According to Gartner, remote work is a “thing” at more than seven out of 10 organizations. And remote work is possible for more than half of workers, with 64 percent of professionals saying that they can work remotely.
There are many benefits of remote work. Companies that allow remote work can recruit talent from anywhere in the world, meaning you can hire skilled professionals that wouldn’t be available to you if employees were required to work on-site. Employees who work remotely feel that they own their time and maybe even more productive working remotely than when they have to commute to a physical office or work location.
However, remote work isn’t always smooth sailing, particularly when it comes to collaboration among teams. There are some common challenges that can hinder teamwork and collaboration among remote teams, such as:
- Ineffective communication
- Scheduling difficulties
- Differences in culture and language
- Disorganized performance monitoring and tracking
- Distrust among team members
The solution to overcoming these challenges involves a combination of using the right tools, setting up policies that promote employee engagement, and encouraging communication and collaboration. Here’s a look at how you can put each of these strategies to use to improve remote workforce collaboration.
1. Encourage Employees to Unplug After Work Hours
When an employee works from home, it’s easy for them to lose track of time. They may end up replying to e-mails at 9 p.m. or continue working until the wee hours of the night.
In an office setup, employees typically have cues and routines that signify the end of the workday, such as being the only one left on the floor or getting into their cars for the commute home.
You should honor your employees’ right to unplug. And you can support them by instituting some policies that will limit the temptation to work outside of normal office hours or expectations. For instance, you can prohibit employees from responding to work-related emails after 6 p.m. or restrict work-related calls to official working hours.
Some managers may be taken aback by the idea of outright banning employees from responding to messages after the end of the workday, but it’s actually a common practice in some parts of the world. For instance, France has a law that makes it illegal for employees to work outside of office hours, which for most ends at 6 p.m. Not only that, but workers in France benefit from a 35-hour workweek compared to the 40+ hours common in the U.S.
Aside from instituting company policies that will limit the amount of work done outside of official work hours, you can also encourage employees to unplug by marking the end of the workday with a positive message. A simple reminder to employees that it’s time to close their laptops and thanking them for their hard work that day goes a long way.
There also communication tools that you can use to help employees unplug. For example, Google Calendar allows employees to set work hours. Any meeting or tasks sent outside the specified time may be automatically declined. At the very least, the user can send out an automatic e-mail that informs the requester that they may not be available.
It’s also a good idea to ask employees to set clear boundaries for themselves. They can make it known that they will be offline from Zoom or Slack outside of office hours and that phone calls received after this time will go straight to voicemail. Another way to do this is to ask them to physically power down their devices after work.
Employers can also implement programs that help employees establish a routine even when they are working from home, such as a company-sponsored online yoga class or a gym membership so that they can schedule a time to prioritize self-care.
HR and management can also lead by example. If you don’t send out work-related emails after office hours, your staff will probably follow suit. Prohibit employees from syncing their work and personal devices. They should have separate work and personal accounts, not only for security purposes but because when they don’t see the emails that come in from customers, managers, or coworkers after they’ve already logged out for the day, they won’t feel obligated to respond after hours.
2. Get Everyone on Your Remote Team Together
One pitfall of having a remote team is that people may have different work hours. In an office, you can just go to a coworker’s office and ask for an update. That’s not as easy to do when your coworker is thousands of miles away in a different time zone.
You might need to email your coworker and wait for them to start their workday. Even then, you might not get a response until they’ve seen your correspondence. This kind of delay can hinder collaboration and productivity if not properly planned for and managed.
To avoid negative impacts on productivity and collaboration, schedule recurring meetings to get all team members together on one call. Daily updates, which can take as little as 15 minutes, can be helpful. This will help bring the team up to speed as to where they are in a project, what they need to complete their part of the work, and what challenges they have that are keeping them from meeting their targets.
Some remote teams benefit from weekly sprints, wherein all remote team members meet to plan the week ahead. With daily updates, you get a sense of where different team members are on their tasks and how the project is moving along. In weekly sprints, you get a sense of what can be accomplished in the upcoming week.
Set up as many short but recurring meetings as your team needs to keep the lines of communication open. Regular check-ins will allow every team member the opportunity to get answers to pressing questions that can otherwise delay their progress. These regular meetings will also keep your team and managers updated on everyone’s work.
3. Discussion Channels Provide a Quick & Easy Communication Channel
Most of the time, you set up a live chat channel for your remote team members. However, with everybody using the same channel, important bits of information are easily buried.
Create dedicated chat channels for different topics, groups, and sessions. You might even have a separate channel for chitchat and water cooler discussions.
Moreover, encourage team members to participate in video chats. Being able to see the coworker you’re talking to feels more like an in-person, face-to-face conversation than a simple phone call. Video chats can also convey body language and non-verbal cues, important components of communication that are lost over phone calls and text-based communications.
4. Use Tools to Keep Everyone on Task and Manage Projects
When working on collaborative projects, each team member is responsible for certain tasks. That means that progress is being made on a project by multiple team members, often simultaneously, while some team members are responsible for tasks that are dependent on someone else completing other tasks first. Having a platform that will make the progress visible to anyone will help foster better collaboration.
A tool that can keep track of each team member’s progress, as well as the dependencies, resources required, requests, and task completion can keep everyone on the same page and foster a communicative, productive, and collaborative environment.
In addition to task organization and project management tools, remote teams rely on a variety of tools and technologies to carry out their work. Because these tools are crucial to your remote team’s success, you should make sure that your apps are reliable and working. For instance, if your team is using web applications, a good monitoring tool helps to ensure that these apps are performing as expected and not causing frustration or delays that hinder productivity. A web application monitoring tool can help you detect if there are problems with your apps before they become major issues, helping to minimize downtime and ensuring a positive user experience.
5. Provide Teambuilding Opportunities
While it’s not as easy to develop team building activities for remote teams, it’s just as important – if not more so – to provide opportunities for team members to get to know each other and nurture positive working relationships. Without the advantage of being in a physical office, you will need to be creative in fostering camaraderie and familiarity among your employees. Given the circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic, in which social distancing is the safest course of action, consider teambuilding activities such as:
- Virtual home tours
- On-call coffee sessions
- Multiplayer gaming
- Jamming to music
In today’s modern workplace, you have the technology to make remote working functional. From communication platforms, to project management software, to collaboration and productivity tools, you can easily implement it all. That includes the tools that ensure a smooth workflow and fewer downtimes. Implementing the right tools along with other strategies that create a supportive, positive, and collaborative work environment contributes to employee satisfaction. Happier employees tend to be more productive, so it’s a win-win.