Building an Effective Remote Team Culture
No business could have anticipated a global pandemic and many were caught unprepared by the COVID-19 outbreak. Without a warning, organizations had to shift to remote operations, and support work-at-home employees. To keep business running as effectively as possible requires a combination of the right technology and the right leadership to create a sustainable remote team culture.
From Work-at-Home to Work-From-Anywhere
Before the coronavirus pandemic, working from home was the exception, not the rule. According to Pew Research, having a ’flexible workspace’ was a benefit reserved for senior managers. In 2019, only 7 percent of the workforce were teleworkers, which is about 9.8 million of the 140 million civilian employees in the United States. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that 37 percent of the U.S. workforce can perform their jobs from home, and with the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers estimate that 31 percent of those employed in early March 2020 were working from home by the first week of April. Gartner research also shows that 88 percent of organizations are encouraging work from home.
While the global pandemic has increased the number of teleworkers, it also has had an adverse effect on productivity. Some reports show that with 85 percent of the workforce out of the office, productivity has declined by 14 percent. On the contrary, tech companies like Google, Twitter, and Salesforce seem to have cracked remote working code and have extended their work-from-home policy till 2021.
Companies that are thriving with a remote workforce understand the knack to create a sustainable work-from-home culture that enables remote teamwork and promotes productivity.
Using Technology to Create a Remote Team Culture
When it comes to technology, conventional and commonly used office tools and techniques still need to catch up. In an online world, most companies continue to rely on face-to-face meetings, email communications, and sending file attachments for collaboration. Most companies have not tapped into the latest tools such as text, chat, social media, and wikis, and the like, even though consumers have been using these tools for decades.
Transforming any organization to support remote operations requires buy-in from all segments of the organization. Introducing new technologies and workflows only works when employees view these tools as resources that make their jobs easier.
If the tools are unnecessarily complicated or seem irrelevant, workers will turn back to the conventional approaches and workarounds. This is especially true with a remote work culture, where home workers have a plethora of apps and personal technology tools at their fingertips; technology that is not sanctioned or controlled by the IT department.
To promote remote team collaboration and productivity, companies need to adopt tools that workers already understand and are comfortable using. They already communicate quite effectively with friends, family, and others using smartphone apps and online services. Those same tools can form the foundation for a remote work culture.
Creating a Collaborative Remote Team
When building a sustainable remote team culture, consider how your team members communicate with each other, both while at work and at home. How do they interact and collaborate?
You may notice some hindrance due to the lack of a comprehensive platform.
In order to bring in efficiency, there is a need to create a digital workplace that encourages collaboration and communications using voice, video, messaging, an employee portal, and a shared virtual workspace.
This digital workspace should also encourage centralized project management, file sharing, time tracking, and related functions to boost employee engagement. Furthermore, it will also help if the system integrates departments, connecting legal, payroll, HR, and so on with shared processes and data. Of course, the digital workplace you choose should be readily available across devices, whether it’s a laptop, smartphone, or tablet.
Even with the right technology in place, it still takes leadership to build a remote team culture starting with understanding the needs of your people. Successful remote teams require:
- Empathy – Working at home can be isolating, and it’s easy to be distracted. It also can be difficult to stay motivated when working from home. There also may be technical issues, such as lack of reliable Wi-Fi. Consider the challenges facing remote workers when choosing a digital workspace.
- Transparency – To overcome isolation, make remote workers feel part of the team. Real-time messaging and providing access to things like a virtual water cooler can help workers connected. It also helps to keep the virtual workspace fun as well as open, just as you do with your favorite social media space.
- Accessibility – Even though open communication is important, it is also vital to to manage accessibility. Use calendaring tools and notification settings to create healthy personal boundaries and manage interruptions so your team can take control of their time and their productivity.
Using a centralized communications platform promotes transparency and accessibility, which makes your virtual workspace feel inclusive. In addition to promoting productivity, it also builds confidence and promotes trust.
Above all, leaders must lead by example to encourage adoption. Managers need to use the tools themselves. They also should plan on frequent check-ins and ensure team members are using the tools provided. It’s management’s responsibility to:
- Develop a hierarchy of communication
- Establish a strategy with IT to make tools and files securely accessible
- Conduct daily team sync-up meetings, ideally using video conferencing
- Monitor tasks to assess productivity and identify weaknesses that need to be addressed
To encourage team members, call out the early adopters and those who have found new ways to take advantage of the virtual work environment. Use these innovators as role models and enlist them as evangelists to help others.
Having the right tools to sustain a collaborative remote team is a good place to start but remember that it’s people who create the work culture. Help your remote team use the tools you provide, just as they communicate using their personal devices. If you put the needs of the team first, then it will become obvious how to apply the right technology.
If you are interested in learning more about building a remote team, be sure to check out our on-demand webinar, Leading Crisis Times: Keeping Your Remote Workforce Connected and Productive.