The remote working movement has been chugging along for quite some time now. But lately, there has been additional fuel added to the fire because of the Coronavirus outbreak, which prompted many brick-and-mortar businesses to turn virtual.
With that switch comes a lot of change. While working remotely full-time (like we have done since Careerminds’ inception) certainly has its benefits, it’s also not for everyone. Meaning that this already stressful time may cause workers to become disengaged, lose productivity, and even feel isolated.
Today we’re going to go over a few tips that will help traditional employers make the rapid change to remote work, paying special attention to ways that employers can keep their teams engaged and still have great communication even though they are in their home offices or even on their couches.
Note: We are not health experts! If you have questions about COVID-19 and what is recommended to stay safe, please check out these resources provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) here.
Start With Communication Apps
The remote working movement has led to the creation of a slew of great tools that really help bridge the gap created by not being able to meet face-to-face or pop into someone’s office to ask about a project.
This is where collaboration tools come into play. The biggest of these is a way to message one another. Some traditional offices already use some of these, but their true power is revealed in virtual environments.
First, we have Slack, a messaging app that allows people to create channels, private messages, private groups, and even integrates with Google Docs and a ton of other things. Slack is great for quick messages that are really just to touch base about things that don’t need to be an email.
It also helps staff members stay connected with simple, private chats. At Careerminds, we use Slack all day long. We have specific channels for work projects and others that exist solely to foster communication, like our book club channel, watercooler channel, and even a foodie channel.
One of the biggest hurdles for people who are new to remote work is that it can feel isolating. However, with the right messaging tools, you can help people stay connected and feel apart of their team.
Slack isn’t the only app that does this, either. Skype and Microsoft Teams can work pretty well and so can other messaging services like Discord (which is usually used by gamers but ha many of the same features as Slack).
Besides messaging,you’ll likely have to chat through email, phone, and video conferencing. Again, these tools have come a long way from their grainy, pixelated roots.
Zoom is one of the best video conferencing tools on the market right now, allowing teams to either have a multiple person voice chat meeting or even a video conference. You can share your screen if needed to present at a meeting or go over a tricky issue.
Again, Zoom isn’t the only player in town. GoToMeeting has been providing a very similar experience for years now. Skype also, has these features.
Lastly, email is something probably outside of an HR leader’s control. Though if you do have a say, using Gmail provides a lot of collaborative benefits. It’s easy to use, has a whole suite of tools like Google Docs, Sheets, Forms, and much more that are all easily shared with team members.
What your team decides to do largely will have to reflect the culture of your workforce, but these tools can seriously make the difference. Whatever you decide, make sure that people feel like they can communicate as easily as possible with their coworkers for both productivity and also on a social level.
This will help keep your workers engaged and also help protect morale from dropping.
Look For Great Work Tools to Keep Projects Moving
Alongside messaging and communication apps, you will also need tools to help keep work from getting confusing.
Again, there are countless options available. We love to use DropBox to keep specific documents ready for anyone that may need them. Our marketing team loves to use Google Drive and the whole suite of tools they offer to keep their projects in order. And we also use Trello, which is basically a digital whiteboard where you can assign, note, and even brainstorm tasks. If you want even more control over your tasks, you can use Miro as well.
You will more than likely have to try different tools here and allow teams to make their own decisions. There isn’t really a need for the whole company to use the same things because some teams may not need certain items.
However, and this is key, you need tools that allow you to seamlessly keep track of what’s going on, who’s working on what, when will things be turned in, etc. If you do not have these tools readily available, you may well find yourself constantly messaging people on Slack, calling people over Zoom, and sending way too many emails.
All of these things can lead to a decrease in productivity because people are constantly getting pulled away from their projects to answer questions… about their projects. This also means that managers have to have an inherent trust that their teams will actually get the work done. It can be easy for managers to start micromanaging things and this should be avoided if deadlines are important.
Also, remember that these tools are supposed to make life easier for everyone and not harder. If using a tool is becoming a job within itself, it may be a good time to reevaluate if it’s effective or not. Sometimes you’ll find that tools just do not work out for your culture or for specific projects.
Make Sure You Use Tools for Fun, Too
Like we mentioned above, one of the biggest hurdles for new remote workers is that it can be isolating and lonely to work all day without actually seeing coworkers in an office.
To combat this, the tools we mentioned should help staff members communicate more, but managers should also encourage people to chat on the phone, have a virtual happy hour, and do things together that aren’t necessarily work.
Working from home allows people to pretty much work without disruption (or, really, just a different type of disruption). And while that may be good for productivity for a little while, it will likely backfire if people start to think that they are working in a bubble and do not have the same socializing that they get from in-person offices.
Allowing people to chat, hang out, and act like they are in an office when they are really in their living rooms, is important for morale.
While on that note, managers should also keep work-life boundaries as a normal office would. If you went from a 9-to-5 role at an office that allowed you to take a lunch break, that lunch break should still be honored remotely. Managers should also make it a point to tell workers to not work past their given working hours. It can be very hard to “turn off work” when you work and live in the same area, but it is a must!
Managers will lead this charge, too. If a worker is still sending project updates at 10:30 at night, they should be told to stop because they are well on their way to burn out.
This principle is also important during non-working hours such as the weekend or on holidays. With so many communication apps, remote workers can sometimes feel like they never truly get a break like they would if they went into an office. Making a policy or just a cultural norm at the organization can help this. For example, managers can say that any emails that aren’t vital emergencies received during off-hours can wait until the next day.
Again, it’s important that this is handled and demonstrated by higher-ups in the organization. If a C-suite exec drops an email just asking for an update, they may not expect to get a response until, say, Monday morning, but lower-level workers will likely panic and start working as soon as they see the message come through. So, this means that there has to be an actual policy so that people know what the boundaries are.
The Wrap-Up and General Tips
All of these tools will help people work from home more easily. Engagement and productivity will definitely receive a boost by giving people an easy way to complete their tasks. Still, managers and HR leaders will need to pay close attention to their cultures and try to find ways that will keep everyone feeling like a team even if they are working from their homes.
In summary, remote work is all about providing the tools people need to succeed, setting boundaries and expectations, and making sure to do things that keep the team feeling connected, which can oftentimes require activities that aren’t actually work-related but more of a social gathering.
In the end, newly remote workforces will likely have growing pains. Many people have never worked like this before. Allowing workers to find their rhythm is a must and managers must also remember that most people are also working with their spouses/partners/roommates in the house as well, which can also be difficult to manage at first. People with children will also have a tougher time getting used to their new normal.
Stress is also likely going to be an issue for many workers, meaning that employers will need to be understandable. We’re all going through this together!