As the world adjusts to working from home, the challenges and benefits of remote work are becoming increasingly clear. Previous research has shown that remote teams are generally happier and more productive, and also that remote work saves on costs both for the business and the workers.
But is it worth all the trouble of countless emails, lost in "textlations", and learning to unmute yourself on video calls?
A recent Forbes article looked at some of the greatest challenges of remote work and how to overcome them. If these solutions work for you, you may even consider extending remote work beyond quarantine days. In addition to these management solutions, it may also be helpful for your business to consider whether you're taking full advantage of the latest technological tools in adjusting to life in quarantine. Check out 5 of these solutions, then scroll to the bottom to talk tech.
1. Face-to-face communication
Small talk at the copier, subtle glances across the conference table, snickering from within cubicles...These are a vital part of team communication and office spirit that are lost in video or phone calls. They offer clues into the workplace dynamics--how other team members think and feel, where conflict may be brewing, who has a good idea but is afraid to share it. When all office communication is reduced to a quick 30-minute video call each day, team members may feel isolated or unheard. Team members who feel isolated or unheard become less motivated, harming overall workplace innovation and productivity.
Solution: Make up for lack of face-to-face interactions by communicating more frequently. Take on a project with a co-worker and work on it together. According to Forbes, recent research with 40 global teams showed that when the relationship between team members and their managers were strong and the managers communicated frequently, the team members were more likely to contribute to team decision-making, increasing innovation.
The communication that does happen on a virtual team is often confined to writing--emails and messages that can easily misconstrue meaning if we aren’t careful. A friendly reminder to actually attach the attachment before sending an email may come off as rude and aggressive if your co-worker forgot the CAPS on. An exclamation point of enthusiasm may be interpreted as yelling if not accompanied by a smiley face. Generational or cultural diversity within the workplace may exacerbate miscommunication as written language evolves in tone and style with new abbreviations, gifs, memes, and emojis that younger generations introduce.
Solution: To avoid misunderstandings, team leaders should establish ground rules for communication--response times to emails; which technology to use for communicating; which tone and language is appropriate. These decisions should be made as a team in order to ensure that communication remain as open and honest as possible without becoming offensive to other team members.
3. Social Interaction
Sometimes, the little chats and laughs we share in the workplace are what help us get through a particularly long or difficult shift. Devoid of the social interactions that enrich our work days and make work more enjoyable, it’s easy to become disconnected and demotivated.
Solution: As the world remains in quarantine, we could all use a bit of good old social interaction. Explore new ways to keep the team engaged beyond just short, blunt emails. Using a platform like Slack for instant messaging can help the team feel more connected and allow coworkers to interact more casually and more frequently. Some teams even take breaks to do yoga together over video calls, or meet at the end of the day for a virtual happy hour. Get creative and ask your team for fun ideas to keep everyone connected and engaged.
4. Team Spirit
Along the same lines, when communication and social interactions are reduced, overall team spirit suffers. Connected solely by occasional calls and disjointed texts or emails, it’s difficult to build cohesion or get the team enthused about shared goals and objectives.
Solution: Team leaders should regularly meet with employees to set individual goals that align with the overall team objective. Communicating these goals clearly and frequently will keep team members motivated and on the same page. To take it a step further, team leaders can add a bit of friendly competition and offer incentives (Starbucks, etc.) for each small goal achieved. If resources are limited, frequent positive feedback and openly sharing progress reports with the team will go just as far in encouraging participation and building cohesion.
The flexibility of working from home requires an additional level of trust among team members. Not knowing who’s working when, delays in responses, varying levels of productivity, and decreased overall communication all put a strain on team trust.
Solution: Again, clear and open communication is key. Each member's schedule and availability should be shared with the whole team so that expectations of one another are realistic. Team leaders can also make each team member's tasks, objectives, and progress visible to the whole team to add a sense of accountability and build trust among team members. Achievements and contributions of each member should also be shared with the whole team. According to recent research, leaders who are supportive and focused on consensus rather than authoritarian and focused on results are able to build teams that have greater trust and participation.
The Role of Technology
In each of these scenarios, the frequency, mode, and quality of communication was a key factor in both the problem and solution. As teams and companies span wider across the globe, pandemics shut down workplaces, and remote work opportunities increase, technology emerges as our most essential tool. Besides the new technology used to directly combat and curb the immediate impacts of coronavirus, other forms of technology are allowing businesses to remain functional and productive throughout the quarantine. Here are the programs that have seen the greatest growth since the beginning of the outbreak:
Microsoft Teams: Microsoft's Teams chat and conferencing app has gained "more than 12 million daily users in the last seven days alone" and now has "44 million daily users that have produced 900 million meeting and calling minutes each day of the week." (The Hill)
Zoom: While the rest of the stock market is down, Zoom's shares have jumped more than 70 percent in response to a great surge in the number of users.
Slack: According to the CEO of this workplace instant messaging service, "Slack has seen a net increase of 7,000 paying customers since the beginning of February, or 40 percent more than it normally has in a full quarter." (The Hill)
Meanwhile, new forms of technology are being explored to build a foundation of trust, accountability, and safety among remote workers in manual industries. For example, our clients who typically use our AlertMeter system on-site are now switching to the mobile application as a way to track when workers report to work, in what state they report to work, and whether they're fit to perform their duties safely. With the added flexibility of remote work, the disruption of regular schedules and routines, and the general distress of cabin fever, it wouldn't be uncommon to indulge a little too heavily in a quarantini, stay up past our bedtimes, or become negligent in our diets and exercise. As a result, fatigue and a lack of focus and alertness become much greater threats to worker safety.
AlertMeter can help reinstate a sense of control over team engagement and safety. While other programs like Zoom help keep us connected, AlertMeter goes beyond the surface to ensure that we truly are connected and engaged both physically and cognitively.
Because all too often, the team members who nod along as you chatter away on a video call are actually incredibly hungover and haven't heard a word you've said. ;)