While the debate rages on about when we’ll truly be in the “post” pandemic world, few paradigm shifts have emerged that are more clear and obvious than the push toward remote workforces. Not only does working remotely make sense to keep teams safe in times of uncertainty, but it’s decreasing the number of vehicles on the road, adding new layers of flexibility to the workplace, and increasing employees’ quality of life across the board.
Upwork estimates around a quarter of all Americans will still be working remotely through the end of 2021, and by 2025 approximately 36.2 million Americans will be working remotely. And though the benefits outweigh the negatives for a large number of the workforce, there are still problems that arise for those choosing the hybrid office experience.
In this blog, we’ll examine five important ways to decrease friction and help make your remote employees feel engaged:
- Recruiting the right people
- Working in teams together
- Solving disagreements
- Building a positive remote culture
- Constructing the best possible hybrid workplace
Recruiting the right people
In today’s remote workplace, many employees that have joined new teams have never met their coworkers in person before – and many never will. This means recruiting and retaining the right kinds of workers for your business is as important as ever. According to one study, many HR professionals already plan on continuing their digital hiring practices into the future. Mostly, this approach minimizes the cost and commitment for low-income job seekers, but also provides ample opportunities for departments to take into account many different experiences, backgrounds, and expectations these new team members bring.
Proper recruitment is doubly important for leaders and managers, who must react and coach their teams in entirely new ways. Rather than observing body language and other subtle clues during in-person work functions, team leaders must now also commit to sharing their workday and actively listening to their team members about their own work, which should lead to fully understanding the needs of their team. Without a true partnership between managers and their employees, top leaders’ talk about partnering with employees even from afar is just that – talk.
Working in teams together
It’s not hard to imagine, but working separately (ala remote working) makes teammates feel distant from each other. Maybe your team is locally remote, meaning you're in close proximity but you don’t have a designated workplace. Or, more likely, your group is flung across the reaches of the state, region, country, or even the world. Regardless of where they call home, working together and having clearly defined access to each member of the team is critical, but not always the easiest when the rest of the group is behind a computer screen.
For remote teams, the days of glancing around the room to see who needs help are over. The subtle cues from team members that kept so many of us engaged have become rectangles on a screen a couple of times per week.
But in the technology that is keeping us connected lies answers beyond just marking ourselves “available” to chat. Regular check-ins between managers and their teams, both in groups and one-on-one, ensure your group is always anticipating real connections throughout their workday and week. Additionally, talk with your team about the specific ways they feel disconnected and, you know, actually act on what they say!
Creating a harmonious environment for peers
Conflict is shared in groups. When two people disagree, for whatever reason it may be, sides are taken as rumors and stories emanate from the responsible parties. We’re not here for that kind of drama, and you shouldn’t be either – but how do you keep your team working hard for each other when there is little-to-no in-person collaboration?
Research has shown that virtual work makes us at least twice as likely to assume our digital peers are incompetent, lack trustworthiness, engage in poor decision-making, and fail to meet deadlines versus those who are located onsite, working in person.
Regardless of the problem within the group, making a conscious effort to shift your approach from who harmed who and punishing those responsible to assuming positive intent can make a huge difference in turning a poor workplace interaction into a positive one. Not only does this help mitigate conflict, but it also aids in bringing those working together closer.
Building a positive remote culture
Making your remote employees feel more engaged starts and finishes with the understanding that the hybrid work experience requires a steadfast commitment to building positive remote culture. It’s true that the push to remote work has led to an increase in productivity, just ask Microsoft. At the same time, nearly half of those employees reported working longer hours while just under 10% reported working fewer from home. A global survey found 54% of workers felt overworked and 39% felt exhausted.
Hybrid Paradox (n) – The idea that, while people miss many things about working from an office, the idea of losing the flexibility of remote work is equally as scary. Defined by Microsoft Chairman and CEO Satya Nadella.
Workers were instructed to work from their own homes but were never trained on industry best practices for maximizing productivity and security, leaving a deep valley between employees and the new technology now required for their professions. A paper in Nature Human Behavior found that our workgroups are becoming more closed-off, presenting risks to workplace innovation, knowledge transfer, and productivity.
To fend off the hybrid paradox and build positive remote workplace culture, it’s critical your organization remains inclusive and as organized as possible. Ensure your team has features in place during video calls for using gestures (for introverts like this writer) within meetings and assign moderators to meetings to keep your groups on task and productive. Ask your management to allocate time and energy to getting your organization up and running on Microsoft Teams, allowing each member of your group the necessary and proper training to be included in the digital workplace you’ve created.
Remember: Whatever works for you and your team is right. Seriously. Talk to them. Break down some barriers!
Constructing the best possible digital workplace
Whether your organization can justify the expense of furnishing everyone’s home offices entirely or offer stipends to help offset the costs for overall digital conferencing, there is a clear relationship between your team’s ability to feel connected and their immediate working surroundings, whether that’s at home or in the office.
In the hybrid work world, each person’s home environment plays a striking role in their output. People in small, shared spaces tend to be more stressed and produce worse work than those in dedicated home offices. Additionally, hybrid workplaces without dedicated video conferences solutions both in and outside of the office put themselves at risk of massive production delays.
It’s critical for true engagement that anyone who wants to join a meeting has the same amount of opportunity to participate, whether that means the infrastructure or ability to communicate. Making your home and in-person offices connected means more than just video solutions, but additionally requires sound solutions that keep everyone in the room connected. Smart systems, like virtual whiteboards and smart camera systems, also integrate advanced technology that allows your team to work together better than ever.
Taking into account the fight for Wi-Fi bandwidth (59% of Microsoft employees reported using their phones as hotspots to avoid connection disruptions) and the fact that 85% of women and 70% men caregiver roles found working during the pandemic was more difficult, it can feel like a decline in productivity can be inevitable, but if you use the practices outlined in this blog, productivity can actually increase over time.
Whether or not you feel you’re doing everything you can for your employees, there is probably some room to expand your abilities to make your remote employees feel more engaged. When you recruit the right people and place them in digitally savvy teams together, your managers will be able to solve disagreements and build a positive remote culture with advanced connectivity tools that make your team an unstoppable force of nature.
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