In recent years remote learning, working and communication has increased rapidly. Of course, with globalization the need and desire for personal communication via technology has been perhaps the most ubiquitous. Business, domestic or international, has naturally taken advantage of communication via email, phone, or many other kinds of technology. And yet working in offices and business travel have remained a significant aspect of work life. Now, however, with the current global climate and uncertainty around COVID-19, there are more remote workers than ever. While some companies expect this to last for some time, and some permanently making this change, it remains to be seen what the effects will be on business as a whole.
Communicating Remotely vs In Person
A big concern for many is communication. Sure, globalization has increased how people have been communicating for a number of years now. But generally that has been for offices located in different states or countries. For most people, your own team is primarily still in the same city if not all in the same office.
The reasons individuals and companies as a whole prefer in-person work varies widely. For some, it’s the ability to communicate and collaborate in person. Communicating via email, video or phone calls is not impossible but for many does not provide the same ease of communication. It is possible, and likely, this will improve the more people are required to communicate in this manner.
REI Co-op is a notable company that announced their plans to sell their HQ office, while still maintaining satellite campuses. The satellite offices allow for occasional in-person collaboration, which many still prefer. However, it minimizes the need for in-person interaction and thus exposure to COVID or any other contagious illnesses. Of course, there are other important benefits to remote work - flexible schedules, lack of commuting which saves time and benefits the earth, and less resources dedicated to maintaining office spaces among many other benefits. In the article cited above, author Tom Ryan also notes that REI anticipates difficulties in communication and collaboration, but expects employees to overcome them in time.
Managing a Remote Team
Similar to the section above - many concerns or issues surrounding management of a remote team involve communication. It would benefit companies to work on proactive measures around communication and management now. Test different methods and listen to feedback from employees. If something is not the best fit, don’t think of it as time wasted but rather the necessary work to get to a better workflow. Even if in a year or so many companies resume in-person work, a number will likely continue to offer remote work.
As far as managing your team remotely, it helps to look beyond measuring their performance largely by the hours you see them sitting at a desk. Many studies now confirm that sitting at a desk all day impedes productivity as well as causing potential damage to your physical health. There are various ways to measure employee performance, and of course standards vary by industry.
Namely, an HR company, lists a few helpful ways to measure employee performance. A notable point on their list: training programs. They point out that if you invest in your employees, they give that back. Obviously you want to be sure the training is applicable and beneficial to your employees and your company. After training events, you should check in with your team and develop metrics to measure effectiveness.
DuckDuckGo, an internet search engine, is a great example of a company adjusting well to working remotely. They have streamlined their workflow in a way that allows employees to complete work without relying on communication with others. This doesn’t mean they aren’t communicating - they just aren’t relying on complex (or sometimes unnecessary) communication with a lot of other people to complete a task or project. They are still checking in periodically in other ways to help with bonding.
Ensuring Success for Your Team
Once again: if you have not already, it is a good time to move beyond measuring productivity by time spent sitting at a desk. There are many different ways to measure performance and it is not one size fits all. While it is hard to say exactly when, at some point when things start to return back to something like normal remote work is likely to remain a more prominent part of our reality. Take the time now to develop effective communication and management tools. Listen to your employees as well and take their well-being into consideration.
Research different techniques that you and your team might find helpful. The Pomodoro Technique, popular with tech workers, is an effective method to work for periods of time before taking a break. Something like this could work for anyone or perhaps there are other techniques, similar or completely different, that you or your team might like.
Even before COVID-19, the trend of remote workers was increasingly common. It is hard to predict how many people will be back in offices in a couple of years. However, the number of people working remotely is likely to continue to become more and more common. If you manage anyone, it is beneficial for you to adjust your own expectations and management style now. In addition to researching different techniques and methods, looking at other companies as an example is a helpful tool as well. Read about what is and isn’t working for them when you consider your own team. Remote workers are likely to be a reality for many managers. Don’t let that overwhelm you - jump ahead now and develop the necessary skills to set you and your team up for success.