Remote work has been around for a long time, but a lot of companies still think of work as something that only happens in the office.

But the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we work. Working from home was the only way a lot of companies could stay open safely and legally.

As we all search for our new normal, it’s useful to look at how other business leaders have adapted and succeeded with remote work. In this post, we’ll share tips and stories from companies who transitioned to remote work during the pandemic.

Adapting to remote work during a pandemic

Millions of people now work remotely, many for the first time, and the benefits are obvious.

There’s no commute. Work schedules are more flexible and allow people to focus on other priorities. Remote workers are more productive, and working from home saves money for both the company and the employee.

Transitioning to remote work isn't hard

Of course, working remotely during a pandemic isn’t the same thing as choosing remote work as a smart way to operate your business.

The global crisis has impacted mental and physical health. Social distancing is an important safety measure, but it leaves people feeling isolated on top of their other fears.

Businesses are still facing this challenge today. This is more than just transitioning to remote work. On top of taking their companies remote, leaders have to navigate huge economic changes while their teams are stressed and scared.

Would you like to know how they are doing it?

Stories from business leaders about adjusting to remote work

We have the data on how the pandemic affected remote work.

But we wanted to know the stories behind the numbers. What was it like for businesses who had never worked remotely before? How was this transition different for companies that already had established remote work policies?

Dozens of CEOs, founders, managers, and experts shared their experiences. Here’s what they have to say:

Productivity is better than expected

One of the most common concerns about going remote is productivity.

Despite all the evidence that remote workers are more productive, lots of managers assume that the distractions and temptations at home will be too much to resist.

Experience is the best teacher.

Remote productivity

Despite the pandemic, leaders found that their teams were more productive than expected. In fact, some teams were more productive working from home during a crisis than they had been in the office.

Here are some of the comments we received about productivity:

“Before the quarantine, working from home on a regular basis wasn’t allowed and the team was quite against it. This experience has showcased that we can be very productive working from home and I am very open to discussing being more flexible once we get back into the office.”

Brian Lim, CEO of iHeartRaves

“Since implementing our new remote KPI (key-performance-indicator) system, company performance has improved dramatically. We’ve seen great collaboration within teams, more innovative thinking, a greater work ethic, and improved morale. Everyone likes being part of a team that’s working towards a clear and common goal.”

Kean Graham, CEO of MonetizeMore

Quality is the more important than quantity

Remote leaders can’t stop by an employee’s desk to see what they’re working on. Instead, productivity is measured by output.

The first instinct for most managers without remote experience is to try to replicate the office environment as much as possible. They check in to make sure employees are at their desk, schedule lots of meetings, and look at the number of completed to-dos to gauge whether or not an employee is productive.

There are problems with that way of thinking, though.

Most people didn’t actually track productivity in the office. They just assumed that if an employee was at their desk and looking at their computer, then they were basically productive. The only time output was ever examined was when someone fell behind or turned in subpar work.

Working from home has forced companies to reevaluate how they measure productivity, and leaders have found that the quality of completed work is the most important thing to measure.

Here’s what some of them had to say about it:

“All of my employees are working remotely currently, and tracking progress is not as hard as you think it is. It is all about having open communication and offering support rather than criticism. We still have daily meetings and targets to hit, but what is most important is making sure everyone can work, even if it has to slow down because of the pandemic. We are better off working stable than working fast. We had to stretch the goals we had and even put some off. But now, we have new goals. Overcoming the pandemic and focusing on online work has been a success, and will continue to be.”

Ethan Taub, CEO of Goalry, Inc

“Too many executives focus too much on the speed of their employees without paying attention to quality. The fastest, most efficient employee is worth nothing if they can’t consistently put out high-quality work.”

Chane Steiner, CEO of Crediful

Existing remote work policies were a big advantage

Remote work during pandemic conditions is a different beast, but you can still apply best practices for success.

Making the move to remote work has its own challenges. Things like remote communication, task management, and measuring productivity are standard speed bumps that newly remote teams need to navigate.

Companies with some remote experience felt that they had an advantage. It was useful to have the technology in place and policies already established so that going remote wasn’t quite a shock.

Here are some examples:

“Doodle has been fortunate amid the COVID-19 pandemic to have already established robust remote work policies around operations, roles, and company culture. We’re a distributed workforce of over 70 employees across five countries and three time zones. So, we’ve long understood the unique set of challenges and benefits of remote and distributed work. And as a SaaS company, first and foremost, we’ve always leaned heavily into the power of technology to drive operational efficiencies.”

Renato Proficio, CEO of Doodle

“My company, Internet Advisor, made the transition to remote work about 8 years ago, when it wasn’t as common, so we definitely hit some snags when it came to productivity and finding our groove. I had to learn to embrace the benefits of remote working. Now I allow employees to work at their own pace, at their most productive hours. I’ve got people working in the middle of the night, at 4 am, or in short bursts throughout the entire day. As long as it works for them and the tasks are completed, it doesn’t matter when they do it or if I’m there to remotely supervise.”

