While many remote employees enjoy the benefits of their work conditions, others struggle to find balance, comradery, and mentorship. In a physical workplace, chance encounters and work management structures exist seamlessly. When it comes to a remote workplace, there is no contact with colleagues unless meetings are set or time is set aside for virtual chats. The crosstalk and rapport before meetings start often turns into awkwardness in a virtual conference room.
Looking at your Individual, Team, and Social workspaces discussed in the first part of this series, you can set a solid foundation based on best practices to create a cohesive remote environment. While each company will have its own unique set of circumstances, the information in this article provides an outline to help lay out expectations to employees and management so there is no confusion when it comes to remote working.
Remote Individual Workspace
Our Individual Workspace in the office has all the tools we need to get the job done. Luckily, technology today has brought us the ability to do a lot of our jobs on the go, away from the office. There is little we can do without these tools, so when in-office environments are non-existent or in short supply, technology becomes even more valuable to productivity.
- Convenient communications: Make sure your team knows when and how they can contact each other when working remotely. Using instant messaging tools like chat, audio, and video for ad-hoc discussions make the atmosphere more collaborative, like you have in-office. Response expectations need to be put in place, whether that is marking your calendar or putting away messages up.
- Efficient technology: Working remotely requires a designated workspace, whether that is at a home office or elsewhere. This allows you to be attentive to work tasks and available to teammates. Connection bandwidth needs to be able to support video calls with stable audio and screen sharing- audio is imperative! Lastly, everything you use to work in-house from software to docs and data needs to be accessible in your remote workstation.
- Predictable availability: Touched on earlier, but over communicate your availability. This includes booking “heads-down” time when you are focusing on tasks so everyone knows when you are available. You will also want to offer the same respect for colleagues, by aligning schedules and giving notice for meetings. When you are able to dedicate hours to working from home you will be more present at home and live life.
Remote Team Workspace
Virtual Team Workspace should provide a place to gather, interact, and work together. Agendas should be prepared and group leaders moderating the discussion, similar to an in-person setting. In a space where everyone is attentive and present with leaders guiding productive conversation, meetings can provide a space to share vital information, discuss objectives, risk a and recommit to the mission at hand.
- Real-time collaboration: While in-person conversations are often governed by facial cues, online conversations will be governed by auditory cues and controls. These audio controls will moderate turns in conversation to ensure productivity and agenda progression. It is also recommended to record meetings to refer to later, especially for topics requiring deeper study.
- Organizational support: Technical issues happen. These issues can derail and delay virtual meetings, so meeting planners should proactively prepare to prevent issues. If issues arise, share lessons learned so team members holding meetings in the future can be in the know. And unlike offices where we meet only when conference rooms are available, virtually we can meet anytime. You will also want to be mindful of team availability.
- Encourage facetime: Remote workers can shy away from cameras, but it is a high bandwidth form of communication. According to research, a request made face-to-face is 34 times more successful than one made through low bandwidth methods such as email or text chat. Video chat has naturally become the primary way to interact face-to-face with workers. However, leaders must participate, too, for encouragement and morale.
“When you physically see each other, you get that richness and when you're remote, I think you have to be really conscious. With the Green Roof Diagnostics team, all of us meet together at least once a week on Google Meet, with the cameras on, which is another thing that we really had to emphasize with people. When you're remote, I think you have to be really conscious that you're missing out on that (facial emotion) and try to make up for it.” - Brad Garner, CEO of Green Roof Diagnostics on the benefits of facetime on screen
Remote Social Workspace
The Social Workspace encourages individual rapport amongst team members. Culture takes shape and team morale is built. However, social interactions reduce dramatically when teams are separated from one another. Once easy in-person casual encounters need to be replaced with intentional acts of support and celebration.
- Stress relief: Isolation can be emotionally challenging. Check in on team members and make an effort to appreciate and inspire the people you work with -- “like” what they do. And while remote “happy hours” might not carry the luster they used to in 2020, you can still organize events to engage teams in online activities and broadcast media that will entertain, inspire, and energize the team. Jennifer Mulchandani, CEO at Arlington Strategy shares that for her team the “small talk” communication was key to staying connected and engaged. Mulchandani says, “We made sure to start meetings with chit chat instead of jumping into an agenda every time and our Slack 'Chat' channel picked up steam so we can stay informed of everyone's personal lives.”
- Company culture: Creating a strong remote company culture starts with appreciation, recognition, and promoting accomplishments company wide. Publish these in a company news feed and encourage internal socializing with a private network for people to discuss shared hobbies, interests, and coordinate social activities. This type of virtual celebrating and socializing helps boost morale and create a strong culture.
“We made sure to start meetings with chit chat instead of jumping into an agenda every time and our Slack 'Chat' channel picked up steam so we can stay informed of everyone's personal lives.” - Jennifer Mulchandani, CEO at Arlington Strategy
Effectively Work Remote
As businesses embrace remote working, employees and managers might need to rethink the best ways of doing things. Establishing your organizations own best practices and policies for working remotely in each of these work spaces is key to keeping individuals and teams running smoothly and morale high. And these policies and processes can keep evolving because over time new technology, experience, and better awareness will improve our ideas of remote work.
In time and with sound management, leadership will recognize the many of the benefits and perks of remote workers starting to take shape. Our next article will focus on the specific benefits of remote work for organizations and best practices management should consider when leading their teams out of office.
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