Preparing for Emergency Remote Work


Published March 4, 2020  |  Updated January 21, 2021


Access the Placeless Playbook for strategies to transition from suddenly remote to sustainably remote

Frankly, novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is not a reason we want to be talking about remote work. We’ve hesitated entering into the now trending conversation, as it’s a serious issue that is affecting lives and livelihoods across the globe. However, as we see
companies turning to remote work as a potential solution to help the stem the spread of the infectious disease, we have additional concerns: 

  • At a company level: Only 30% of business leaders feel their organization is well prepared for the rise in remote work.*
  • At a leadership level: Less than 10% of employees strongly agree that their leaders have the skills needed to thrive in the digital economy.
  • At a worker level: Even before this sudden shift, 38% of remote workers received no training on how to work remotely.

We are concerned that workers and leaders will be severely underprepared, and thus isolated and underproductive, when thrust into a remote work environment. 

“While remote work is a valid strategy to maintain business continuity in times of crisis like the outbreak of COVID-19, suddenly allowing remote work with no clear policy or processes in place will not have the same positive outcomes as investing adequate resources into preparing leaders and employees for success in a remote environment.” – Tammy Bjelland, CEO Workplaceless

At Workplaceless, we are passionate about sustainable remote work—but we provide significantly different recommendations for teams embarking on remote work in emergency situations vs. remote work as a strategic operating model. That’s why we feel it is critical to differentiate between these scenarios and create a focused action plan that is quick and easy to implement for companies who are in need of urgent resources.

What do you do if you’re forced into remote work for two weeks?

We’re highlighting a two-week timeframe because 14 days is the recommended COVID-19 quarantine period according to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC); however, the emergency period during which employees are encouraged to work from home could be longer.

Unlike our long-term remote strategy recommendations, this process should not be focused on building a cohesive remote work culture, nor is it the time to introduce new collaboration tools that involve change management processes all their own. Here’s where we recommend leaders start: 

Download Our Emergency Remote Checklist.

Above link is for a copy-able Google Doc form. Click here to download a Microsoft Word format.

We’ve compiled the basic information your team will need to pull together in order to get started with working remotely in an emergency. 

For managers: the checklist provides a series of questions that provide a framework for a remote work guide that you can distribute to your team during this emergency period.

For employees: answering the checklist questions will help you get you set up effectively during this emergency period. 

2. Lay a Foundation of Trust and Empathy. 

Trust is the core foundation of a successful remote team, and remote work typically leads to increased productivity. However, remote work during a stressful time is not the same as self-selecting into a “work from home” lifestyle. Leaders need to manage expectations about productivity and start by trusting that every team member is working to the best of their ability during this time. Leaders should also schedule synchronous conversations with their teams, and one-on-ones as needed, to discuss these expectations and provide opportunities for team members to share their concerns. These simple actions will help ensure short-term success as well as lay the groundwork for more robust, long-term remote work policy solutions for the future.

3. Assess Your Current Resources. 

What tools and systems are you already using to collaborate asynchronously? Do you have a platform with which to collaborate and build on each others ideas aside from emailing attachments? If not, what would be the easiest for your team to adopt during this time? Consider Microsoft Teams or the G Suite from Google.

Do you currently use a video conferencing platform? Make sure to use it with cameras on, instead of always relying solely on the phone or conference calls to maintain your team’s interpersonal connections, which can be especially important during unusual or stressful times.

However, we would recommend introducing additional tools with caution and with the understanding that they could create more issues if not used with aligned and well communicated set of expectations.

4. Prioritize Output Goals and Assign Metrics Accordingly. 

For better or worse, managers shifting from seeing everyone at their desks working to not seeing anyone at all is a mindset change. At the start of each week, clearly outline what the output expectations are from each team member. 

5. Prepare Your Employees to Work Remotely.

Resource ideally for suddenly remote employees. We’ve created a course that can be implemented across teams efficiently and economically. The Unexpected Remote Work eCourse trains employees and managers in the essential skills they will need to work effectively in a temporary, sudden, remote work situation. Completion time is estimated to be between 60 and 90 minutes, and bulk pricing is available. 

Free resource, ideal for individuals working from home for the first time. We’re offering the complete “Remote Workday” module of our Workplaceless Remote Work Certification as a open resource to all remote workers in need of restructuring their workdays for a remote situation. Ideal for individuals working from home for the first time, this covers all aspects of what a typical remote workday looks like. Sign-up directly here. Users who find value in the Remote Workday module will receive a coupon code to further access the complete Remote Work Certification course. 