Sean Nguyen, Director of Internet Advisor

Leaders learned to focus on trust and transparency

Employees everywhere are worried about their health, their job security, and their future.

Some people have to juggle extra demands like virtual learning and childcare. Others are struggling with burnout or poor mental health.

In this environment, it’s vital for leaders to actively build trust within their teams.

This is what leaders had to say about the changes they’ve made to adapt to remote work:

“Now more than ever, great leadership is key to keeping a business afloat. Communicating with employees is extremely important and should be done on a daily basis, as well, in the form of one-on-one meetings and all-hands company meetings. With COVID-19 in full swing, we’ve found that full transparency is the best way to go. We are honest with employees and let them know exactly what to expect. During these difficult times, displaying that the employer and the employee are on the same page is critical. Demonstrating a ‘we are in this together’ mentality goes a long way!”

Kevin Miller, CEO of The Word Counter

“Do away with counting the number of hours worked and focus on the output and delivery. This establishes an underlying trust, builds stronger relationships, and encourages higher levels of dedication from the employee.”

Saurabh Jindal, Owner of Talk Travel

“A remote worker can be much more productive working out of their domicile if they are given the proper leadership. Our sales team has been remote since 2014, and we have a robust training and motivation program to increase productivity and engagement.”

David Reischer, Esq., Operations Manager at LegalAdvice.com

Technology helped ease the transition

You already know that work is easier when you have the right tools for the job. For remote work, there are lots of types of tools that help your team get more done.

There are a lot of remote team management programs out there, but a lot of people mentioned other types of tools in their responses.

For some, project management software was a game changer. Other teams needed a better way to manage their files in the cloud. Technology helps teams with communication, organization, and even staying socially connected.

Here are some of the comments we heard about technology:

“We have switched over to cloud-based documentation so I can see what work is being done and by whom. I can give my input and help to collaborate with other members of staff. As a result, we are stronger than ever, and even reward ourselves with Friday night drinks, together, in front of our computer screens, keeping a safe distance.”

Michael Lowe, CEO of Car Passionate

“The first thing I realized is that you cannot manage a remote team the same way you manage an on-site one. So, with regards to productivity metrics, I threw hours out of the window. Instead, we decided to use technology to keep track of deliverables and performance. Luckily, we already use Asana for project management, which is pretty good at tracking deliverables. Asana keeps each team member accountable and there is clarity on who is doing what whenever the deliverables are due.”

Reuben Yonatan, Founder and CEO of GetVoIP

Expert recommendations for best practices

There’s a trend in the stories we shared above. As companies sent their employees to work from home for the first time, they got a crash course in the best practices for remote working.

Whether you’ve worked remotely before or not, adjusting to remote work in 2020 has been a learning experience.

Leaders were happy to share the most important things they’ve learned about going remote. Here’s what they (and we) recommend:

1: Encourage communication

Remote teams have to communicate on purpose.

When your team starts working from home, you have a new responsibility to keep communication flowing. It takes effort for people to talk to each other now.

This is true for both work-related and social conversations. Keep your team healthy and happy by promoting both kinds of talk.

Remember that you need to work to keep everyone informed and up-to-date. If you forget to tell someone about changing priorities or important developments, they’ll waste time doing the wrong work. They might also feel that you don’t value their contributions.

Here are some tips:

“Every morning, our team has a meeting to discuss what each member will be working on for that day. Not only does this help us to measure productivity, but it also gives us the opportunity to ask for help on tasks and adjust due dates for any tasks that may take longer than anticipated.”

Irene Lopez, Business Development Associate at Online Optimism

“To ensure we’re running smoothly, now that the team is fully distributed and remote, we have weekly stand-ups that consist of the “what, so-what, and now-what” framework. Each individual shares:

  • The ‘What’ – what they have accomplished since the prior stand-up?
  • The ‘So What’ – why does it matter or what impact will it have?
  • The ‘Now What’ – what happens next?

A lot of great and natural conversation typically emerges during this hour-long standup and important information is exchanged, such as responsibilities, deadlines, blockers, and prioritizations.”

Jordan DiPietro, Managing Director of The Blueprint

2: Put employees’ wellbeing first

Concerns about work-life balance are far from new. The impacts of the pandemic brought those concerns to the forefront.

If your company is one of the many which took a profitability hit because of COVID-19, you’re probably under a lot of pressure to perform well and make up for it. It may even be a matter of survival.

The bottom line is important, but it also takes healthy, committed people to hit all your numbers.

This is both an ethical and a practical business issue. If you don’t prioritize your people, they’ll underperform or leave, which costs you a lot of money.

Especially when resources are already limited, it’s a good idea to invest some time and effort into the wellbeing of your team. Help them get through this and they’re a lot more likely to help your company succeed.

“If employees respond to messages or emails outside of normal working hours, managers should reassure employees that they are in no way obliged or required to respond outside of their normal working hours. This may seem like a simple and inconsequential thing to do. But in reality, it will show employees that their personal time matters and reiterate to them that the company values them as individuals, not just as employees.”

