The coronavirus has been a boom to a work-from-home trend that has led to happy and productive teams.

The problem with ‘shelter-in-place’ as a substitute for your normal routine?

Remote work works best if it’s by choice (and planned out ahead of time).

While remote work may be the only way to save your business from uncertain doom, working from home may not be leading to motivate your workers (and their productivity).

As your teams hunker down at kitchen tables, small bedrooms converted to offices and fend off the constant chatter about economic crisis, quarantines, kids roaming the house idle, or the multitude of distractions turning our heads and our focus during the next several weeks of stay-in-place workplaces, don’t you want to get them excited at least about coming into their virtual offices for the day?

I’ve been leading a completely remote workforce—of teams that completely work from home—for over ten years and can tell those just setting out on the mission of managing remote workers that there are a lot of my mistakes and mis-steps you can most certainly learn from.

What I have learned over many years is that remote work—particularly work from home—is a challenge to initiate but has big payoffs if done right (for both you and your teams).

Today I want to start by giving you a few ideas and strategies to get more from your teams when working from home.

Realize I work in IT. To many of you that might sound like the type of work that is already distanced from people. We’re at computers all day, with no real connection to the outside world. In my first remote working company, I had made an effort to humanize tech. I wanted my remote team able to chat, interact and feel connected to every single person.

What I wanted and what naturally happened were two very different things.

When we started our remote team, I had done reading on how to use remote work as a benefit. I hired people motivated and self-driven. I put together training videos on how to set up their offices and had clear expectations on where they were to work every day.

Our policies and procedures were quite clear that working from home meant having a desk in a room with a door that could actually close. The chair had be to ‘comfortable’, meaning it was something you would want to sit in for an entire 8 hour shift. You were expected to dress appropriately for the work day.

What I knew I didn’t want: someone who just had woken up for the day, in pajamas, slinging a laptop on their lap on the couch. I wanted someone dressed for the day—as if they were going into the office—with a separate space, who was not going to get interrupted by the daily drum of being home. I didn’t care whether they had a dedicated office or a closet converted into a workplace. I just wanted somewhere that they could see as ‘work’ and a clear definition from what they perceived as ‘home’.

Even with clear definitions of a workplace, I was unable to get a team productive, excited and ready to get to work in the morning. In fact, in our monthly company-wide surveys, people really weren’t super excited to come into their offices in the morning at first.

When doing a little digging into the ‘why’s’, what I realized is people really were too isolated. They didn’t know what was going on in each other’s lives. Had only met occasionally outside of work when we’d hold company-wide gathers (which boiled down mainly to our annual holiday party).

What I didn’t realize is that even though we were super technical, I had never thought to set up a system to engage my own team.

After doing a little research on the topic, what I realized is that when you increase the distance between workers, you start seeing less collaboration, lower engagement and overall work satisfaction. The magic number turns out to be 30 feet. After 30 feet of separation, people apparently do not engage with each other anymore—even if they are in the same building.

What I ended up learning—through many blog posts and discussions—is that we really needed to be face to face. The key advice I was given is that with all remote teams, you need to recreate social contact through video. We have a morning ‘touch base’ huddle with everyone on the phone (and camera) talking about a win from the day before, along with their job-specific metrics.

Each team member ends their portion of the call announcing the number of steps they took the day before (with remote workers, sitting at their desk can become a bad habit—we wanted to make sure everyone was getting enough exercise during the workday and started tracking steps as our means to put some attention on movement).

If you were on our team, you would have your camera on ALL day. We have monitors on everyone’s desk with team members so that they can feel ready and able to interact with each other. We also make sure that our team is on instant messenger when working to make it easy and reach out when problems arise.

What I learned from instituting these three simple additions to work at home life—instant messaging, video conferencing and a daily morning huddle—is that my team was excited to come in and collaborate on problems instead of being in their office-turned prison cell for 8 hours of isolation. In the long run, we I had team members who were engaged, committed and sticking with us for the long run.

My advice to you: make sure your team is connected.

Interested in getting through COVID19 with a productive team that gets more done than before the shelter-in-place mandate? Attend my ‘Shelter-In-Place’ webinars coming up:

Is your team forced to work remote from COVID-19? Were you able to put together a plan for having your ENTIRE team (or at least most of them) working from home for WEEKS on end?

SPECIAL CALL: Shelter in Place Leadership: Things You Can Do Right Now to Make Your Remote Team More Effective

March 27th  2 PM CST/ 3 PM EST

Sign Up Here:

How can you maintain and build trust with remote workers that have never worked from home and quite frankly never wanted to work remote?

How can you keep them engaged and excited about getting their work done? With the 24/7 news cycle? Kids home from school? A multitude of other distractions pulling at them in different directions? All while trying to focus at their kitchen table to put in their 8 hour workday!

What if you could get them excited to open their computers in the morning, focused on their work and even more productive than when they were in the office?

I have learned -- coaching and leading a completely remote workforce for over 10 years-- that all of this is more than possible. It's attainable with the tools you're already using and the people you’ve already hired.