Tips for implementing a remote work policy

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A virtual team can be as small as two people, or it may be a large, dispersed organization scattered across multiple time zones and countries. Virtual teams can be temporary in nature, lasting only as long as the project at hand, or they can be resilient, lasting for years and evolving with the growth of the mission or the business. If you are organizing a virtual team for your employer, you will need to establish a remote work policy. This blog post has some tips for getting started.

Shifting from an office-based team to a virtual one or starting a virtual team from scratch requires different ways of working together. It also requires a new mindset for all involved — and support from management to create or sustain a culture that keeps all workers engaged.

Practically speaking, getting your company to move from the antiquated in-office setting to the 21st century virtual workspace isn’t as easy as just sending everyone home. Here are a few tools to help:

Rideshare offers a telework guide (PDF) with handy cost/analysis forms, sample policies and agreements, and forms to evaluate a remote work location, supervise a teleworker, and more. Similarly, the United States Department of Labor offers a “Workplace Flexibility Toolkit” full of resources for employers and employees.

Other resources mentioned here, with an insider view of managing dispersed teams and creating a workplace culture: Buffer’s Open blog and Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried.

For additional information, check out Chapter 3 of my book, which covers the socio-cultural issues of working in a virtual team. In addition, the introduction of The Successful Virtual Office In 30 Minutes contains a chart that shows some of the potential cost savings for employees, depending on how many days they work remotely as well as the typical length of their commutes.

Want to start and run your own side business?

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Do you need ideas for your own side business? This short blog post lists some starting points for people interested in starting their own companies. While starting a side business comes with additional costs and risks, there are many potential rewards — ranging from the freedom to set your own priorities to generating real revenue.

The Simple Dollar lists 50 side businesses you can start on your own, from antique refurbishment to writing/editing. Similarly, the $100 Startup offers resources to help you become your own boss and start a business (whether it’s a consultancy or other service or product) on your own for less than, you guessed it, a Benjamin.

Many of the apps highlighted in the Top Tech Tools chapter of my book are appropriate for sole proprietors and small startups, but some additional ones you might consider include:

  • Mobile payments: Venmo is free to send and receive money
  • Invoicing: Freshbooks is the leader here, but Zoho might be better for sole proprietors, with unlimited free invoices for up to 5 clients)
  • Expense tracking: Expensify creates “expense reports that don’t suck”
  • Customer relationship management (CRM) software: Insightly is free for up to 2,500 records.

As for where to start your side business, that really depends on the type of business. However, for many new entrepreneurs, the new company will be managed from their homes. In Chapter 1 of my book, I discuss the many possibilities for home offices.

If you don’t have a dedicated room for an office, a desk or any flat surface might work too. If the room gets a lot of household traffic, you might want to consider getting a cabinet desk or armoire, one that’s designed to be closed up to hide your equipment and desk clutter so you’re not constantly staring at it. Or you could physically separate your workspace from the rest of the room in other ways, such as using a bookcase as a divider or even a tall plant as a screen.

Look around for unused areas in your home that could be transformed into an office. Some people convert closets into compact yet efficient workspaces, set up their workspaces in hallways, or even tuck their desks in the area under the stairs!

Office under staircase - licensed from Shutterstock

Telecommuting quiz: Are you ready to work remotely?

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Telecommuting isn’t for everyone. To find out if it’s the right fit for you, take this quick telecommuting quiz to determine if you are ready to work remotely:

1. You haven’t heard from your manager or other team members in two weeks and feel like you haven’t gotten much guidance or direction. What do you do?
a. Go back to working in the office. It’s lonely out here.
b. Imagine they’re all busy and just keep working.
c. Check-in with an email or instant message but then continue as usual.

2. Which of the following would best describe the average workweek for you?
a. Sometimes the workload is too much (or you bite off more than you can chew), so you end up working overtime or missing deadlines.
b. Most of your projects are finished by their due dates, but sometimes at the last minute.
c. You’ve completely the highest priority and urgent tasks for the week on time, have a plan for the other important ones, and ignored the non-urgent, unimportant ones.

3. If asked to describe you, your fellow team members would say:

a. Wait, who are we talking about?
b. You’re a good worker, but they don’t know any other details about you or your work.
c. You communicate frequently and are always willing to share information and give or ask advice.

4. You can’t open a file a fellow team member has shared with you. What do you do?
a. Cry — this happens all the time! Then think about buying another laptop.
b. Call the IT department or, if there is none, your techie friend for advice.
c. Troubleshoot the problem yourself, then ask your co-worker to send the file in a format you know works on your computer.

5. Work has slowed down and some projects have missing details or answers. What do you do?

a. Wait until someone gives you all the information you need and take a much-needed break.
b. Work on the recurring but less important tasks you have to do.
c. Keep moving on the important projects and circle back when you have the details; see if there are other projects you could be working on.

Telecommuting quiz from The Successful Virtual Office In 30 MinutesBy now, it should be obvious that “c” answers are ideal. If mostly answered “a”, the office is the better environment for you. These questions point out the essential qualities in teleworkers: self-motivation and ability to work independently, time management skills, reliability, ability to work as part of a virtual team, technical proficiency, and resourcefulness and discipline.

Mind-map your projects with MindMeister

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MindMeister is a collaborative mind-mapping tool that runs inside your web browser and comes with free mobile apps for iPhone, iPad and Android devices. Being cloud-based, MindMeister is ideally suited for remote teams and freelancers working in a virtual office as it stores all their mind maps online and permits easy access for all collaborators.
MindMeister: A mind map is a great format for project planning. Find out how to visualize ideas and turn them into actionable tasks in 4 simple steps.

Why Mind Mapping?

A mind map is a fantastic format for project planning because it lets you visualize not only the individual tasks, issues and questions in connection with a project, but also the relations between them. Here’s how to do it:

1. Create the basic mind map
Write the name of your project in the center of the map and create nodes for the main categories around it. If you’re for instance planning the launch of a new product, the categories could be “Website”, “Support”, “Marketing” and “Sales”.

2. Share your mind map with your team
Everyone invited can contribute to the map, and changes made are instantly visible to all collaborators.

3. Store and structure information
You can use your mind map as a central document where all project-related information is stored. Each topic can hold notes, links, attached files, images, votes and personal comments.

4. Define and assign tasks
Once you have a good overview of everything that needs to be done, you can assign to-dos to collaborators and even turn your mind map directly into an agile project board, using MindMeister’s integration with the online task manager MeisterTask.

MindMeister on Twitter: @MindMeister

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post

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