If there’s a topic that’s being highly discussed right now, it’s remote work. More specifically, it is remote team collaboration. The spread of COVID-19 has forced many businesses to adopt “work from home” policies, and for some, it’s a striking change that has led to employee confusion, lost productivity, and general anxiety.
This has sparked immense debate about the pros and cons of working remotely. Overall, most organizations are attempting to stay positive and adapt to the change, including ABC’s Adam Joseph and other big names in news, entertainment, and business.
You’ll see lots of people, like Neil Chatterjee, heralding the importance of working from home as we attempt to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 and slow its quick spread through countries across the world.
Still, not every company and employee has adopted the change with such optimism.
The New York Times and other big publications have recently posted opinion pieces titled similarly to “Sorry, But Working from Home Is Overrated.”
It’s a stressful period – and many are feeling the impact of such a big transition.
However, as a company that has many work-from-home employees and constantly managing remote teams, we can tell you that it’s not all bad. Remote team productivity is certainly possible, as long as you employ the right strategies and tools.
Today, we want to take a deep dive into what makes remote team collaboration possible. More importantly, how you can ride the work-from-home wave without becoming inefficient or losing tons of revenue.
Project Management Difficulties with Remote Teams
A quick caveat: Although it’s 100 percent possible to make remote team collaboration work, it would be ignorant of us to say it’s easy for everyone.
Virtual team management comes with real challenges, and you’ll need to learn to solve them in order to thrive.
That’s why we want to talk about common problems first. The more you know about the problems you’ll face, the better prepared you’ll be to tackle them head-on.
Whether you’re trying to hire a remote team or your current staff is transitioning to a work-from-home situation, here are some of the most common issues we see companies run into:
1. Struggles with Communication
Arguably, communication is THE biggest challenge for companies transitioning to remote work. If you can find a strong method for communicating, then many of the other problems that come from working from home will resolve themselves.
The question is, how do you communicate efficiently when you have virtual team members scattered across the country – or even the world?
We’re in a time when people feel more isolated than ever – the more you can facilitate strong connections, the better your communication and productivity will be.
Now is the time to utilize or fine-tune communication-based software like:
- Instant messaging
- Conferencing programs
- Task management tools
Although many of these solutions could work, the important thing is to make sure everyone is staying consistent. Everyone should be able to easily monitor their channels and be as responsible (and available) as possible during work hours.
You’ll also need to clarify responsibilities more than you do in an office environment. Clarify what’s expected of each employee in terms of availability and communication on a daily, or even hourly, basis.
If you haven’t already, you’re more than likely going to need to introduce a project management system. It can be difficult to keep remote workers in the loop, but if you have a centralized place where all tasks and updates are located, remote team collaboration is much simpler.
We truly believe that better communication is the key to remote management and success. As you can see from the graph above, 39 percent of employees believe their coworkers don’t communicate enough as it is. Imagine how big the problem could become when you’re not in the same office space.
2. Building Trust with Remote Employees
Another issue that many managers and company leaders face is monitoring their employees when they could be thousands of miles away. How do you ensure that all of the jobs are accomplished and that remote workers are actually working, not goofing off and playing video games?
The answer depends a bit on the employees’ responsibilities. Some might just need to turn in their tasks at the end of the day – others might need to be available for customer support for a certain number of hours per day.
We highly recommend requiring remote employees to track their time, both for your benefit and theirs. The more accountable everyone can be in a work-from-home environment, the more trust you can have that everyone is actually putting their time in and accomplishing their tasks.
Keep in mind that you can also install particular policies for remote work collaboration during this time. For instance, you can require people to check-in at particular times of the day or submit a summary of their work.
You want to trust your employees, but that can be difficult to do when you can’t see or hear them for days on end. Using time-tracking software and asking for extra reports or communication can help establish trust between those in and out of the office.
Don’t hesitate to ask for a little extra reassurance during this time – over-communicating is better than under communicating in situations like these.
3. Maintaining A Productive Schedule
Since we’re all working from home, the traditional nine-to-five schedule is kind of obsolete, right?
Well, not necessarily.
Just because everyone isn’t required to be in the office for the same hours doesn’t mean that work schedules can be willy-nilly. You’ll need to set expectations when it comes to “in-office” hours for those working from home. They could be more flexible, or they could be the same as usual, depending on your particular needs as a company.
However, you can also view this period as an opportunity to boost schedule productivity. Take a look at the graph above – the most productive hours are indicated as between 8 AM and noon. Does that seem to be true with your employees?
