As sudden as the recent shift to remote work might have seemed, it’s been a long time coming. In fact, 4.7 million Americans (or 3.4% of the workforce) were already working remotely in 2019—well before the emergence of COVID-19.
What did change quite suddenly this year, however, was the pace and scale at which teams adopted remote work.
According to a global survey by Gartner, 88% of organizations mandated or encouraged employees to work from home in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While that number is dramatic, it’s not all that surprising given the circumstances.
But what might surprise you is the likelihood that we’ll never quite return to “business as usual” —at least, not in the sense that we once knew it.
70% said that when offices are able to reopen, some or all of their team members will continue to work remotely.
76% stated that productivity has remained steady or improved since the switch to remote work.
Between the pandemic, new technology, an increasingly global workforce—and the fact that remote work has proven viable in the past—it’s unlikely we’ll ever work in physical office environments to the degree we did before.
In the face of this is a long-term cultural shift in the way we work, we want to help distributed organizations improve team communication and collaboration. Let’s look at some strategies to foster better remote workflows as well as tools to help you become more effective and productive in your remote work life.
5 Strategies for Improving Remote Teamwork
1. Build a Foundation of Trust / Grant Team Members Autonomy
One of the biggest concerns companies have about remote work is the loss of control. If employees aren’t clocking in at the office every day, how could companies be sure anyone is actually working?
However, now that many newly-remote teams have been working from home successfully for months, many of those concerns can finally be put to rest. Especially because employees and business owners alike say remote work has had a largely positive impact on productivity levels.
In fact, 77% of remote workers say they’re more productive working at home compared to working in the office. This matches up closely with the 76% of company founders who found productivity maintained or improved with the move to remote teams.
For many companies, the next hurdle will be adapting management styles to empower and motivate a remote workforce. One of the best ways to manage remote teams is to establish trust by granting individuals the freedom and responsibility to work autonomously.
That means forgoing any sort of computer monitoring tech, doing away with virtual timecards, and trusting your team to operate as professionals. It also means shifting your mindset to focus on outcomes, rather than hours logged. As SGM Divisional Executive Tracy Leah has said, “It’s a change in mindset from an ‘office space’ work ethic to, now, it’s a deliverable KPI-based work ethic.”
Building trust is a two-way street. Not only do companies need to trust that their employees are professionals who can govern themselves in a remote work environment, but employees also need to trust that their managers understand the challenges of working from home.
2. Default to Overcommunicating
When everyone is working from home, some of the nuances of in-person communication is lost. It can be tricky to read tone and build relationships with remote coworkers—especially for people who have never met in person.
That’s why one of the golden rules of remote team communication is this: It’s better to overcommunicate than under-communicate.
OK, but what does this mean in practice? How do you balance overcommunicating with overwhelming colleagues with requests? Companies can minimize miscommunication by encouraging transparency and open dialogues.
This should go without saying, but never chastise anyone who requests clarification. The idea that remote employees should immediately “get” what you’re talking about isn’t realistic; miscommunication can happen even when two people are working side by side.
Instead, encourage and commend those who speak up when they don’t understand something. Aim to build a culture where asking for more information is a sign of engagement and professionalism.
Furthermore, make a habit of over-explaining and spelling out specific requests—especially in the context of developing remote workflows, where there sometimes can be too much room for interpretation. When in doubt, add clarity.
3. Set Healthy Boundaries
When you work from home, it’s easy to blur the lines between work and home. This is true whether you live in a bustling household with young kids, share a home office with your partner, or improvise a workspace out of your kitchen during work hours.
Despite these challenges—or, rather, because of them—it’s important for team members to set clear boundaries between their work and home life. Organizations can encourage this by actively encouraging employees to sign off by a specific time each day and by modeling this through senior staff. You could also make weekends an official no-go zone for work-related comms.
Encourage your team members to create and stick to a daily routine. If someone’s schedule goes awry or a deadline is missed, try to give them the benefit of the doubt (within reason). Be understanding of their home life situation and recognize that everyone is working through new and sometimes challenging circumstances.
Better yet, ask employees to share strategies they’ve used to successfully draw a line between home and work. Start a dialogue about healthy work-life balance and the importance of maintaining structure and boundaries.
4. Make Time for Deep Work
Speaking of healthy boundaries, one important change that remote teams can benefit from is building meeting-free periods into their schedules. For instance, every Tuesday afternoon could be automatically blocked off in employee calendars to guarantee a 4-hour span of uninterrupted focus.
Carving out this type of heads-down work block is needed to accomplish “deep work”—a state of heightened focus and productivity related to the concept of flow. When employees (remote or not) achieve deep work on a regular basis, they’re more productive, engaged, and fulfilled in their careers.
The catch, of course, is that deep work is only possible when distractions are eliminated (or, at the very least, paused). So, in addition to scheduling meeting free blocks, remote teams can experiment with setting “core hours” during which key team members must be online for meetings or collaborative work. Outside of those hours, team members would retain the flexibility to do their work on their own schedules
5. Build an Inclusive Team Culture
It can be easy to overlook the value of team building and culture when your team is hiding behind a screen 99% of the time. But just because you no longer work in a shared office doesn’t make you any less of a team unit.
As silly as it sounds, companies need to do a better job of reminding employees that they do, in fact, work with other humans (and not faceless bots). Look for ways to inject personality into online interactions. Encourage team members to recognize and draw attention to others’ achievements. Hold competitions (work-related or not), play games online together, and take an interest in your coworkers’ lives.
