Maybe your company elected to be remote on its own. Maybe the global pandemic drove you out of your shared office space. Either way, more and more organizations are now functioning with remote workforces. This distributed structure may be temporary for some organizations. It may be a permanent shift for others. Regardless of how it happened or how long it lasts, one thing is for certain. Remote work is not as simple as shifting your location from sitting in an office to sitting in your home.
The physical difference in where you’re working may seem like the biggest change initially. But after a few weeks of working remotely, changes related to connectivity (both human and digital) likely surface. Changes related to how you communicate effectively (or don’t) likely appear. The old habits from your face-to-face office space don’t translate the same way to a computer screen. So how do you work well remotely? What are the best practices for remote work? How do you stay productive and effective while physically separated from your team?
Let’s take a look at some remote work best practices that can help you and your team adapt and thrive in a remote work structure. This index covers several key requirements for effective remote work:
- Remote Working Requires Relationships
- Remote Working Requires Intention
- Remote Working Requires Flexibility
(Please note: there is a lot of great information out there about creating a great home office (https://www.zdnet.com/article/work-from-home-essential-gadgets-and-gear-for-productivity-and-good-health/ , https://www.pcmag.com/news/get-organized-20-tips-for-working-from-home , etc.). For this article, however, we’re focused on the connective, human components of working remotely.)
Remote Working Requires Relationships
It may be tempting to think remote work is isolated work. Indeed, remote work can FEEL isolated. And that isolation eventually can impact the work. Even the most introverted among us need connection. That is why it is critical when working remotely to spend some time on the relationships that connect you to your work and your team. Remote work is still relational, even if it’s physically distant.
For better remote work experience:
- Dedicate time and opportunities to connect over more than just work communication. It’s likely your team is not made of robots doing work-and-only-work. Set aside time for small talk, for incidental conversation about what is happening in your lives beyond the computer screen. You may already do this naturally at the beginning of a video call or teleconference. You may also want to dedicate specific time to this kind of non-work connection. Maybe it’s a video lunch together or a Friday afternoon pause before the work week ends. Recognize that this banter is not wasted time. It’s a critical few minutes of connection.
- Strengthen your company culture despite the distance. Conveying and strengthening company culture can be challenging even when you’re all in the same space. Remote work makes it more complicated, but no less necessary. It’s important to root your work in the basics. What is your company’s mission? What are your company values? How do you live them out in this new setting? Your company values don’t disappear just because you’re no longer in the office. In fact, those values may be more important during this challenging time than ever before. How can you translate those values into this new landscape? Maybe you have a value around client service. Create a digital space or forum where your team can brainstorm ideas for ensuring that value continues to reach your customers. Maybe you have a value around teamwork. Make space for fun, collaborative activities like a team scavenger hunt at home (coworkers have X minutes to track down items from around their home). Carryover that silly team mascot from the office or that monthly company event and find ways to incorporate them into team bonding activities while remote.
- Connect face-to-face, even if it’s digitally. Email, Slack or Teams, and the other platforms your team uses help keep information traveling across your team. It’s important, however, to intersperse those channels with face-to-face connection at least a few times across the week. Humans are social creatures and we need to see each other, even if it’s not in person. Video conferencing is effective for 1:1 check-ins with remote team members or for small group gatherings (be mindful of the size of your group and the frequency of your video calls to avoid Zoom fatigue). If time-zones allow, set aside weekly or fortnightly time for a video team lunch (if your employees are all in locations with food delivery like GrubHub or DoorDash, maybe spring for a choreographed meal “together” on occasion). The important thing is to dedicate regular time for your remote workers to spend in community with you and each other.
- Open your (virtual) door. Even if your team has been working remotely since before the pandemic, the current climate is adding stress on many levels. And it’s more challenging to detect if a team member is struggling when communication is entirely digital. Be proactive in creating and communicating ways for your teammates to check-in privately. And reiterate those pathways often. Maybe you begin each 1:1 meeting with a sincere “how are you doing?” and follow through with the teammate’s response. Maybe you appropriately admit your own sense of stress with the broad situation (as one colleague likes to say “this is my first global pandemic, so I haven’t had a lot of practice”). Be in regular contact with your Human Resources department or company leadership beforehand to know what resources and support are available for struggling team members. But most importantly, be human and be empathetic with your team members. This is likely their first global pandemic and they haven’t had a lot of practice.
- Here are some additional resources we’ve found (let us know if you have others you find helpful):
Remote Working Requires Intention
There are lots of little details of the workday you may never really think about when you work in the same shared office space with your team. Greeting team members when you arrive or head to lunch or leave for the day. Noticing casually that a team member seems particularly down one day, and how their close team members react. Or maybe noting another team member is especially upbeat one morning and how that ripples through the group. The sound of a coworker being frustrated at their desk or, alternatively, celebrating an account win. The nuances of how humans function emotionally don’t change when a team shifts to remote working. Staying connected and tuned in to those cues, however, now requires a heightened level of attention. Remote work requires more effort, more intent, and dedicated purpose.
For better remote work experience:
- Be precise with communication. Remote working means more communication happens via digital platforms than does in an in-person office. Digital communication is fantastic in lots of ways, but it creates challenges in conveying things like tone and urgency. As a result, those elements may need to be spelled out in the communication, instead of assumed. Include phrases of timeliness (“this can wait until midweek”) and priority (“this comes after the draft for Project X is done”) to help make your communication more precise. Be wary of using sarcasm in written communication and rescan messages for tone before sending.
