Ziad: Welcome to episode two of our Remote Management Q&A series, where we’ll be interviewing business leaders and our very own management team to learn about their experience, strategies and successes in leading a team remotely.
Today we’ll be taking a step outside of Versature and learning about remote work policies. Hundreds of businesses whose employees had never previously worked from home are now operating completely remotely. This huge shift in dynamic within a short time frame has forced teams to learn and adapt on the fly. Over the past few weeks organizations across Canada rushed to put new tools in place to keep their employees connected and engaged but in ways that also allow them to keep working at full capacity.
It’s my pleasure to introduce Nancy Carter. Nancy is the Chief Financial officer of CANARIE here in Ottawa. CANARIE manages and develops digital research infrastructure for Canada’s research, education and innovation communities. Nancy authored CANARIE’s “work from home” policy, giving their organization guidelines around how to successfully work from home.
Nancy, thank you for joining me.
To start off, I was hoping you could give a little bit of background about what CANARIE does, and what your role is within the organization.
Since 1993 CANARIE has been supporting the development of Canada’s digital economy. The thing we are best known for is operating and managing the Canadian portion of the global research and education network that connects researchers and educators around the world to each other, to major science instruments, and to cloud services. This global network also brings together scientists from around the world to work on global challenges for humanity like the one we are currently experiencing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The network also supports research on things like climate change, chronic health issues like Alzheimer’s, clean water, genomics and so on.
As Chief Financial Officer I oversee the finances of the organization – I look after things like financial integrity, reliability of financial results, and also CANARIE’s governance, legal, HR, IT, facilities, operations, and compliance. All the fun things!
There were plenty of companies who were not prepared with a work from home policy, and whose employees had never worked from home before. What was the situation with your team at the time and how has your team adapted to working in a completely remote environment?
Interestingly enough, it started almost 2 years ago when we had to close our downtown office as the result of a flood caused by the fire sprinkler system on the floor directly above us. We were forced to work from home for a week, completely unexpectedly. The technology toolkit we had at the time got us through that situation, and since then we have continued to augment our toolkit to support remote work. In fact, about a year ago, management initiated a Work From Home Wednesday on every second Wednesday, when all staff are encouraged to work from home.
Making the change to completely remote had some challenges, but certainly all staff were already capable of working remotely. Maybe just not for quite as long!
What sort of things did you have to consider in the creation of a document like this? What sorts of things popped up after it was written that needed to be included?
We learned a lot about the tools we needed for remote work after the flood 2 years ago. But we knew the approach to working from home periodically didn’t scale to an extended period of time, such as the one we are currently experiencing. There are a number of things we did to close that gap. We knew that staff needed something to help them prepare for a longer period of working from home, which is why I developed the Work from Home Code of Practice that you mentioned.
Other things that we scheduled right away to maintain momentum include a weekly social videoconference with all staff, daily virtual team stand-ups, and a daily email update to all staff from the president.
Given the current situation, what sort of inclusions or considerations did you make for working remotely for such a prolonged period?
The key driver was maintaining a feeling with staff that we were still connected on a day-to-day basis. We knew that would be challenging as we would all miss the daily interactions that happen in any office, like ad-hoc meetings, or chatting at the coffee machine. In the current situation, the approach to social distancing also meant we had to check-in on staff to help keep them from feeling isolated from the world.
Other challenges have come up over time that we know we need to add in to this code of practice. Are staff able to work and home-school? Do they need to stagger their hours to manage child-care? Are we able to support our staff fully? How can we help with the unique issues or challenges that each of our staff are experiencing? Mental and emotional health is a priority. There is no one size fits all, we deal with these things on a case by case basis. Version two of our code of practice will be a bit more fulsome.
A lot of managers and business owners are taking this unprecedented time day-by-day and are figuring it out as they go along. If you could give two pieces of advice for business owners on how to effectively manage a team remotely, what would they be?
Look at the situation from the perspective of your staff as a whole and then from the perspective of each individual would be the first piece of advice I would give. Each of our staff members’ home situations and the work they need to do is different. Making sure that we support them all with the work at home code of practice for example, is important, but also working with each of our staff individually to make sure that our work from home expectations can be aligned with their home situations. Do they need to borrow one of our spare laptops for home schooling for instance? Is it better for them if they work evenings?
The second piece of advice is to invest in the tools needed to be totally paperless and build the communications technology and approach to allow people to work remotely. That will protect you during times of disaster recovery, and in times such this, it will also streamline the operations of your business. We were already paperless for most things, but during the past 4 weeks have become even more so. For instance, I have not signed one cheque in the last 4 weeks, as all our payments are now done on-line!
I have two other small pieces of advice.
Provide guidance and training to staff on things like how to keep their home networks secure, because if that fails, they can’t work. We’ve been supporting our staff from a cyber security perspective for their home set up.
Finally, strong leadership, especially at the top. All our staff know that the president is supporting them and that they can go to him for any advice, support or guidance any time. That’s just been pivotal in our staff transitioning to working from home successfully.
Ziad: That’s great advice! Thank you Nancy for joining me for our Remote Management Q&A series. I appreciate you taking the time to share your expertise. And thank you to all of the listeners for tuning in. For more tips and tricks on how to effectively work from home or to listen to the previous episode where we dive into SDR remote management, visit the Versature Conversation blog! Have a great day.
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