Renato Proficio, CEO of Doodle

“Encourage your managers and employees to disconnect from technology periodically and focus on cultivating human, face-to-face relationships. Even meeting for virtual coffee or drinks can accomplish so much more than e-mail exchanges, social media posts, etc., and it is a great way to get to know people better.”

Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls

3: Adapt your company culture

Culture isn’t just a buzzword. It drives the way your team interacts with each other and how they feel about their jobs.

If you didn’t put any effort into creating your culture, that doesn’t mean you don’t have one — it just means that your culture is out of your hands. Going remote is the perfect opportunity to step up and build the kind of culture you want.

This is a long road, especially if your current culture is negative.

You’re not going to shift the way your team thinks and behaves overnight, but get started now and you’ll reap the benefits for years, even if you go back to the office.

Here’s what leaders had to say about culture in their remote teams:

“Team building activities have proven to improve employees’ morale and keep them active throughout a project. When you have teams that are working in the same office location, you have the opportunity to come together and discuss any roadblocks, and to help each other to complete individual and shared goals.

With a team scattered in different parts of the world, you don’t have that luxury. However, that’s no excuse for not doing a team-building activity. Take some time out from a webinar and let loose. Whatever you decide to do, get creative and be sure to allow every member of your team to contribute to that particular activity.”

Rameez Ghayas Usmani, Digital Marketing Executive at PureVPN

“My tip for businesses struggling with remote worker productivity is to set hard project deadlines, and clearly establish ramifications if that deadline is missed. Creating a company culture where missing deadlines is acceptable will only lead to consistent project delays.”

David Lynch, Content Lead at Payette Forward, Inc

4: Find a good balance of encouragement and accountability

Your team needs to be understood and encouraged. They also need to be held accountable for all the things they need to deliver.

If you use employee monitoring software, it’s a great tool to do both of these things. Your team’s productivity data is a great tool to see exactly where you can help people succeed.

Most likely, a team member who struggles to get stuff done isn’t goofing off at work. They might be overwhelmed with other responsibilities. There might be an issue with communication that makes it harder for them to do their job.

Lead with positive encouragement and offer support. At the same time, make your expectations clear like these leaders did:

“Instead of only tracking the number of hours our employees are spending at work, we focus on how much meaningful work is accomplished during the day. Kanban boards in ProofHub have been of great help in this. Everyone has their tasks listed on these boards. As a task is completed by someone, we can see the work moving through the stages. It gives us a clear picture of what has been accomplished during the day, and by whom.”

Vartika Kashyap, Chief Marketing Officer at ProofHub

“Each week, we hold a full team meeting to review the KPIs of each member. When reviewing the list, we ask each member if they met their goals. The answers should be a yes or no, without an explanation. If there is a trend of all team members not hitting a certain goal, then we discuss what resources need to be made available.”

Shawn Breyer, Owner of Georgia Foreclosure

“Since transitioning to remote work, we have mandatory virtual team meetings each morning, where everyone shares what they are currently working on, as well as what they accomplished the previous day. This provides me with the opportunity to offer support and encouragement when needed, and it also keeps everyone accountable.”

Monica Eaton-Cardone, Co-Founder and COO of Chargebacks912

5: Use the right software to boost productivity

We already talked about the importance of having the right tools for the job. Of course, the “right tools” are different for every company.

Figure out what tools you need by listening to the things your team complains about.

Are they drowning in email because that’s how everyone discusses projects? Look for a new project management software that makes it easier to stay connected and organized.

Task progression in HS Tasks

Does your team hate digging through Slack channels to find the document you shared a few days ago? Upgrade your document management system and use some kind of shared drive to keep files where they need to be.

Here are some of the things business leaders shared about their game-changing tools:

“Sometimes projects have unexpected bottlenecks that remote workers have difficulty communicating back to managers. This can lead to believing that your team member is not putting the effort in, even when there are actually external problems that need to be solved.

Screen tracking gives you a much deeper understanding of where time is being spent at work, allowing you to more effectively diagnose and solve bottlenecks and evaluate performance.”

Sam Maley, Head of Growth at Bailey & Associates

“People work harder and more productively when they know they are being watched or monitored. This is a psychological principle called the ‘Hawthorne effect.’ So, just knowing that they are being monitored is enough to boost the productivity of your remote workers.”

Jayson DeMers, CEO of EmailAnalytics

“If team members are struggling to meet deadlines or provide updates on their progress, you can resort to remote-monitoring software. You want to trust your team to do a great job on their own, but if they’re failing to meet expectations, this option might increase their productivity. People tend to work more efficiently when they know they’re being monitored.”

Brian DeChesare, Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions

“If your team is struggling with how to measure productivity for home-based employees, I suggest using productivity tracking tools. I use time tracking software for my remote employees; it’s not that I don’t trust them, it just makes my life easier. I use Hubstaff for time tracking and monitoring. It’s very easy to use and has everything I need, including reporting, scheduling, payroll, and invoicing.”

Kenny Trinh, Managing Editor at Netbooknews

What have you learned that other remote companies should know?

Share your experiences with us in the comments below.