Would they benefit from working on an earlier schedule during quarantine, or perhaps a later schedule based on your needs?
You’ll also need to account for members of your remote team that have traveled out of state or even to different countries. Will you be managing different time zones, and if so, what kind of requirements will you put on the schedules of those who are not in your area?
As you play with work-from-home schedules, we recommend collecting feedback from employees to determine what works best. Different employees might have different requests or opinions, and giving them a chance to chime in could actually improve the productivity of your remote team collaboration.
4. Tackling Conflict from Far Away
The last potential issue we want to address is handling problems from afar. Conflicts can occur within any team, regardless of location – but a lack of face-to-face communication can make things even trickier.
Messages get misinterpreted. A lack of communication leads to annoyance or even frustration. As a manager or a leader in the company, it might be difficult to spot conflicts as they arise and put an end to them before they disrupt work.
This means that in a remote work situation, it’s up to the leaders to keep an eye out for signs of anger, a lack of productivity, or personal disagreements. Monitor threads and message chains to watch for warning signs, and when you can, check-in with individuals to make sure all is going smoothly.
If a conflict does arise, do your best to stop it in its tracks. Schedule a video conference call to allow for a more personal space in which people can air their grievances and opinions. Remote work can often make people feel less connected with their coworkers, so when you’re addressing problems, it’s important to reinstate that feeling of comradery.
How To Facilitate Effective Remote Team Collaboration
Now that we’ve talked about the big problems most teams run into when they begin working from home, it’s time to talk about something a little more exciting: techniques for working together from separate locations – as well as some good collaboration tools for remote teams.
We can’t stress enough how vital it is to implement the right tools when multiple teams (or everyone) is working from different spaces. Focusing on collaboration strategies will keep things from falling between the cracks and ensure that productivity stays high – or even increases.
Here are the biggest tips we have for collaborating effectively, no matter where your teammates may be.
Tip #1: Focus On Balance Across The Board
During the spread of COVID-19, and the economic and social repercussions of the pandemic, have left most people feeling anxious. Now is not the time to add extra stress from work – doing so would increase your risk of poor productivity/performance.
Instead, use this experiment with remote team collaboration to focus more on balance in the workplace. There’s a reason many millennials rank remote-work policies as one of their highest values when looking for a job; people around the world are looking for positions that allow them to strike a balance between, work, play, and mental/physical health.
To some extent, this movement to working from home has actually unveiled how unbalanced many of our work schedules are. Between juggling children, jobs, health, and more, many workers are stretched thin – and this time period is revealing what many of us don’t talk about.
People, as Chloe Schema points out, are being forced to learn how to balance family needs and more while working from home – but we’ve always been working to balance. If anything, this remote work trend has revealed just how important balance is to the health and wellbeing of employees and their families.
The more you focus on providing a balanced lifestyle for your employees during this time, the stronger your team will be throughout the waves of uncertainty caused by quarantine.
Tip #2: Don’t Be Afraid To Find New Tools
Now is certainly the time to do your research and adopt new, revolutionary collaboration tools – if you haven’t already. Things are changing, both in people’s homes and in offices, and there are technologies out there that are working to meet these changes head-on.
Take a look at the following categories to figure out what tools you might need, as well as browse a few suggestions of our favorites.
a) Instant Messaging Tools
Consider Slack, one of the best tools for remote teams. This online collaboration product brings communication into one place. It was already used by before the pandemic. Keep track of conversations easily and sort teams into different threads.
b) Project Management Tools
People are turning to PM software like Trello, Teamwork and Wrike, and others to get through this sudden switch to remote work. These collaboration tools allow you to bring big projects into one place where you can manage and assign tasks, track progress, and hold people accountable.
Although it does take some time to learn the ropes of a new tool, we can tell you that from personal experience, a PM platform is 100 percent essential to your success as a work-from-home team.
Experiment with a few to find the one that works best for your organization’s remote work collaboration.
c) Time-Tracking Tools
When it comes to tracking the amount of time spent by employees on certain projects, or just throughout the day, we recommend using a time-tracking tool.
For instance, Clockify is a free service that allows you to easily see where employee time is going, how many hours are spent on each project, and more.
Using tools like these will help you understand how productive your employees are while working from home. You’ll also be able to better analyze your distribution of time and assets.
d) Video Conferencing Tools
You’ll probably need to adopt a video conferencing tool – such as Google Hangouts or Zoom for sharing screens, discussing things verbally, and achieving a higher level of understanding with employees and clients.