Remember to celebrate events that you would in the office, like birthdays, promotions, and both personal and professional milestones. Try to encourage employees to turn on their cameras for at least some team calls to better connect with each other. That face time is valuable for relationship building and allows for a more human element than email alone.
5 Tools to Facilitate Remote Work
Successful remote work goes beyond just having the right strategies in place; teams also need access to modern tools to help bridge the gap. These five tools are designed to streamline remote communication and collaboration, so your remote team can nail teamwork across any distance.
1. Loom | Video Recording and Sharing
Anyone who has ever worked with a global team knows the challenge of coordinating meetings across time zones. With the rise in remote work, we’re also experiencing a rise in international hires—and an increased likelihood of working with colleagues on the other side of the world.
This is where Loom comes in handy. It’s a video recording and sharing tool allows teams to communicate and establish rapport with members who have drastically different office hours. Loom allows individuals to simultaneously record their screen and their voice and/or face.
Recording and sharing a Loom video allows everyone to catch up and provide updates on their own time. This is great for remote teams with workers in different time zones or spread out around the world. It makes asynchronous communication easier than ever while also eliminating common problems that plague large group calls, including drop signals and background noise.
You can use Loom to provide technical instructions, deliver internal announcements, offer a product update, or even as a fun way to introduce yourself to new team members.
Plus, sometimes it’s just easier to say what you mean than to type it out. This especially holds true when you’re explaining something in-depth or walking someone through a new program or process. Colleagues can watch your screen recording, listen to your voiceover, and see your face for non-verbal cues and maximum context.
2. Monday.com | Remote Task Management
To track progress, plan projects, and keep tasks organized, remote workers need a task management tool that’s up to the job. Monday is an online flexible tool that remote teams can use to plan and track progress on tasks and projects. The easy-to-customize board system allows you to keep projects separate (by managing each on its own board) and organized (by listing, assigning, and updating tasks on the appropriate project board).
Users can choose from a range of different project views, so each team member can visualize projects and tasks in a way that makes the most sense to them—whether it’s the map, calendar, timeline, or Kanban format.
Though there are a few different options on the market, Monday.com is one of the best task management platforms for distributed team collaboration. One of its differentiating features is its reporting and financial management tools, which allow you to attach budget information to individual projects. Plus, the formula column lets you drill down further into the data with customized tables and calculations.
3. DocuSign | eSignatures
When all of your workflows are going digital, it simply doesn’t make sense to require employees to print, sign, and scan paperwork at home. Not only does this necessitate that team members have printers at their home office (which could represent an extra cost for the company), but it also adds time and effort to a process that could be simplified online.
DocuSign gives the ability to sign and complete secure documents online, which is crucial for remote teams. Everything from hiring and onboarding team members to collecting client signatures on sales contracts. To create the most seamless experience and truly promote team collaboration, core workflows need to be accessible and easy to use on any device.
4. Zoom | Video Conferencing
Obviously, there are no winners during a pandemic; but the COVID-19 crisis has allowed video conferencing tools like Zoom to realize their full potential. In December 2019, Zoom had around 10 million daily meeting participants. By April, that number had skyrocketed to over 300 million.
Suffice it to say, if you joined the remote workforce in the past year, you’ve likely already used Zoom for team video calls—and if not, there are tons of helpful features that make it worth trying out. Zoom became a top choice for video conferencing in part because it’s free to use and makes it easy to share screens and see multiple attendees at once in the grid-style view.
In response to the recent spike in users and growing demand for new features, Zoom quickly evolved and released updates to accommodate the needs of remote workers. This includes features like breakout rooms that allow for private sidebars during larger meetings, screen sharing multiple programs at once (instead of sharing the entire desktop), and virtual waiting rooms.
5. SEDNA | Smart Team Communication and Collaboration
If there’s one thing remote workers don’t need more of, it’s lengthy email threads. Your inbox is someone else’s to-do list for you—and in a distributed team setting, it can quickly fill up with demands. Even worse, important information can get drowned out by the deluge of low-value messages.
With the shift to remote work, email is still a core pillar of team communication. However, email management needs to evolve to meet the needs of remote teamwork. That’s where SEDNA’s smart team communication software comes in.
SEDNA offers a better way to organize remote team communication and collaboration by bringing together messages, data, and documentation to streamline conversations and workflows. You can leave comments on a project inside your inbox without creating a never-ending thread of forwards, edits, and feedback.
The result is a decrease in email volume with an emphasis on quality and clarity of team communication, rather than quantity. This optimized workflow is beneficial to all teams, but particularly those who work globally or remotely.
As Ardmore’s Commercial Project Manager Ha Eun Ruppelt explained, “SEDNA has given us that transparency, the wholeness of data, and the flexibility that you almost don’t think about when you’re in an office, but you definitely notice a lot more when you’re working remote.”
Since SEDNA keeps your data and records attached to the parent message, you don’t have to waste time scrolling or searching through your email to find a specific piece of information. This enables teams to manage communication and control email volume without sacrificing detail or continuity.
Distributed teams use SEDNA to sift through the noise (AKA their overflowing inboxes), streamline remote communication (minimize back and forth), and work more efficiently—which means cost, time, and revenue savings.
Remote Teamwork Makes the Modern Dream Work
The switch to distributed teams has reshaped the modern office as we know it. Now more than ever, teams need to invest in the tools and strategies that enable clear team communication and online collaboration.
To find out more about how SEDNA can help your team streamline communication and collaborative workflows across any distance, book a personalized demo to see our platform in action.