Remote work is a hot topic right now. Many companies, such as Intuit, Williams-Sonoma, and Dell, allow full or either part-time remote work opportunities. For many, this is great news! Other companies, however, aren’t so keen on this direction. In March of 2017, IBM reversed its landmark decision to allow employees to work remotely. Many employers view remote work as a risk. They worry that remote work will lower productivity and reduce office camaraderie.
Remote work doesn’t need to be risky. Here’s how you can use technology to support communication, coordination and collaboration when you and your team is working remotely.
Investing in technology is one of the most important actions a company can take when dealing with remote workers. Often, companies declare remote work models failed because they haven’t properly trained supervisors and employees, or given them the tools they need to succeed. Remote work can lead to productive employees who have much lower stress and are generally happier to do their work, but they need structural support to achieve success.
Set expectations for employees working remote, and enforce those expectations equitably across the company. At the same time, put processes into place so that teams feel connected even when they’re apart. Establish protocols on chat platforms like Slack so that availability is communicated clearly. Set standing check-in meetings for team members. Have employees create goals, and then track them. Often, the perception that employees aren’t productive has more to do with a lack of connection between employees and supervisors. Avoid this by encouraging connections and communication.
Without active communication, remote employees often feel lonely or out of touch. Ensure technology is in place to facilitate communication.
Invest in a chat platform like Slack that allows for real-time communication, but also make sure to set a standard for communication. Platforms like Slack should be used for urgent conversations that can’t wait or for rapid ideation. Brainstorming in particular works very well over these kinds of platforms. Keep in mind that not all communications need to happen in real-time, and make sure to encourage employees to set aside blocks of time specifically for these kinds of conversations to happen. People can’t be available for chatting all the time, otherwise, no work gets done.
When an issue isn’t urgent, asynchronous communication methods, like email or shared documents, are a perfect choice. People can choose when to engage in these conversations, which allows them to take the time they need to formulate more detailed responses to a business challenge.
Good coordination means employees and managers have accountability between each other, and they remain on track when facing deadlines. It’s important to keep track of moving parts through project management software (such as Trello, Wrike, or Basecamp) to keep team members aligned and on-track. Project management removes the perception of a lack of productivity. Plus, project management tools make it easier to manage employees in different timezones, especially when those timezones are far apart. Keeping detailed records of what work is accomplished allows for quick, seamless handoff between tasks.
We mentioned how employees can sometimes feel disconnected when they’re working remotely, or like they can’t collaborate with their coworkers. If you find that employees within your organization have fewer opportunities for collaboration, there are steps you can take to correct that. Invest in platforms that support video conferencing. Face-to-face video calls are an excellent alternative to in-person meetings, but you should still make the deliberate decision to bring teams together on a regular basis. Provide coworking spaces in cities where employees are clustered together. Create a line item in your budget that allows you to bring all your employees in for an all-hands meeting once or twice a year. Be frugal, but don’t be cheap.
When employees and organizations put these structures in place and practice them, remote work becomes natural. Many employers find that when they extend flexible hours to their employees, their employees work harder or during off-hours to meet their responsibilities.