Basic principles for organizations implementing remote work

A guide for supervisors to balance organizational sustainability with the mental health of themselves and their subordinates

By Paramita Mohamad
May 13, 2020
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, many companies or organizations have been forced (and are lucky enough to be able to) tell their employees to work from home. This is a major change, which for many organizations must be undertaken immediately without preparation.

Coincidentally, our company Communication for Change (C4C) has been implementing remote work since it was founded in January 2016. The reason is simple: to save money and because we (Misty and I, the founders of C4C) are sick of commuting . Previously we worked at a large multinational advertising agency, and were used to seeing how office attendance did not correlate with employee productivity.

To share experiences of working remotely for more than 4 years, last week (15 April 2020) we held a webinar which was open to the public. The webinar, which lasted for one hour, was attended by around 70 participants outside of the C4C team. This article summarizes the points that I think are important. Hopefully this will also be useful for those who were not present.

It all starts with accountability
When webinar attendees registered, we asked them to ask one of the most curious questions about remote work. It turns out that most of the questions revolve around organizational processes, for example how to maintain productivity, work culture, discipline, communication.

I'm pretty sure this outbreak is bringing major challenges to the sustainability of many companies and non-profit institutions. However, remote work must be done, either because of the need to flatten the curve or because of fear of PSBB (Large-Scale Social Restrictions) fines. So what should leaders do in order for subordinates to be willing and able to continue to contribute to the survival of the organization, without having to sacrifice even more mental health for themselves and others?
At C4C we learned that the first thing to do for remote work is to make accountability an important part of the company culture.
For me, culture is things you do when nobody is watching. This means that if accountability is embodied in the company culture, then at all times all C4C team members know what tasks or outputs they are responsible for — without needing anyone to supervise. Without having to be reminded, they know that every decision or action always has consequences for the company and ultimately for themselves, both positive and negative.

So how does C4C ensure that a culture of accountability is practiced every day? That's what protocols are for.

Accountability is practiced through protocols.
What I mean by protocols are procedures for working and communicating. Some people may use the term standard operating procedure (SOP), but frankly I don't know what the difference is.

There are several protocols that I will introduce here. The first is that for each company output or deliverable (for example strategy documents, campaign plans, social media content), it must be clear who the owner is , who the reviewer is , and if deemed necessary, who the contributors are. The owner is responsible for the execution of the output completion so that it is on time and within budget, while the reviewer (usually more senior) is responsible for the quality of the results. There is no longer such a thing as mutual cooperation or group work or collective collegial , because it will confuse responsibilities.

Furthermore, there must be an agreement from the start between the reviewer and the owner regarding the criteria for an output to be declared complete and meet standards. Apart from that, it must also be agreed on when and how many times the reviewer will check the owner's work . At C4C, the motto " review early, review often" applies . This means don't wait too long to check, and make checkpoints as often as possible. However, don't interrupt the owner to check his work outside of the agreement, because this is what is called micromanaging . In addition, reviewers must provide feedback or corrections to the owner as quickly as possible, as clearly as possible, and as honestly as possible.

Apart from working on output for projects, we also have other routine protocols:
  • Every Friday afternoon, we will hold an end-of-week meeting via videoconference. It contains an inventory of what was successfully achieved in each project, what outputs or tasks were not successfully completed, and what needs to be done next week. There is usually also a small celebration for success or praise for good work.
  • Every Monday afternoon, we will hold a start-of-the-week meeting . Before the pandemic, we did it after having lunch together, but now it can only be done via videoconference. We will discuss the company's cash flow. Next, we will discuss what each team member will do every day in the next week. This is where we have the opportunity to rearrange workloads if someone is too busy or someone has a lot of down time .
  • Every morning until before 10 o'clock, everyone will do a short check-in via the chat application. They will write down their assignments or deadlines for today. In addition, they may indicate when they will not be able to be contacted by his co-workers. Lastly, since the outbreak, we also share our physical health status and psychological mood. This is a sign that the day's working hours have started.
  • Every night (if possible before 7 o'clock), each team member usually checks out what he has successfully completed, what obstacles he has encountered, or what new developments have occurred. This also takes place via a chat application. If desired, team members may rate their day, on a scale of 1 (very bad) to 5 (very brilliant). However, the most important thing about daily check-out is announcing to yourself and your colleagues that the work day is over.

Another important protocol is the communication protocol:
  • At one extreme, if it's really urgent, use the telephone to contact your boss.
  • At the other extreme, use email if team members do not expect an immediate response (6 to 24 hours) from the recipient. We do not expect emails to be answered after 7pm and before 9am.
  • Between these two extremes, we communicate using a special chat application that is not WhatsApp, or if deemed necessary via videoconference.
These are examples of protocols that apply at C4C. Finally, the protocol becomes easier to carry out consistently if the right application helps.

Accountability is practiced through protocols.
We view the application as a tool to enforce protocols. Applications that must follow our way of working, and not applications that dictate us.

An example of this is in communication protocols. We use Google Chat and Google Meet or Zoom. It is important for us that the chat application has different room or channel features for each project. Additionally, integration with other applications is also important.

Another example of an application that only supports the protocol is in processing output . I agree with Buddha that "attachment is the root of suffering", although what he means by "attachment" is different from me. We avoid attachments in emails because they make version control difficult . What if there is input from several contributors working with files on their respective computers? That's why we usually use cloud -based applications that make collaboration easier, such as G Suite, Office 365, (for slideshow design ), Lucid Press (for desktop publishing ), Jurnal.ID (for bookkeeping). All of our check-in and check-out protocols — including task assignment and workload management — are assisted by the ClickUp application. We don't recommend that team members start their work day by checking email. What is recommended is to start the day by viewing today's tasks in ClickUp.

What about employee characteristics?
This is the biggest difference between C4C's situation and the situation of those who suddenly implemented remote work. Because we knew from the start that we would apply this style, we recruited those who we considered to have high self-discipline. I believe that if we spend a lot of time disciplining a subordinate, I am hiring the wrong person. While I understand that organizations that suddenly have to work remotely do not have this luxury.
Maybe you feel that what we usually do in remote work is too much hassle for something that is temporary. But I believe that we will still be staying at home for a long time. Some epidemiologists also believe that social distancing will continue temporarily (intermittently) as long as the majority of the world's population has not been immunized against the CoV-SARS2 vaccine.

Apart from that, even if I'm wrong and you will be working back in the office in the next few weeks, maybe you want to try to experience the pleasure of working accountable, with clear protocols, and using applications that make work easier.

Paramita Mohamad
Written by
CEO and Principal Consultant of Communication for Change. We work with those who want to make Indonesia suck less, by helping them get buy-in and make changes.

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