The trend toward offering remote and hybrid work options has been sharply accelerated by recent concerns about the coronavirus, as many companies like Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Twitter, Square, and other organizations in affected areas have asked their employees to work from home if possible. For white collar jobs, the transition to telecommute work often seems easy: with laptops and video conferencing technologies, workers can complete tasks and participate in meetings from the comfort of their home—impeded only by background noise, poor Internet speed, and the surprise of an unexpected video call while working in pajamas.
While the shift to telecommute work seems relatively straightforward, many organizations discover that their remote employees quickly experience burnout or disconnection. The reason is not simply that remote work can compound work-life balance issues. The problem is, many organizations attempt to use available technology to replicate in-office scenarios for their telecommute employees. According to Jun Wu in her recent article for Forbes, “the problem with [their tools] is that they didn’t optimize employee’s communication or processes. Instead, employees were still stuck in their old workflows, the same ones they used in the office.”
Successful remote work situations often require new workflows. Here are three tips for structuring remote work environments in a way that will prime your team for productivity and connection.
Reconfigure the workday. Although stereotypes of the telecommute worker paint the picture of an employee lounging around their home, haphazardly engaging in work at scattered times throughout the day, the truth is that the vast majority of remote employees feel compelled to sit at their desks for the entire workday, fearing that any missed call will signal laziness rather than engagement in a work task. However, remote work primes employees for such intense individual work that it actually reduces productivity to insist that they remain chained to their desks from 9:00 to 5:00. Encouraging your team to work in blocks of time, and allowing them some control over the times of day they complete these blocks, is essential in reducing burnout.
Ditch e-mail and instant messaging for work channels. If your team is using e-mail or instant messaging for all communication, your inbox (and everyone else’s) will quickly become oversaturated, making it difficult to filter through requests, updates, meeting invitations, and questions. Even with tagging capabilities, e-mail and instant messaging are, by and large, linear technologies, making it difficult to process information in efficient ways. Consider setting your team up with a program like Slack, where users can work in “channels” dedicated to different purposes. With this capability, teams can interact in a more organic manner and process information in a way that keeps everyone on the same page.
Collaborate with team members in shared workspaces. Boost connectivity by giving team members a shared space to collaborate on projects. With websites like Padlet, Dotstorming, Glip by RingCentral, and even at a basic level Google Docs, team members can brainstorm and create, edit, and annotate documents together in real time. Being able to collaborate in a shared digital workspace reduces the logjam created by using e-mail to pass along documents for input and approval, thereby increasing team investment, enjoyment, and efficiency.
Even when brought about by necessity rather than innovation, remote work can offer teams the potential for enhanced collaboration and optimized processes—if leaders cater their workflows to the telecommute environment rather than forcing them to fit traditional in-office scenarios.