As early as 1992, large corporations such as AT&T were experimenting with remote working structures. In a massive experiment in which about 100,000 employees participated from all over the world, the company tested the feasibility, benefits, and associated challenges of having a major portion of its workforce working from home.
Today, in 2020, the Coronavirus pandemic has forced many companies, corporations, and even governments to formulate hasty teleworking policies. Rather than being a temporary solution, a recent find discovered that remote working is here to stay even after the pandemic.
Every business that intends to survive the current situation must think in terms of the long-run repercussions of what is already a fundamental shift in the working culture. Luckily, experience gained from forward-thinking companies such as AT&T gives us the necessary foundation on which to formulate winning teleworking policies.
1. Promote face-to-face contact
Technology has had a two-sided effect on interpersonal communication. On one hand, communication apps have made it that much easier for people to keep in touch regardless of distance. However, it has also decimated physical contact with the onslaught of email, social media, and voice calls.
In the workplace, face-to-face communication is essential for increased productivity. It allows better communication of ideas so that the whole team is working from the same page, promotes collaboration, and improves morale. In fact, compared to other modes of communication, face-to-face communication improves productivity by up to 35%.
Luckily, the same technology has provided more than enough tools to allow face-to-face communication for those working from home. These include chat rooms, video conferencing tools, and even virtual software.
Some of the most common tools used include Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Adobe Connect. If you decide to go all-in, virtual reality meetings using services such as Engage.
The camaraderie normally associated with shared offices needs to be maintained using more face-to-face video calls and social events where possible to maintain productivity.
2. Virtual Team Management
Productivity for teams working remotely can either be very low, or surprisingly high. With the right management, supervisors and executives can improve the productivity levels from what you would normally associate with a 9-5.
People working from home are more likely to get distracted. Children, pets, friends coming over, and other diversions will naturally lower productivity. Different work habits also contribute to this variance, where you find some people preferring to work at night, others want to divide their workload into time portions.
Many simply become lazy because there is no one to lord it over them. The worst-case scenario is the possibility of a key worker going “dark” or completely unreachable.
Preventing such scary scenarios takes some initiative. One way to do this is to come up with a clear remote working policy and have employees sign remote working contracts. This lets them know what is expected from them and sets clear guidelines for them to operate by.
Another way to do this is to set up mutual accountability. For example, employees who live near each other or who work on the same project can be made accountable for its success.
The best way to manage a remote working team is by using a goal system. Productivity levels are gauged on a given timeframe through set goals, with little follow-up as to how they achieve them. This gives them the autonomy expected in teleworking while ensuring success.
There are tons of virtual team management tools available to help you achieve these goals including Weekdone, Wrike, and Zoho Projects.
3. Maintaining a productive schedule
As a manager, you can always expect to have to deal with unproductive workers. From unmet deadlines, absenteeism, and poor quality work, these issues are the norm rather than the exception.
Workarounds to this kind of problem start with the team manager. A working remote work policy should be implemented while proper coaching and training are done to sensitize the team on what to expect. Many elderly employees especially time and help to adjust.
The other option is to have the team stick to a fixed work schedule. A fixed routine is essential even for so-called self-motivated teams because it helps to form and maintain clear boundaries around time portions.
Just as driving to and from work puts the mind in the right frame of mind on an off work, having fixed routines helps compartmentalize the 24-hour day into “work” and “leisure.” Employees should be expected to maintain the discipline that would otherwise be part of the office.
4. Tackling conflict from far away = Virtual HR
The job of HR officers just got much harder with remote working. Even with teams spread over many blocks, cities, or even countries, strife will occur and will affect the overall productivity of the team.
The biggest problem of remote conflict is that there is less incentive for people to resolve problems. It is so much easier to sweep things under the carpet, which leads to strained relationships and ultimately affects overall productivity.
Your first goal as a team manager is to ensure that you hire the right people for remote work. More communicative individuals, whether through calls or writing, will do better in remote working and will resolve any problems that occur.
The other major challenge is creating trust. That might be easy with teams that have worked in the same office before, but employees who are new to the organization and the team will have a level of associated tension.
When conflict does occur, the concerned parties will need to make a conscious decision to resolve it. This should be done using the most interactive technology available including HD and holographic video channels.
A candid one-on-one discussion needs to help as soon as possible to air out grievances.
Whether or not such a discussion is mediated by an authority figure, the most important thing is to follow up and ensure that the relationship was indeed restored. Communication is the key word here: it must be maintained by all means possible.
5. How to facilitate effective remote team collaboration
Collaboration is the silver bullet when it comes to remote working. It is the responsibility of the team managers and business executives to ensure that the entire team is knit together through collaborative technology and interpersonal communication.
Some effort has to be invested to ensure proper collaboration in the team.
- Flexibility – the difference in time zones is a key challenge for international collaboration teams. Someone has to be willing to be available at least part of the time so that they can catch up with the rest of the team.
- Approachability – It can be an always-on video conference, a team Slack workgroup, or even a shared video call where teams can interact will play a major role in keeping the team fluid and active.
- Protocol – a communication protocol should be put in place to ensure that everyone knows how to get help or reach out to other team members appropriately. For example, a daily check-in meeting where everyone is required to attend keeps the team updated.
- Technological investment -The company/organization needs to get involved through direct funding and reimbursement schemes fo ensure every member of the team as all the equipment they need. Many companies are allowing employees to take their usual computer, desk, and chair home to set up an appropriate home office.
Remote working has amazing potential even for “traditional” businesses to achieve increased productivity. This is good news, given the change in tide that is more likely to become permanent.
However, getting it done right is immensely difficult. That is why having the right IT technology partner such as Zeg Solutions in Houston, Texas, can set you up for success. Contact us today for your comprehensive remote working package.