by Wayne Turmel

Most of North America and Europe have had at least one major snow event this winter that made getting to work difficult. People tend to view these as either a sign from above that they can work from home and spare themselves a commute that day, or that the business will be interrupted and productivity halted. Both can be true. You can also use snow days and other weather emergencies to assess whether your organization is ready to allow for remote teams.

Technology has made it possible for many kinds of work to get done from almost anywhere, at least occasionally. But if you look at how snow days and other unexpected interruptions impact the work you do, you’ll see it shows some pretty clear rails to run on as people take advantage of the chance to work where they are.

You might be a team inside the office walls, but you’re not a remote team yet. Here are some of the common challenges of unexpected remote work and what it means for teams that aren’t used to working that way:

Conference calls are a bit of a mess.

If people aren’t meeting face to face, they’ll probably be using conference calls or virtual meetings. However, if your team doesn’t usually use these tools, or people aren’t properly prepared, they can be unwieldy and difficult to run. There are two simple things you can do to make insure they get started on time and run smoothly.

  1. Post the log in information and dial-in number in the meeting invitation itself. We’ve all been on those calls where you spend 15 minutes before the call (and too long after) resending information people should already have. By including all the information in the electronic meeting invite, and encouraging people to click the link to put that information into their calendars, they will have the information they need regardless of what device they’re on. Just because they’re not on their regular desktop computer doesn’t mean they shouldn’t know the @#%$$% phone number.
  2. Know the platform you’re meeting on. The first time your team attempts to hold a Skype or WebEx meeting should not be when people are already flustered and making last-minute adjustments.

People don’t know where to find the information they need when they need it. 

When people work from home unexpectedly (or don’t do it often) they are often unfamiliar with where to find critical information they need to get work done. Things like contact numbers, Instant Messenger handles, the location of critical information on shared files, can make the difference between a seamless work flow and just killing time until you can get back in the office. Here are a couple of things that make life simpler:

  1. While you’re still in the office, make sure that you have the appropriate apps loaded and shortcuts bookmarked. People should be able to log onto Sharepoint or Google Docs with the push of a button. Of course, they should do that anyway, but when you’re at your desk you can always lean over to Eileen the next desk over and ask for help.
  2. Have an easily accessible place on a shared file where people can get the information they need. You probably have one on your desktop, but that doesn’t help when you’ve left it at the office and are trying to log on from the kids’ Ipad.

Your boss doesn’t know if you’re working or not…

...and you have no idea whether teammates are actually working or just trying to keep the kids from killing each other. One of the challenges of working away from home is that people don’t know what you’re doing at any given time. If you work this way a lot, you and your boss and teammates probably have a rhythm already going. If this happens once in a while, and without any plan, it’s anyone’s guess who’s doing what out there. A couple of things to think about:

  1. Post your plan for the day to the team. This can be through an email, a blanket voicemail or other method like your status update.  A simple “I’m working from home today and will be available” is better than leaving people to wonder. As the manager, a quick check-in the night before or first thing in the morning might be in order to help you get a sense of who’s doing what.
  2. Use status updates on all your tools.  If you’re planning to get work done, but the dog needs to be walked or the kids taken outside to let off steam, let people know how long you’ll be gone and when you’ll be back. This will reduce stress all the way around.
  3. Have team expectations about response time, roles and what can wait til everyone’s back at their normal workstation.

These are not terribly sophisticated techniques, yet you can see how they will (at least in temporary emergencies) allow people to get basic work done and lower blood pressure all the way around. The best thing, of course, is to make sure people understand these processes and rules BEFORE they find themselves working from home. A little planning will make unexpected interruptions less disruptive.


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.

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