Drawing from my 20 years of experience managing remote teams, I’ve compiled a set of strategies that have proven effective in enhancing productivity and fostering a sense of community within remote work environments. This document presents these insights, offering advice to managers on everything from the power of shared meals in building interpersonal relationships, to the effective use of communication tools, to the innovative concept of collaborative whiteboarding across the miles. Each strategy has been tried and tested in real-world remote team management, and each plays a pivotal role in shaping a successful remote work environment. However, it’s important to remember that while these strategies can significantly bridge the gap between remote and in-office work, they are not a complete substitute for in-person collaboration..
Breaking bread together has been a fundamental part of building interpersonal relationships across all cultures and throughout history. It’s a tradition that transcends geographical boundaries and cultural differences, fostering a sense of community and camaraderie.
Company leaders can leverage this universal custom by organizing in-person dinners with their people. These should not be business meetings disguised as social gatherings, but genuine opportunities for people to connect on a personal level. The conversation needs to be steered away from work-related topics to focus instead on the individuals themselves – their interests, hobbies, and life experiences.
This approach serves a dual purpose. Firstly, it allows team members to get to know each other beyond their professional roles. Sharing a meal in the same physical space can lead to a deeper understanding and stronger relationships. The shared laughter, stories, and experiences over a meal can often create bonds that virtual meetings cannot. Secondly, it sends a powerful message about the company’s culture and values. It shows that the organization cares about its employees as individuals, not just as contributors to the bottom line. This can boost morale, increase job satisfaction, and ultimately, improve productivity.
In a remote work environment, where physical distance can sometimes translate into emotional distance, these in-person gatherings can be a lifeline. They can help maintain a sense of belonging and connection, which is crucial for the overall success of the remote work model. Despite the convenience of digital communication, there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction.
Death by a Thousand Cuts….
Slack is a critical tool for remote work, enabling team communication and collaboration. However, it often leads to a productivity issue known as “death by a thousand cuts.” This issue arises from the constant stream of notifications and messages, many of which involve individuals who don’t necessarily need to be part of the conversation. These frequent interruptions disrupt focus and workflow, hindering productivity.
To address this, companies should encourage employees to be more selective when including participants in Slack conversations. Only those who can provide meaningful input should be involved. Once the conversation is complete, a summary or key points can be posted to the relevant parties. This approach reduces unnecessary interruptions and enhances productivity by ensuring that only the necessary individuals are involved in each conversation.
Additionally, companies should provide guidance on what issues should be addressed via Slack and which ones warrant a phone call. Often, matters that could be resolved with a quick phone call turn into lengthy Slack threads, causing employees to constantly stop and start work. By distinguishing between the types of communication suitable for Slack and those better suited for a phone call, companies can further improve productivity and efficiency.
Finally, a structured approach for company-wide announcements should be implemented. Instead of sending sporadic updates throughout the day, a once-daily announcement at a designated time should be encouraged. This can help consolidate important updates and reduce the frequency of company-wide messages. A muted channel can be created for comments or questions related to the announcement, preventing employees from spending excessive time reading and responding to every comment.
By implementing these strategies, companies can mitigate the “death by a thousand cuts” issue. This not only creates a more focused work environment but also enhances overall productivity.
Tracking is Not Spying…Just Good Business
In a traditional office environment, it is relatively easier to gauge the working hours of employees. You can see them in the hallways, at their desks, taking breaks, and have a general sense of their presence and availability. However, in remote or work-from-home situations, this visibility is lost, making it challenging to ascertain when employees are working and how many hours they are dedicating to their tasks. While this arrangement may function in many cases, it does give rise to two significant and unfavorable scenarios.
Scenario 1 involves an employee taking on a second job, seeking additional income. Unfortunately, Murphy’s Law tends to come into play, leading to a situation where you need that person to contribute more hours simultaneously with their other job, and for some reason, they prioritize the other opportunity (perhaps due to higher pay or better hours). Consequently, your business suffers, facing a shortage of essential resources.
Scenario 2 presents a scenario where an employee is working an excessive 80-hour workweek without disclosing this information to you. From your perspective, this employee may appear extraordinarily efficient, but in reality, they are overworked and stretched beyond their limits. When the time comes for them to contribute additional efforts, they may be unable to meet the demands, potentially leading to their departure precisely when their contribution is most crucial.
Both scenarios are undesirable, but they can be mitigated by implementing proper tracking software on employee computers. This software allows you to monitor work hours, ensuring that employees are neither underworked nor overworked. With this insight, you can manage resources more effectively and make informed decisions. However, it is essential to emphasize that tracking software should be used as a tool for employee management rather than as a means of micromanagement or punishment. Its purpose is to support your understanding of employee workload and enable better resource allocation.
You Can’t Make a Digital Shout
Effective communication is essential in any workplace, and it’s important to recognize the limitations of written communication, such as emails and Slack messages, when it comes to conveying emotions. Unlike face-to-face interactions, written messages lack the nuances of tone, body language, and facial expressions that help convey emotions accurately and can often lead to misunderstandings and interpersonal conflicts.
To mitigate such issues, it is crucial to train employees to refrain from attempting to convey complex emotions solely through written communication. Instead, encourage them to opt for more appropriate methods, such as in-person meetings or phone calls, when discussing sensitive or emotionally charged matters. These direct forms of communication allow for better understanding, the ability to ask clarifying questions, and the opportunity to address concerns in a more empathetic and collaborative manner.
By promoting the use of face-to-face or voice-to-voice communication for interpersonal issues, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of misinterpretations and conflicts that may arise from relying solely on written messages. It’s important to foster a culture that values open dialogue and encourages employees to seek direct conversations when dealing with sensitive topics. This approach leads to better communication, stronger relationships, and a more positive and productive work environment overall.
Paying for Lunch And an Empty Coffee Bar
In traditional office settings, spontaneous interactions like casual chats at the coffee bar or impromptu lunch plans often foster strong interpersonal relationships. However, these opportunities are largely absent in remote work environments, potentially leading to a sense of isolation and hindering relationship building.
To counteract this, companies can take proactive steps. One effective strategy is to encourage remote employees to meet in person by offering to cover the cost of a meal once a week or once a month. This isn’t just about providing a free meal, but about creating an opportunity for employees to connect outside of the usual work context. Actively encourage these meetups and streamline the process for expense claims to foster a culture where these gatherings are seen as integral to the company’s operations.
Additionally, company leaders or supervisors should consider adopting a practice of making sporadic weekly calls to their employees. These calls should be about connecting on a personal level, not discussing work-related matters. By reaching out and demonstrating care for their well-being, leaders can foster a sense of trust and support within the remote team, bridging the gap left by the absence of spontaneous in-person interactions.
These strategies can be instrumental in fostering a sense of camaraderie and mutual understanding among remote employees. They provide opportunities for employees to get to know each other on a personal level, enhancing team cohesion and collaboration. In the long run, these strong interpersonal relationships can contribute to a more productive and harmonious work environment, crucial for the success of the remote work model.
Whiteboarding Across the Miles
In the realm of remote work, collaborative whiteboarding presents a unique challenge. However, with the right tools and technology, we can bridge this gap and foster effective collaboration across the miles. The solution lies in equipping home offices with touch screen monitors or tablets, and offices with touch screen TVs, and pairing these with robust whiteboarding software.
Touch screen monitors or tablets for home offices can range from $100 to $500 depending on the size, while touch screen TVs for offices can cost between $500 and $1,500. These tools, when paired with collaborative software like Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Whiteboard, Zoom’s Whiteboarding feature, or Google Meet with Jamboard, allow everyone to participate in whiteboarding sessions, regardless of their location.
These software solutions offer a range of features that facilitate real-time collaboration, from drawing and writing tools to sticky notes and image uploads. They allow teams to visually share and develop ideas in real-time, fostering creativity and teamwork in the remote work environment.
While this setup may not fully replicate the experience of in-person whiteboarding, it does provide a platform for collaborative brainstorming and problem-solving. This approach enables teams to visually share and develop ideas in real-time, fostering creativity and teamwork in the remote work environment.
The strategies outlined in this document, from shared meals to effective communication tools and collaborative whiteboarding, are key to enhancing productivity and fostering community in remote work settings. However, they are not a complete substitute for in-person collaboration. As we navigate the remote work landscape, a balanced approach that combines these strategies with the unique dynamics of face-to-face interactions is essential.