March 16th, 2020

A-Train transitioned to a fully virtual team on January 1, 2020. With many organizations now contemplating how to empower their team to work from home during the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak, we’ve had a lot of questions about our transition. The health and safety of our team, clients, partners, and communities are critical, and empowering your people to work from home has the potential to slow this terrible pandemic down and save lives.

Our process involved a careful approach over several months, but for other companies (especially professional services companies like us), a similar approach can be implemented much more quickly, with of the some steps we took in advance happening during or after your transition.

Here’s the summary of what we learned: the most important keys are building team buy-in, clarifying expectations around how people will work and interact, and empowering them with the proper technology.

Here are the 10 steps we took to create a very successful transition, re-ordered for a more immediate approach:

  1. Update your technology to empower your virtual team.
    The first and most pressing action to build your virtual team is ensuring that you have the technology needed for your team to be successful. An eventual full-service solution should include easy file access and sharing, putting a system in place for routing work calls to workers at home, providing “instant messaging” capability for quick peer-to-peer conversations, and implementing or enhancing video conferencing and virtual whiteboard technologies. Once you have this technology in place (preferably from as few platforms as possible), it’s important to reach an agreement on how and when each communication channel is used.

  2. Work through day-to-day details of how Standard Operating Procedures change.
    How will internal workflows have to be modified to accommodate a virtual office strategy? How will paper files be digitized and shared? How will you handle processes like team brainstorming or other areas needing multiple people working together? You’ve got to nail these things down quickly and also encourage a tolerance for ambiguity, as some process update needs may pop up unexpectedly as you move forward.

  3. Provide reasonable accommodations for your team’s home offices.
    What will your employees require to be productive working from their home office? A computer, headset, desk chair, and office supplies are common needs that can be supplied by the organization. You will also need to ensure each person has a high-bandwidth internet connection at home. You may want to provide coaching on how to set up a successful office. If this becomes a long-term or permanent change, you might consider a co-working space where team members can meet or simply get a break from their home environment.

  4. Clearly communicate the benefits virtualization will create for team members.
    Moving to a virtual workforce can cause concern or confusion among staff members. Be sure to explain the many benefits they’ll enjoy from this strategy. This includes improved work-life balance, greater self-direction, improved time management, financial savings on things like commuting costs, meals, etc., decreased stress, and improved business relationships.

  5. Also communicate the benefits virtualization will create for your organization.
    Going virtual produces many advantages for the company as well: fewer distractions, greater productivity, increased agility and speed to market, enhanced creativity, more efficient meetings, reduced sick time and absenteeism, improved recruiting and employee retention, overall cost savings, and increased profit. Communicating these benefits appropriately to your team will help create buy-in.

  6. Connect this change to your organization’s mission, vision, and goals.
    Everything an organization does should further its mission, and virtualization is no different. Ask yourself how doing so can allow you to better serve your clients and your own team. You should also consider how this strategy can help you meet your company goals and desired outcomes.

  7. Strategize transition messaging to clients and others.
    Switching to a virtual office approach can provide many benefits to your clients, too. However, those benefits might not be immediately apparent to them or your vendors and business partners. It’s important to craft messaging that explains your new strategy and provides assurance that this can be a very positive development for everyone involved.

  8. Work through how virtualization will impact your culture.
    Change provides opportunities, and virtualization is an excellent opportunity to look at your existing work culture and identify both aspects that you want to change and characteristics you want to hang on to. This process should involve all your employees so that everyone has an opportunity to share their ideas and preferences for the new approach. You can also use this time to share best practices for virtual work and what’s required to be successful as a virtual worker, along with the common pitfalls to avoid.

  9. Create a “virtual team agreement” together with your team.
    This is perhaps the most important step in the process, but can happen over time, as you’re implementing the other steps. This is where everyone gets on the same page about what a virtual team looks like and how it operates. You should work towards collective agreement around expectations on how you and your team will communicate with each other and those outside the organization, shared expectations around individuals’ accessibility and response time during work hours, how often your teams will “meet” virtually (use video often!), and whether employee roles and responsibilities need updates. Creating an agreement together that everyone signs is the best way to create buy-in from the whole team.

  10. Review legal and insurance requirements.
    Virtualization may have legal or insurance ramifications for your organization. If your virtualization is going to be longer term, you should talk with your legal/HR counsel and insurance company about your plans. Your counsel may advise you to draw up a “telecommuting” policy and have it signed by employees, and your insurance agent may recommend additional or modified coverage or terms for your business.

Switching to a virtual office is a big step, but a very beneficial one. We’ve found that it’s enabled us to provide even better service to our clients and empowered our team to be even more efficient and effective in their work, while improving employee engagement significantly.

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How can A-Train assist you?

If interest warrants it, we will be putting together a webinar to dive deeper into what we learned during our transition. If you’re interested, please sign up for our newsletter to receive updates.