COVID-19

Tips for keeping your remote team productive

The current climate has accelerated digital transformation across all organizations. Now more than ever, we are turning to technology to overcome roadblocks and maximize team time efficiently. Not surprisingly, other companies, like ours, are finding it challenging to navigate the landscape and keep employees engaged and productive. 

At Sales Hacker, a community/media company for B2B sales professionals, we’ve luckily been an all-remote company since our inception, so we know a thing or two about working remotely effectively. That being said, this particular situation has brought about all sorts of new, unexpected challenges that we’ve had to learn to navigate as well.  

I’ve outlined some hacks we’ve implemented at Sales Hacker to keep our distributed team productive and efficient.  

1. We don’t sacrifice innovation for productivity  

Chat and instant messaging (IM) have become more important than the spoken word. I know this because my desk plant got sick of me talking to it after day three.

In all seriousness, though, IM has become the go-to immediate feedback loop for companies all over the planet. But, there are ways to utilize IM to boost productivity and innovation that not everyone has adopted yet.  

At Sales Hacker, we create channels within our team chats specifically for housing innovative ideas that the team comes up with. Creatives refer to these as SwipeFiles. 

When an employee has an idea, reads an interesting article or wants to A/B test a new marketing idea, they will quickly write 1-2 sentences in our “Innovation Channel” for everyone to see while it’s top of mind. This way, we don’t have to completely shift focus away from our current task, which kills productivity, and we don’t lose out on that valuable innovation.  

Then, at the end of each week, we have a quick 20-minute digital huddle to run through all the suggestions and decide which ones are worth pursuing. It’s like “idea speed-dating”. The idea for a really cool new video series we launched called “Demo-litions” came directly from this.  

We can’t afford for innovation to be put on the back burner as we navigate these uncharted territories. Innovation is what will set us up for success on the other side of this.  

2. We look at time as our most valuable resource  

I live and die by my digital calendar. Full stop. My girlfriend still uses an analog version and it gives me an incredible amount of anxiety. How does one function without a 15-minute reminder for absolutely everything?  

Personally, I’m in charge of a million different things at any given time. Without meticulously time-blocking every minute of the day, things get missed and messy fast.  

Every day as I wrap up work, I look at the long list of things that are still left on my “to-do” list and open my calendar for the next day. In between an absurd amount of video calls, I’ll block off 30-minute intervals to complete those tasks. 

If it doesn’t make it on my calendar, it will not get done. I know it’s a simple tip, but time-blocking my days has made me about three times more efficient. It also allows me to visualize what the next day will bring and foresee any potential hiccups or roadblocks.  

I’m also experimenting with two new time management hacks right now.  

  • The <5min rule: If a new task comes in that I somehow see (I’d recommend silencing notifications during your task time-blocks) and I know it will take me less than 5 minutes, then I’ll do it on the spot. This saves my to-do list from adding up at the end of the day. 
  • Add themes to a few of your days. I read somewhere that you lose a ton of energy when constantly switching from left brain (logical) to right brain (creative) tasks. So I’ve started playing with themed days that map to one side of the brain. For example, I make Mondays all about generating new business, Thursdays are focused on creative projects, and on Fridays, I try to get all of my podcast recordings for the week done. Oh, and don’t beat yourself up if something falls out of that day’s theme, it’s going to happen.  

3. We believe happy employees are productive employees 

Productivity and morale are so closely linked that they might as well be synonyms in this new digital age. Here are two ways we’re keeping morale high and, in turn, boosting productivity.  

  • Make time for informal meetings. You need to create space for digital “water cooler chats”. Remember all the fun banter that used to take place at the office? We’ve found that these casual conversations can make employees feel more connected with their teammates and also more comfortable asking for help. Our parent company, Outreach, has started holding “catch-up meetings”. This one-hour block is where you simply catch-up on your to-do list but do it with a colleague/direct report via video call. There’s no real agenda, but you can bounce ideas off one another or do a quick screen share to get their opinion on something. It’s been a big hit. Employees are telling us that it’s helping them feel more connected, so we plan to carry it forward.  
  • Create an employee recognition channel. We have an instant messaging channel called #recognition, where we share examples of co-workers going above and beyond. People need group recognition, and that’s sorely lacking at home. We have a Virtual Toast every Friday that we call BOOT, where you can shout out a colleague for going above and beyond in a particular area. We’ve found that employees are more motivated when they feel like their work and effort is valued and appreciated. 

4. Maximize all the benefits that come with the cloud 

At Sales Hacker, we’ve been on the cloud for so long, many of the benefits that come with it feel like second nature. With a lot of companies working from home, the cloud is crucial for supporting efficient team collaboration. Here are some easy hacks to implement that will save you time: 

  • Use share links for version control and easy collaboration. This rule has become essential in the current environment where you can’t look over your shoulder to ask your desk mate, “Where is that document?” or “What version are we on?”. By creating a share link, we now have one point of access to a single document, without having to scour through old emails and comms to find the answers. We’re also able to work faster and smarter with people inside our company and out. We can share files and collaborate in real-time across all devices. In normal times I travel a lot, so having everything accessible via my smartphone is essential. 
  • Create a standardized taxonomy. To make everything readily searchable and shareable, you need to have everyone agree on a unified folder structure. From there, you need to implement a standard naming convention (example: description.creationdate.filetype). With a standardized structure, the time searching for folders, or through various versions of the same file, drops goes a lot quicker because everyone knows where everything is saved. 

5. We reward ourselves for productivity  

People now realize that “video chat fatigue” is a real thing. It’s no different than sitting in eight back-to-back boardroom meetings. And in my opinion, it’s more exhausting.  

Here’s why: In the office, you ordinarily have 5-10 minutes to walk to your next meeting, decompress and maybe grab some water, but on video calls, we usually jump immediately from one session to another. There are days where I will quite literally be in meetings for ten hours without a break. In this scenario, I’ll often be too burnt out at the end of the day to have any time or energy for myself or my family.  

So a little while back, I started a new reward system that has helped save some energy for the end of the day. If I finish a meeting early, I allow myself time to decompress before jumping into the next task. There’s a lot of pressure right now to get everything done, but you can’t pour from an empty cup.  

Give it a try, promise you’ll feel more refreshed when 5 pm rolls around and you’ll be able to be more present with your friends and family. 

The short story

We’re all busier than ever so if you only remember five things from this article, here is what they should be:  

  • Don’t sacrifice innovation for productivity. Create a team channel to capture your team’s best ideas.  
  • Treat time as your most valuable resource. Time-block your calendar, instate the <5mins rule and try adding “themes” to your work days.  
  • Happiness leads to productivity. Create time for informal meetings and give as much employee recognition out as you can.  
  • Maximize all the benefits of the cloud. There are many easy hacks to implement that can save you time and headaches in the long run. 
  • Reward yourself if you finish a meeting early, taking that time to decompress instead of jumping into another task. 

I hope these tips work as well for you as they do for our team. And cut yourself some slack. Being productive is great, but a lot is going on right now, and not every day will you be the uber-productive, creative genius that you know you are. And that’s ok.  

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Business Insights and Ideas does not constitute professional tax or financial advice. You should contact your own tax or financial professional to discuss your situation.