The arrival of the COVID-19 epidemic has caused an incredible shift in the way we work.
Companies have been forced to refresh their strategies for employee productivity, pushing teams to work from home to avoid the spread of the virus. Currently, many are calling 2020 the year of remote working, thanks in large part to the virus.
Even before the pandemic began, the trend for remote work was increasing. According to the Office of National Statistics, the number of UK employees moving to remote working increased by almost a quarter of million.
Additionally, business leaders found that remote work generally makes staff members happier, with 55% of employees saying they had lower stress levels without a commute.
When the COVID-19 pandemic is over, it’s unlikely that the workplace will suddenly revert back to the environment we knew before. The power of working from home has already been proven, and teams won’t want to revert to the way things were before.
The question is how businesses maintain human connections and engagement between employees when the traditional office is a thing of the past.
Building remote teams in 2020
Although remote working has a lot of benefits to offer, there are various challenges that business leaders will need to consider to embrace this new reality. Building a remote team means addressing unique requirements that you wouldn’t see outside of the virtual workplace.
For instance, remote teams give their productivity a score of 7.7 out of 10, but this is only the case when they have the right technology to tap into. When your office employees can’t log into their work computer, how do you ensure that they have the tech they need to get tasks done?
When employees can’t simply speak to a colleague when they need help with an issue or walk into a manager’s office when looking for guidance, how can you maintain a consistent workflow?
For the most part, technology fills the gaps that remote working can create.
- Video conferencing software: Video conferencing programs allow teams to enjoy the same face-to-face interactions that they had in the traditional workspace, without the travel. Visual cues often play a significant role in our communication. With video conferencing software, employees can unlock the unique nuances of face-to-face conversations, combined with tools like file-sharing and instant messaging.
- Instant messaging tools: As valuable as video is, it’s not the right option for every conversation. Businesses need to ensure that they have the right communication services in place to keep the discussion flowing smoothly. For instance, a discussion with a colleague may start with an IM tool, then progress to an audio conversation, and finish with a video interaction.
- Project management software: When team members don’t see each other every day, it’s easy to lose sight of who is doing what. Project management software helps everyone to see how their work fits into the bigger picture. Project management tools can also provide access to deadlines and tracking features to ensure that work is completed on time.
- Workforce management tools: Supervisors and business leaders may need help keeping employees aligned and motivated in a remote environment. Workforce management tools, complete with time tracking software, and gamification components can help here. Businesses could even keep track of employees that accomplish the most in any given week and provide them with rewards. This is a great way to boost engagement.
- File sharing and storage tools: Finally, businesses need a way to keep the documents created in a remote work environment accessible, but secure. Online sharing systems that allow teams to annotate work and collaborate on components at the same time can make a huge difference here. The key to success is ensuring that the files remain secure and that businesses can stay compliant when interacting online.
Employee engagement tips for the virtual workplace
Having the right tools in place is often the key to creating a successful remote workforce. Communication software, workforce optimization apps, and more can all create a more efficient and informed team.
However, business leaders still need to think regularly about how they’re going to keep their employees engaged. After all, just because your teams are getting work done, doesn’t mean that they’re as motivated and inspired as they would be in the office.
1. Inspire regular communication
Having the right communication tools in place is just the first step. Business leaders also need to ensure that their employees are using these services. Planning regular video conferencing sessions on a weekly basis pushes people to come together and connect on a more human level.
At the same time, it’s worth noting that not all business conversation needs to be about the company. Team members should be encouraged to discuss their thoughts, feelings, and needs outside of work. It’s these water cooler moments with colleagues that forge the best interpersonal bonds.
Make sure that your team is up-to-date on what’s happening in your business, but don’t forget to encourage those out-of-work relationships too.
2. Provide plenty of feedback
Studies consistently show that employees want more feedback.
This is particularly true in a remote work environment, where your employees are getting used to a new way of work. Your team members might not know for certain whether they’re delivering the results that you expect. Providing feedback helps to encourage more positive work while eliminating unnecessary mistakes.
Feedback can also include recognition and rewards. Just because your team is out of sight, doesn’t mean you should forget them. Providing recognition reminds your people that their hard work is appreciated and respected.
3. Offer plenty of clarity
It’s hard to be engaged at work when you’re not 100% sure what you’re meant to be doing.
There’s more to building a remote team than handing your employees a laptop and asking them to carry on as normal from home. Employees need regular guidance, whether it’s in the form of check-up messages from supervisors or regular stand-up discussions.
Make sure that at the beginning of each week, or even each day, your employees know what they should be doing, and how their work will be evaluated.
Crucially, when measuring performance, the focus here should be on what’s produced, not when. Employees need the freedom to adjust their schedules according to their needs.
4. Emphasize culture
According to the Harvard Business Review, developing company culture is crucial to engaging remote employees. This can be a tough task when you’re communicating virtually, but it’s important to find a way to make your team feel connected.
Make sure that your employees know what your values are as a business, and how they can adhere to them. At the same time, make sure that all of your employees are up-to-date on the news and what’s happening behind the scenes in your organization.
Regular break-out sessions where you all get together over video and discuss goals and expectations could be an excellent way to foster better cultural growth.
5. Help with time management
One of the biggest obstacles that remote workers face these days is an inability to manage time effectively. That’s often particularly problematic for employees that aren’t used to the remote work landscape. Some end up working over-time, forgetting how to draw a line between their personal and work lives.
As a business owner or leader, it’s up to you to help your employees manage their time more effectively. Set deadlines to keep them focused but remind them that it’s okay to take breaks for doctor’s appointments or quality time with the kids.
Get to know your remote employees and find out how much help they need with setting a reliable schedule. Some will need a lot more structure than others to keep them focused.
Make the most of the remote revolution
For many businesses right now, the sudden shift to a remote working lifestyle has been a problematic and challenging one. We’ve all been forced into a new environment much faster than we would have liked. Few companies were truly prepared for this shift in operations.
However, now that the disruption has already occurred, the best thing we can do is find the silver lining. Learning how to support and empower your remote workers means that even when the pandemic is over, you can continue to benefit from a more engaged, cost-efficient, and productive team. In the years ahead, the demand for remote work will only continue to grow.
Take advantage of this opportunity to plan your strategy.
Guest author: Sam O'Brien
Sam O'Brien is the Senior Website Optimisation & User Experience Manager for EMEA at RingCentral, a global UCaaS systems provider. Sam has a passion for innovation and loves exploring ways to collaborate more with dispersed teams. He has written for websites such as HRTechnologist and PollEverywhere.