6. Use Meetings Strategically. 

When your team is dispersed in many locations, you’re not going to be able to just call a meeting at a moment’s notice. Think through the meetings that are upcoming, what can be postponed, cancelled, or done virtually. Plan your meetings ahead of time, and plan them carefully. While sharing information is important, don’t let this be the sole purpose of your meetings. Organize strategic meetings to focus that valuable time together on activities that move the business forward, such as decision making, collaboration, and connection. 

7. Document and Communicate Decisions.

In a co-located environment, decisions are made in conference rooms, in hallways, and even in the cafeteria. In remote workspaces decisions are often made with fewer people in the “virtual room.” Whether you continue with remote work or everyone returns back to the office after this period, you’ll be grateful for having a “paper trail” of decisions made during this period.

8. Check In On Your Team.

Isolation is a significant challenge for regular remote employees. This feeling is heightened when individuals are stuck at home under stressful conditions with limited outlets to connect with one another. Check in on them. Encourage them to check in on one another—not just to make sure they are working, but also in recognition that they are humans. Check in on their mental well being and talk about things outside of work.

Important Note: Not all jobs can be done from home. Please find ways to support friends, family, colleagues, and community members who work in services industries or others that require a physical presence. Virtually check in with them as well. 

9. Wash Your Hands

Regardless of where you’re working, wash your hands. Take 4 minutes and a moment to laugh while learning how to properly wash your hands, from expert Ellen Degeneres.  

What do you do if your “work from home” policy needs to be more sustainable?

As the emergency remote period for your company comes to a close, your approach to remote work will change. It’s highly likely that you’ll have encountered challenges and shifts in thinking about remote work. It’s also likely that you’ll recognize the need for a remote work policy in some form for future business situations. What actions do you need to take to make it sustainable?

First step, assess long-term effectiveness.

What are your goals for adopting remote work? What mindset, processes, and tools do you already have in place? What are your company’s knowledge and skills gaps when it comes to remote work? Workplaceless has a Company Remote Effectiveness Assessment specifically designed to walk you through this process. 

Second step, define your remote vision. 

What exactly are your strategic goals for having a remote workforce? What do you need to decide before you move to implement. Our fast track Goplaceless program is designed to facilitate exactly this information and decisions. 

Third step, build a policy that works for your specific team in your specific environment. 

Remote work and flexible work policies are not all created equal because not all teams are created equal. Our CEO, Tammy Bjelland, shared some approaches to building a remote work policy with TD magazine. 

Fourth step, learn about remote culture. 

Remember that trust and empathy we talked about earlier? These behaviors are still the foundation of a strong and productive remote team. Take a page out of remote a leader’s playbook—read Buffer’s The 5 Ways We Build Trust on a Fully Remote Team and Why It’s So Valuable as a template to get started.

Fifth step, invest in tools and best practices that support your specific remote needs. 

Give yourself and your teams time to analyze all of the different tools out there focused on enhancing remote team communication, collaboration, productivity, and engagement. Decide on options that work best for your needs, and establish a change management process for adoption.

Some of our favorites include: 

Sixth step, train your employees to work most effectively in this remote environment.

Coming out of an emergency situation, you understand there are nuances in skills needed to both work in and lead in distributed contexts. Workplaceless trainings specifically build the skills that individuals need to optimize their work in a distributed environment based on an expert vetted Remote Work Competency Model.

Still have questions?

You can always schedule a consultation at any time with one of our Learning Consultants about any of your company needs.

We also know that schools are facing the same issues. Here are our recommendations and resources for higher education.

Additional resources that may be useful to you:



* HBS Future Positive Report, page 12.
MIT The New Leadership Playbook for the Digital Age, page 2.
OwlLabs State of Remote Work 2019

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Workplaceless Team

Workplaceless envisions a workforce that thrives in a flexible and digital-first future—where performance and growth are not constrained by location. Our team goal is to share insights and practices that will help professionals and companies achieve this aspiration.
Workplaceless envisions a workforce that thrives in a flexible and digital-first future—where performance and growth are not constrained by location. Our team goal is to share insights and practices that will help professionals and companies achieve this aspiration.
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