Favour for remote work took a bit of a hit this year when technology giant IBM, which in the 80s had pioneered the very concept, called thousands of its employees back to the office. In explaining the move, chief marketing officer Michelle Peluso said that the business was hoping to find success in the right combination of talent, tools, and “really creative and inspiring locations”.
All about that base
Indeed the common workspace has become cool again. Forbes has predicted that in the coming year, more leaders and business owners would encourage more human interaction and design their offices to facilitate stronger interpersonal relationships between employees. In addition, TechnoBuffalo also expects the use of co-working and shared entrepreneurial sites to become one of the remote working trends of 2018. There is no denying that with the right conditions, face-to-face interaction between employees can promote better work relationships, idea sharing, and productivity.
So then, in an era where workers increasingly demand more flexibility and space in their professional lives, how do companies keep productivity and innovation levels high while retaining the best talent? We thought we might be in a suitable position to offer some golden advice, given that we have at least five colleagues working remotely at any given time.
#1 Get good at communicating
Granted, all teams that work remotely or in common spaces should always have great communicators, but having colleagues in different workspaces and/or time zones makes that even more important. Scheduling weekly/fortnightly meetings and running them consistently will help everyone get comfortable and familiar with each other. Engaging in friendly banter after meetings have ended (“Have you all seen Star Wars?”) might also make opening up a little easier.
Individual team members should not forget to connect on a personal level. This could happen in the form of lunch meetings every once in a while, or a quick one-to-one video/voice call. Meetings aside, a team that communicates well is one that listens with patience and empathy, and speaks with honesty and clarity. Needless to say this will be a constant work in progress, and it is up to team members to initiate dialogue and strive for a workplace where everyone has a voice.
#2 Use the right tools
Remote working in its present form would never have existed without the myriad software made for team collaboration today. Most of these tools are affordably priced and can accommodate smaller sized teams that have the potential to expand. Here’s a(non-exhaustive) list of some that we’ve found really useful:
Slack is a workplace messaging platform that allows teams to communicate without the formality of email and the overly casual air of texting. It’s also a convenient way of sending files or large chunks of text and media to departments or individual colleagues very quickly. The name has been given informal verb status by some of us at Talenox HQ—“I’ve slacked you the images for next month’s event.” Slack was recently included in the Singapore Startup Stack list, which ahem, we were also voted into.
Basecamp is a web-based project management tool that allows team members to assign tasks, make to-do lists, and record company milestones, among many other functions. It’s useful for tracking your team’s progress, as well as for storing important documents and files that members may need to refer to from time to time.
Google’s G Suite is a comprehensive cloud collaboration tool that includes Google Drive for storage, Google Docs for creating and editing documents concurrently with team mates, Google Calendar for recording important meetings and staff leave, and of course, the ever-reliable Gmail. For teleconferencing, we’ve found Google Hangouts does the job just fine—team members simply have to call in through a common link and the screen automatically switches to the team member that’s doing the talking. Its Share Screen function has proved to be indispensable in making presentations and conveying ideas that much better.
#3 Shared understanding of the company’s goals and vision
With regular or long-term distance between team members, it’s easy to retreat into one’s shell and lose sight of the bigger picture. This can result in unaligned goals and differing levels in the quality of work produced. While there is no such thing as the perfect synergy in a team of people, it would be lackadaisical not to at least revisit the company’s raison d’être from time to time and to reinforce clear workflow and processes. This ensures that everyone’s efforts go into fulfilling shared goals and that individual team members know clearly the roles they play.
#4 Trust and Accountability
This cannot be overstated. Of the many gambles that teams take when they adopt a remote work policy, the biggest would be the threat of disappearing acts—that one colleague who misses deadline after deadline, or is nowhere to be found when a work update is required. Ultimately this is a matter of culture fit in the workplace. Different people work and interact with others in different ways. But one of the trade-offs of having the flexibility and autonomy to work remotely is complete accountability and professionalism. Conversely, micromanaging team members and asking for an inappropriate amount of check-ins and updates will stifle the team and drain the energy out of it. So finding the right balance is key here.
The success of a remote work policy varies from company to company, and one should take into consideration team size and nature of work, among other factors. However, as more businesses adopt this style of work, regardless of whether the team is big or small, or whatever the nature of the work is, we suspect they will have to go down the same route of self-discovery that we did. Which is to find the most ideal combination of hardware (tools, workflow, processes) and heartware (people). And when they do, as we did, they’ll find it was worth it in the end.
Got your own remote work success (or horror) story? We’d like to hear it! Tell us in the comments section below, or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.