There will always be occasions when you find yourself sighing at the realisation that modern technology has slowly but surely crept evermore permanently into your home life. Battling with a teenager who actually thinks they may die if their phone doesn’t join the family for dinner? Tick. Desperately trying to remember your Amazon password while ranting to a sea of blank expressions about the virtues of ‘bringing back Blockbuster’? Check. Or, worse still, getting taught in a few simple swipes how to access unlimited episodes of Peppa Pig by your three-year-old. Guilty.
Even the most technologically savvy amongst us can get frustrated at home (and I’m pretty sure we did before smartphones too), but what of the workplace? Thanks to the rapid development of modern tech, working environments are shifting in terms of structure and accelerating with regard to productivity faster than ever before. As anyone who’s ever worked in a call centre can likely testify, there’s little creativity or connectivity roused from being cut off from fellow employees in separate cubicles like animals on a farm, and resultantly, remote working is on the rise.
Today’s office is a far more inclusive model with a far larger talent pool. One that recognises parents that need to work around the school run; one that recognises that disability doesn’t equal inability; and one that recognises that a ‘team’ can be comprised of people that live as close to each other as the same town, or as far from one another as the other side of the world. As of 2019, statistics show that the number of companies with remote workforces is on an upward surge with 16 per cent now being fully remote and a considerable 66 per cent allowing remote work to employees that request it.
Rising popularity aside, the notion of remote working is still very much in its infancy, so businesses across the globe – like us, who are fully remote and so don’t get to physically see each other very often – are still working out how to create and maintain a positive, healthy and productive work culture. No two businesses are the same, so there’s no one-size-fits-all plan you can follow to make sure everything’s ticking along with a spring in its step, but we’ve got some ideas about what to do to keep motivation high and the lines of communication open.
Just a quick Google search will show you pretty glaringly that the single biggest perceived con of having a remote team is lack of communication. Whether face to face, phone to phone, or screen to screen however, not everyone’s a great communicator – it’s a skill that needs to be nurtured, and there are lots of simple things you can do both as an individual and as a team to get the communication ball rolling.
Though it may strike fear into your very soul and immediately take you back to the sweaty palmed apprehension you felt before stepping up in front of your class to do a school presentation, if you’re a new starter, introducing who you are, what you do and a few personal details about yourself to the rest of your colleagues is a brilliant icebreaker. It’s the done thing in larger, open-plan offices, so why ignore it for remote workers? Before you know it, this one-minute opener becomes a gateway for getting to grips with people’s names, scheduling one-on-one meetings and training sessions, and even working out how people take their tea and coffee although, hallelujah, you’ll likely never have to make it. Besides getting to know everyone better on a personal level, immediate introductions quickly establish who is responsible for what within the team too.
Open communication is another inter-team aspect to work on – and the difference here is as much about firming up your understanding of the company’s culture as it is promoting transparency and contribution from all employees. How you outline your company culture can be as concise as a list of words and values or as detailed as a lengthy document; either way, what it must do is clearly demonstrate the personality of the company with regard to working environment, mission, values, ethics, expectations and future goals.
In our opinion, the clearer and more detailed the document, the less room for misunderstanding – some companies have a team-based culture with participation expected and welcomed from employees at all levels, others have a more traditional ‘top-down’ management style, and some, like Google who are known for their casual culture, have very few rules and regulations. If an employee knows they fit in with their company’s culture and is happy and productive working in that style, they’re more likely to get more out of their time at work – a hugely important factor for remote workers especially, who can’t just lean back on their chair to double-check something is OK with their closest colleague.
How you communicate and when is another crucial crease to iron out as soon as possible. Taking face-to-face chat out of the equation allows remote workers to communicate with their colleagues a fair few ways – email, phone call, text, video chat, group chat, direct chat – and establishing which channels are to be used for which purpose puts everyone at ease, actively encouraging more communication too.
‘Good morning everyone’ and ‘night, have a great evening!’ are a natural way to open and close the day via group chat on whatever internal messaging system you choose (we like Google Hangouts) and casual discussion about food, mainly – and of course the weather – is standard office natter for the group, but questions about work that only concern you and one other team member should be saved for direct chat messages, file sharing taken care of by your chosen file storage and synchronisation service, and anything #superserious – legal, confidential, HR – for email. Have all of these open during the hours that you’re expected at work and everyone’s always in the loop.
Never underestimate the importance of a regular team huddle – a virtual group hug, a weekly get together, a thrashing out of hopes and dreams – call it what you will, but a mandatory meeting via video conference on the same day and at the same time each week is the glue that binds the collective positivity of a remote workforce. The closest you’ll get to a chat over coffee, it’s not just a brilliant way to talk about what everyone is working on and discuss any decisions that may affect the whole team, but it also reiterates the importance of open communication. Reactions, facial expressions and humour are effective body language tools and people observe body language almost as much as they listen to words being said; recognise what makes people tick and you’re already building a close-knit system of support – whether remote or not.