnyDesk or Teamviewer. Microsofts’ “Snipping tool” for quick capturing, scribbling and sharing of your screen is also incredibly useful.
  • Make sure you have working headphones and that you test your sound before a meeting starts. If you login to Skype and search your contacts for “Skype call testing service” you can instantly see if your mic and headphones are working.
  • Set up pre-meetings with your individual team members to ensure they are prepared and have any questions ready for your meeting to ensure you adhere to your meeting’s agenda. Try and keep it as short and concise as possible.
  • Share each other’s schedules, so that you know when they are available and keep each other in the loop of matters that need to be attended to. Outlook and Google calendars can both be shared with our team.
  • If matters come up during the day that you need help with, make a note of it, so that if your manager or colleague aren’t available immediately, you won’t forget it.
  • Make sure that the tone and wording you use in your online communication is clear and leaves no room for misinterpretation.
  • If you cannot record the meeting, make notes to share with your team later.

3. Filing, sharing & organising

Filing sharing and organising becomes even more important now.

Keep everything in one place so that your team always knows where to find things.

Make sure everyone understands and agrees to a common filing structure otherwise things can get very messy. Neat filing and proper labelling systems are essential when working remotely to avoid wasting each-others time. Not all offices have a centralised cloud server, but there are various free online platforms that can serve as a centralised hub for information sharing and file storage.

Google Drive: Google has similar office tools to Microsoft that are LIVE and can be used to instantly create and edit online spreadsheets, word rich documents and photo libraries. You can set the editing privileges, so that everyone in your team or client base can edit, view or make suggestions to documents. You can also see the version history and go back to a point in time if anything is deleted by a team member. The final drafts of documents can then also easily be PDF’d  and sent to clients or saved on your hard drive for safe keeping.

DropBox: DropBox offers 2 Gigs of free storage of documents and photos. You can also sync the content with your computer and it then automatically updates, when someone adds new files and you still have access to the data when you are offline. Be aware though, if two people are working on one document at the same time, Dropbox will save both versions of the file to ensure that no content is lost and then you end up with duplicates. Always read the notes from dropbox to say if someone else is working on the same document and don;t leave a dropbox document open all day unless you are constantly making edits to it. Use a work on it, save it and get out policy.

WeTransfer: If you need to send large files that do not need to be shared with the whole team, rather than using email and causing a block or non-delivery, send files with WeTransfer. The free account allows you to send files of up to 2GB of data at a time.

Project & Task Management Tools

Making sure that everyone has clear set tasks and that all adhere to project deadlines. This is key for virtual office’s success and productivity.

Trello: Trello makes use of boards, like Pinterest, to organise and keep track of the different aspects of your projects. Set up individual and team tasks and boost productivity with its automated features.

FreedCamp: Freedcamp is a great free application to use for keeping track of tasks, calendar events and to set targets through milestones. You can also filter tasks assigned to specific users and track progress of each task. In the discussions section for each “project” you can keep records and notes of discussions and files for your team to go back to, at any time. Upgrading to the paid version also gives you access to more advanced features like invoicing. 

Asana: Asana is similar to Trello and Freedcamp, but you can integrate more external applications in order to align it more to your needs and existing platforms.

Fynalize: Fynalize is another great project management platform. It not only has the capability to manage tasks, it also has a built in messaging system, an “at a glance” task board dashboard and to top it off, an in-depth analysis and reporting feature to monitor your team’s performance. The free version has almost all the features of the paid upgrade and allows for 1 – 5 users. We’ve not used it before but give it a try!

Tips for project management using these tools

  • Make sure each task is clearly communicated so that the team member knows exactly what is expected for completion of the task and to minimise ping pong communication to clarify the task at hand.

Staying sane and healthy

The more we can limit physical interaction, the better chance we have to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, but most humans need daily interaction with other beings for their mental well being. Teams that already have virtual offices in place have implemented some of the below activities to ensure they not only stay connected, business-wise, but also keep track and enhance the whole team’s overall health.

  • Say Hi and Bye: Even if you don’t walk past everyone when arriving or leaving work anymore, it will boost team morale to check in and out. It also keeps everyone in the loop, as to when you are not available.
  • Fun virtual get together’s: Have a daily virtual coffee break or weekly “Bring your breakfast to work”. This can be done via video chat to make it more interactive. Some companies have even set in place a “bring your pet to breakfast” video catch up.
  • Minimise, but don’t take away, office banter: Miss discussing what to make for dinner with your work colleagues or just want to share a silly joke? Adding a bit of personal interaction or office humour during your workday can lift spirits, even if you are not sharing the same physical office. This will also make for a more positive work environment and also support each other to stay positive and energised.
  • Temperature checks: Everyone is at risk of contracting the Coronavirus, even if you are now restricted to minimum contact with the outside world. Some teams have daily “temperature checks” to keep track of everyone’s health.
  • Look after your body: Start a healthy lunch or steps challenge. Keeping your body and immune system at its peak performance is key to fight off the wrath of the Coronavirus. Now that you are working from home, it is even easier to ensure you have a lunch made of fresh, nutritious ingredients. If you don’t even have to get up to go to the printer, you might end up being stuck in front of your screen and the hours passing by, without you noticing. Get up and walk around a bit on regular intervals or even just to stretch out a bit.
  • Ask for help: If you need help with anything, work or non-work-related issues, speak up! Communication is key in making a virtual office work, but if your manager or other teammates can’t see you are struggling with something, keeping quiet is not going to magically sort it out! If you are a big team, make sure that everyone is aware of whom they should contact for different issues or divide them into micro teams or a work buddy system to handle more personal matters.

Our global village is going to become more and more closely knit. Ensuring your company stays on the map, you’ll not only have to ensure you work like a well-oiled machine, but also make use of new and innovative ways to market yourself.

If you need guidance or support running and managing a new virtual office or need assistance with some of the applications we have mentioned, we are here to help! We are offering support where you can purchase our time in order for us to help you on how to set up a remote office.