- Be concise with communication. In an office setting, there are non-verbal cues about what co-workers are doing. You see them leave for a meeting. You hear the sound of their keyboard or phonecall. You may even know the distinct differences between one teammate’s footfalls and those of another. Those cues are stripped away when working remotely. Without those non-verbal cues, it can be tempting to increase your verbal communication to cover for the missing non-verbal pieces. While that behavior may have a good impulse behind it, be mindful of overwhelming your teammates with digital communication. Be concise (while being precise) with what you convey.
- Resist the temptation to micromanage. This goes hand in hand with the need for concise communication. Because your employees are not within earshot or sight, it can be very enticing to check in on them frequently. This can unintentionally erode a sense of shared trust. It may come across as a manager “checking up on” employees. This can go the other direction too, and create an atmosphere where employees are tempted to send digital indicators (a virtual “I’m here”) to prove their presence. Instead of creating unneeded tension with this dynamic, it is important to facilitate both unity and autonomy instead. Have dedicated times for the team and members to check in with each other and support their shared sense of purpose. But give employees the independence and confidence to execute their work on their own.
- Be a data-driven listener. Use a system like OrgVitals to capture employee feedback at scale and use that data to cultivate culture change. OrgVitals is a unique people analytics / culture analytics system in that it visualizes a network map of all of an organization’s employees to reveal influence and equity in the culture. OrgVitals also offers completely confidential, anonymous surveys (on the blockchain) to capture rich, critical feedback so employees are empowered to speak trust to power. Becoming a good listener, and acting on the feedback, is a fantastic way to build trust and bonds with a remote-first team.
Remote Working Requires Flexibility
Working remotely, especially when working from home, has unique challenges compared to working in an office setting. The spheres of work life and home life don’t have naturally defined perimeters like they do when they are physically separate. The lines blur and suddenly team members may find themselves compelled to work around the clock. Or they may frequently find themselves engaged with elements of their home life. Working from home requires a different way of approaching work. Working remotely requires understanding, generosity, and flexibility.
For a better remote work experience:
- Utilize your Human Resources. Be in communication with your Human Resources department (or the individuals with whom this area falls) to understand what options and actual resources are at your disposal for managing your remote team.
- Create clear digital demarcations for your team. It’s very easy to fall into the 24/7 workday trap when working remotely, especially if your team has team members in different time zones. Set the example for your team by creating visual digital boundaries for your time. Block off work hours on your shared calendar. Update your out-of-office status on Slack or Teams. Be clear in your communications about when a response is expected, and when one is NOT expected (i.e. if an email is sent at 3 am, a response can wait until the next block of work hours). Let team members know how to reach you if something is critical, but otherwise, adhere to that work-life balance for yourself, and for them.
- Communicate clear expectations for blended teams. You may have some of your employees in the office for their workday, but others are telecommuting or working from home. Be clear with all of them (not just the remote workers) about your expectations and parameters for remote work.
- Be mindful the adjustment period may differ from person to person. The shift to remote working may go smoothly for some employees. For others, the experience may be new and more challenging. Keep in mind the adjustment period for some employees shifting to their first time working remotely may be more difficult than expected. Your virtual open door can provide these employees with a way to talk about their challenges, as well as a regular, established 1:1 meeting with each of your team members.
- Put family first. Whether the coronavirus pandemic drove your organization to remote work or you were already headed in that direction, Covid-19 has impacted the work-life landscape for remote workers. Coffee shops and coworking spaces may not be available for remote workers, so they are quite literally working from home now. Changes to school and daycare are impacting families with children. Heightened health concerns around vulnerable family members is an ever-present worry for some team members. For others, remote work may be highlighting their singleness in challenging ways. While family and household look different for each employee, the need for flexibility and generous compassion around each of their home lives is the same. Be proactive in emphasizing a life-work balance, not a work-life balance. Work with your employees to create flexible schedules (understanding things come up and may need to move) or meeting times to allow them to navigate both life and work, since the two are now overlapping closely. Your employees will recognize and appreciate this compassion today and remember it in the future.
- Embrace asynchronicity. It’s clear in the name that remote work is less tethered to place. It is also increasingly less tethered to our traditional understanding of time. This is especially true when working with team members whose physical locations span multiple time zones and geographies. As discussed in How Do You Improve Internal Communication for Remote Teams, this requires a shift to asynchronous communication. This is where digital communication can play a huge role. Be intentional in how you convey the things you’re working on, the things you’re thinking about, and the decisions on the horizon. Approach and structure the communication realizing that team members don’t have to respond immediately. They can respond two hours later or tomorrow and the conversations can still happen, things can still move forward, and decisions can still be made. This break from our traditional understanding of time can feel off-kilter at first. But once your team learns how to communicate asynchronously, you’ll wonder how you ever worked otherwise.
Maybe you are working remotely during the pandemic and will return to the office in due time. Maybe your organization is adopting a remote work structure permanently. Whatever the future holds, strengthening your team’s ability to work remotely is an excellent strategy. Getting remote work “right” gives your organization the flexibility and nimbleness to be prepared for whatever lies ahead in the future of work.
If you found this page helpful, you may want to explore our other articles to help you improve the remote work experience for your team:
- How Do You Improve Internal Communication For Remote Teams?
- How To Improve Remote Work Collaboration
- Work Rituals For Remote Work
For more information about Unitonomy and Culture Management, check out these articles: