An emergency guide to work remotely.
version 1.1, 2020


Coronavirus (COVID-19) is not good for remote work. In fact, this is not a good time for anyone, but working remotely has been a safety recommendation adopted by several companies around the world.

Remote work is not the solution to this crisis, but it can wake people up to the notion that networked, we are able to fulfill our work in a professional manner without leaving home.

And this is one of the contributions that each of us can do at that point so that everyone is well.

We are here to help you. In this guide you will learn the best practices for working as a team in a distributed manner in an emergency situation.

It is no use just sending people home and installing messaging and video calling applications. If adopting remote work in normal conditions is challenging enough, doing it overnight in an emergency can become stressful.

Improvisation leads us to take wrong decisions. To make this transition, you need a plan that contemplates the operation of the operation, but mainly takes into account the human side.

What to avoid at this point

The simplest and most intuitive solutions will not always be the best way. Before you know what to do, it’s also important to know what you and your team should avoid.

Do not introduce too many tools at the same time

Applications and web services have a learning and adoption curve. The more tools people need to use right now, the greater the complexity to deal with and the difficulty of engagement. In order not to have a communication spread in several different places you need to start with the basics. We will give you the tips in the chapter "How to create your basic virtual office".

Avoid adopting WhatsApp as a communication center

It is very likely that this will be your team's first initiative: create a group and centralize communication on WhatsApp. It may seem counterintuitive but the tool encourages immediacy. And immediacy generates anxiety. In WhatsApp, information is disorganized and inaccessible in the future. To create a history of conversations organized by subjects, you need to invest in text-based and asynchronous communication platforms.

Avoid measuring work success in hours

Knowing how many hours are spent sitting at the computer says very little about what we need to solve to arrive to our goal. A remote team needs to work towards shared goals, and to align expectations of what is expected of each one. Establishing these arrangements and tracking the progress of what we are doing is what will really matter at the end of the day.

Do not aim to control whether people are online at all times

Trust needs to be the basis of the relationships between team members. We need to create processes to see the progress of the work, not the people. The feeling of being watched creates an environment of insecurity. You will learn how to stipulate the combinations in the section below "The routine of a distributed team".

Don't rely on meetings and videoconferences to know what needs to be done

Meetings have their importance, but they can become a stumbling block, especially when they don't have a clear objective. Investing in asynchronous communication reduces the need for meetings and helps in decision making, visibility of information and feedback. It is essential to make sure that people have what they need to get the job done without triggering each other at all times.

Eliminate information overload

Communication is already one of the biggest problems for organizations, and now, it also can become a big headache. When adopting remote work, people can develop a fear of losing some information intensifies, as well as information overload; both leaders and employees can be affected by it.

A good way to deal with this is to decrease the complexity of communication. How to do this? Structuring your team so that communication favors two aspects: speed and decision making. You can create this structure by projects or areas and thus organize smaller teams, with more agility, flexibility, and autonomy.

Take care of the unnecessary sense of urgency

In an emergency situation, the difficulty of dealing with a sense of urgency can generate stress and frustration. ASAP (As Soon As Possible) is one of the main culprits for daily interruptions and loss of productivity.

Try to use the right tools, to encourage a calmer and certainly more structured communication. In this way, each person will be able to contribute as they also carry out their most individual and focused work.

How to create your basic virtual office

Remember that results and deliverables matter more than time or place of work. Create processes that will give visibility to the progress of the work. You do not need many tools for this, but it is worth the effort to use some that will be combined among the team, understanding that there is an adaptation process.

Set up your virtual office

The day-to-day life of a distributed team takes place in the virtual office - this is where the team will meet in the cloud. It works in the same way as a face-to-face office.

It is the space where people greet each other, exchange information and discuss projects. After choosing the communication tool, each team must think about how the channels for projects or spaces for discussion will be created, so that each person responsible for a task will know where to talk about a certain subject.

Examples: Basecamp, Twist, Asana, Slack, Monday, Microsoft Teams, Workplace.

Set the video conferencing tool

This is the communication that occurs in real-time. For example, you make a call to a colleague and he will answer simultaneously. There is no delay in communication, it is immediate.

Examples: Zoom, Hangouts, Skype.

Define the task management tool

To monitor the progress of the projects it is important to have a space for organizing the tasks. In this space, anyone has a view of the status of tasks, managers and deadlines.

Examples: Basecamp, Asana, Trello, Flow, Notion, Milanote, etc.

Set a storage tool for files and documents in the cloud

Content and materials need to be available in the cloud in an organized and secure manner.

Examples: Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, Office 365.

If you want to know more details about each tool, we created an E-book: Setting up your Office in the Cloud (pt-BR), a guide of tools to use in remote work.
Bonus: Find out how remote ready your organization is. Check out Remote Work Readiness Assessment from Toptal.

The daily life of a distributed team

Presence is about the way we behave and this behavior makes all the difference in the team. Inform everything that is necessary if possible before someone else starts working. Be objective in all your interactions (synchronous or asynchronous) about deadlines and prerequisites that other tasks depend upon.

Asynchronous communication

This is non-simultaneous communication. For example, you sent a message to someone on your team and the reply will be sent to you at another time. Here we prioritize text communication, but we can also use visual aids such as images, gifs, screenshots, and videos.

Examples: Cloud office tools with threaded threads, email, forum comments.


As mentioned, it is necessary to avoid reliance on meetings and videoconferences, in order to focus and organize information.

But on a daily basis, these will be the opportunities for contact between team members. Coordinate daily virtual meetings with your project team and weekly alignment checkpoints with other teams can be good practice.

Before you start talking about work, check-in. Especially in situations like this, it will be an important moment to humanize the team contact, giving the opportunity for each one to talk about how they are feeling or any other personal matter.

These questions will help you prepare for meaningful online meetings:

  • What matter will be addressed?
  • Is there any information that can be sent in advance?
  • Do participants need to perform any task before the videoconference?
  • Did you remember to set the day and time on a shared calendar?
  • Was the invitation sent to everyone?
  • Is the videoconference link indicated in the invitation?

Set an order of who will speak first and instruct whoever is not speaking to always mute the microphone. It is also important to wear headphones and always leave the camera on.

The human side of communication

Having confidence in the team is a prerequisite for a healthy start. In emergency situations, people are indifferent emotional states, and our role is to have the sensitivity to create an environment of collaboration and connection between team members.

Feedback is one of the most important communication skills and is an opportunity for a team to improve and help people. However, providing feedback through text, and also in the face of a stressful scenario, it is a delicate situation.

Always re-read what you have written before clicking Send to ensure that your message is clear and conveys the intended tone. If you're concerned about how your tone will be interpreted, look for additional resources like images, videos, gifs, and emojis.

If so, ask for a video conference. Your colleague may be engaged with the chance to talk.

Create close personal opportunities with people. In addition to talking about informal matters before and after meetings, it is a great idea to combine random weekly conversations in pairs. These are videoconferences that do not have a defined agenda, people get together in pairs to talk about their life, family, hobbies and personal interests.

Check out this Aprendix.Global material for essential tips for facilitating and integrating online groups.

Stop the spread of the coronavirus

We can help to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Content-based on guidelines from the Ministry of Health (Brazil) and NYC Health.

Protect yourself, protect others

  • Wash your hands with soap and water frequently, at least 20 seconds each time, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • When coughing, cover your nose and mouth with a disposable tissue or cover with your elbow.
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose, and mouth with dirty hands.
  • Do not greet by shaking hands, giving hugs and kisses. Instead, wave.
  • Keep rooms well ventilated.
  • Do not share personal items.
  • Monitor your health and flu or cold symptoms more closely than usual.

Stay home if you are sick

  • Stay at home and call your doctor if you experience symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, fever, sore throat.
  • Avoid crowds if you are ill.
  • If you do not feel better within 24 to 48 hours, seek medical attention.
  • If you need to answer any questions about the topic, call the health authorities of your country.

Protect the most vulnerable

  • If you have chronic conditions like lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, cancer or a weakened immune system, avoid unnecessary meetings and events.
  • If you have family or friends with one of these conditions, do not visit them if you are ill.

Reduce group meetings

  • Consider working remotely.
  • Walk or cycle to work, if possible, instead of public transport.
  • If the train or bus is too full, wait for the next one.

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It's allowed, just don't forget to give the credits. The guide is under a Creative Commons license (CC BY), which allows the free distribution of this material, crediting Officeless for the authorship of the content. Let's go together!

Thanks Fernando Murray and Aprendix.Global for translating this content into english.