Many businesses, like BEI, are learning to hold virtual meetings from everywhere. It’s safer, healthier, and just as productive during a time period like this.
If your company isn’t familiar with using video services like these, be sure to do a bit of training beforehand so everyone is equipped with the right knowledge.
Bonus: you don’t even have to wear pants!
Tip #3: Manage Client And Employee Expectations
As you implement new collaboration and communication tools for remote teams, you will experience a bit of a learning curve. That’s why it’s essential to set realistic expectations for everyone, including both clients and your own employees.
This doesn’t mean you need to prepare people for fear, low productivity, or failure. Instead, just focus on facilitating and understanding that these are difficult times, and although you will thrive, you’ll need a bit of extra time and patience to achieve the best results.
Tip #4: Be Consistent
Many of us probably feel a bit overwhelmed and maybe scatterbrained during such a stressful period, but one of the best ways to handle those emotions is to remain consistent.
Try to maintain as much normalcy in a work-from-home situation as possible. Don’t abandon important policies or leave people unmonitored just because the switch is challenging. Instead, adapt your policies and attempt to maintain as much consistency as you can.
Advantages of Working In A Remote Team – How Remote Teams Work
To round out this post, we want to tell you about some of the amazing benefits that can come with working from home, hiring a remote development team, or simply adopting more flexible work arrangements in terms of location and schedule.
Benefit #1: Your Team Is Forced to Self-Evaluate
A bonus that comes with managing remote workers is that you’re regularly forced to reflect on how your team can become more effective. Especially during these initial stages, you’ll need to host regular meetings in which people discuss how they can improve this work-from-home situation.
Self-evaluation, as well as analysis of your business procedures, provides an excellent opportunity to find new ways to boost productivity. Sure, you might experience some hiccups now and again, but try to focus on the ways your business is growing during this strange time.
Benefit #2: Employees Experience More Freedom
Although your employees might be stressed, as time goes on, many will begin to enjoy the freedom that a remote work schedule brings.
As you can see from the graph above, provided by Hubspot, the biggest benefit that most employees report is the ability to have a flexible schedule, as well as work from any location and spend more time with family.
Take a look at Ronan Carey’s example: he just got to see his daughter take her first steps, an opportunity he would likely have missed had he been in the office.
Carey, and so many other people around the world, are seeing the benefit of having a flexible work environment where they can spend more time with family.
We can confidently say that during a period of international crisis and uncertainty, a bit of freedom can go a long way toward boosting company morale.
Benefit #3: Experience Better Health And Morale
Speaking of morale, we’re strong believers that it’s entirely possible for work-from-home setups to actually create healthier, happier employees.
In a study from FlexJobs, 90 percent of the surveyed employees stated that more flexible arrangements would increase their morale. People have a better opportunity to safely conduct social interactions, exercise, cook, and explore hobbies when they’re not spending hours commuting to and from the office.
Right now, we could all use a boost in morale – try to use your switch to remote team collaboration as a source of encouragement, not just a last resort.
Benefit #4: Your Team Might Wind Up Wasting Less
Tired of paying for huge internet bandwidth at the office? We can assure you that your employees aren’t happy about paying for gas and community expenses. What about office supplies, including snacks and food?
You might find that your company and its employees actually save money by working in a non-traditional setting. This could obviously vary from business to business, depending on your setups and needs, but a little bit of money saved is certainly a bonus in this new economy.
Additionally, you might learn that you’ve been wasting valuable time in meetings, as Dr. Andre Wallcott points out. It’s estimated that the average middle-level manager spends around 35 percent of their time in meetings – potentially more like 50 percent in some cases.
As you schedule Zoom calls and are forced to work around remote challenges, your team might find ways to make things more efficient. You’ll learn to stop wasting time on calls that don’t really need to happen and utilize tools, like email, to get more done.
We know that good remote team collaboration is a solution that can benefit many different companies – the key is handling work-from-home situations in the correct manner.
Focus on addressing problems before they arise, using the right tools, and looking for the benefits of this situation rather than just the drawbacks. Millions of Americans are working from home right now, and if you ask many, we could see a big shift in the increase of remote work post-pandemic.
It’s difficult when remote work has been forced upon us, but in this day and age, we are left with no other option. Let’s all do our part to join hands and come together to halt the spread of COVID-19 and keep businesses running, even in uncertain times.
Much of E2M’s team has been working remotely since long before the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve spent years fine-tuning our remote process and efficiency. If you need any help with remote services – or getting your team up to par, don’t hesitate to reach out!