March 31, 2020

The Kelly Klee Way: Thriving in a Remote Work Culture

Written by:
Jon Kelly, CEO
Reviewed by:

If some of the calls we’ve had over the past few weeks are at all representative, many folks are experiencing a steep learning curve adjusting to working remotely as offices are shut down for the Covid-19 crisis. Although many companies have expanded their work-from-home options over the past few years, having a new normal forced on them in short order has been a huge challenge for many teams.  

At Kelly Klee, we’re old pros at this — all of our employees have either been fully remote or have had flexible work-from-home schedules since the company began over four years ago. Our team is dispersed among 7 states, across all US time zones, and currently in 3 countries, which is key to being available for our customers. And, as licensed insurance brokers, we’ve been required by our business partners and insurance carriers to pre-plan for business continuity during national disasters, including pandemics. 

We’re here to help — and not with one of those generic “five obvious things you should be doing” posts — read on for our tested techniques for efficiently doing business from your home. 

Having a successful remote team is an exercise in trust. 

If you manage people, trust that you hired the right people. Trust your employees to do the right thing. Starting with trust will help to de-stress both you and them. Of course, you still need to verify that your team is achieving its goals and making progress on projects. Just as you should be doing in any environment, track progress by using real KPIs and milestones.  Don’t succumb to using babysitting software that simply checks your team members’ screen time or how much time they’re logged in.

Well before the crisis, I’ve advised friends with the following -- managing remote workers really just forces you to do what you should be doing anyway.  Far too many managers rely on bumping into their teammates and reports in the hallway, instead of putting together formal processes.  So now’s the time to do it right -- set regularly scheduled check-ins to find out how projects are progressing, address any issues, and solve problems with your team. Schedule weekly leadership meetings and one-on-ones to prioritize work and ensure it aligns with the company roadmap for the quarter (you have a published quarterly road-map, right?).  There really are things that managers should be doing anyway, but become even more important in a virtual environment.

Communication needs to be deliberate.

Be flexible and mindful in how you communicate with co-workers. Just like in the office, people have different personality types and those will be reflected on video calls.  Some will be more comfortable with these tools than others and some will be more likely to dominate calls. If you’re a leader or manager, pay close attention to ensure that you’re getting contribution from everyone on a call and that everyone is being heard.

At Kelly Klee, all internal meetings are held by video instead of over the phone to better build relationships, trust, and rapport. Our rules include -- no multitasking in the background, prepare ahead of time for the meeting with a document that you share, mute your mic if you’re not talking and there is background noise, and always use a high-quality headset (hardware is as important as software). Of these, the biggest issue I’m seeing from new work-from-home folks is a reliance on their laptop mic-and-speakers.  Believe me, it’s not working as well as you think it is. One non-intuitive tip to remember when this crisis is behind us — if anyone is on a video call, everyone should be on their own computer, even if some people are in the office together.

Finally, our favorite rule — if you are having trouble communicating with people, internal or external, it’s priority number one. Do not “put it on your list” — solve it immediately before doing anything else. There’s nothing more frustrating for your business partners and customers than having trouble speaking with you or your employees. 

Encourage employees to draw a line between work and home life. 

Set up a dedicated space at home for your work. The main reason for this is that it helps set expectations with family or roommates — when you’re in the dedicated work space, you should be considered “at the office” and not interrupted. 

As a leader, create a culture where people can separate personal and work time by not requiring employees to reply to non-urgent emails outside of business hours. My method for this?  Turn off email notifications on your phone.  The mail is still there when you want to see it, but it’s not constantly drawing your attention.

Especially during this anxiety-ridden time, encourage employees to take small breaks, listen to music, talk to house-mates, or go for a walk and get some fresh air to reset and complete the day with a clear mind.  Finally, remember that almost all child-care options are unavailable now and many employees have spouses who also work, so have an open conversation about a schedule that works for everyone. 

Software and Tools

There are a lot of great collaboration tools out there -- what’s most important is finding the tools that your team will actually use (that’s how we know whether the tools are good). At Kelly Klee, we like Google Meet and Zoom for video conferences -- mostly using Meet for our internal meetings because it’s easy to start them from chat and Zoom for external meetings because they are easy for partners to sign onto. 

For company and project management, we turned to -- we made the switch last year and love it.  Monday makes it easy to stay up to date on what everyone is working on and easy to tag teammates when you want them to review something or need some help. We use Google Calendar with a rule that everyone keeps their schedules up to date so it’s easy to schedule meetings.  We also have a company-wide Availability calendar and Meetings calendar to make it easy to see who’s unavailable and to drop in on meetings.

To share comments on design work, we turn to Dropbox Paper, and to collaboratively address UI and UX design, we use Miro. 

When dealing with confidential matters, Virtru offers the ability to send and receive encrypted emails.  Most importantly, they’ve made it almost as easy as sending/receiving a normal email.

For phone calls, our Sales and Service teams use Talkdesk and only use approved headsets and earpieces to chat with customers. We’ve found that it’s essential to use the hardware that’s recommended by your software providers -- we’ve discovered the hard way (so you don’t have to) that intermittent problems occur even when using well-reviewed unsupported hardware. 

While it may not be what you’re accustomed to, working remotely can and should be more efficient than spending your days in a shared office. Our hope is that by sharing some of our best practices, you and your team will be able to get comfortable with the new reality and deliver for your customers and partners.

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