Over the last five years, remote work has grown by 44%. Unsurprisingly, it has surged after the COVID-19 pandemic. Following national lockdowns and the adoption of new norms like social distancing, even companies that didn’t typically support or encourage telecommuting had no choice but to join the hordes of others who did. Now, in 2021, 16% of companies worldwide are fully remote. Moreover, 85% of managers believe that remote teams will become the established norm in the future.
Clearly, remote work is part and parcel of the new normal, and organizations should accept this reality. And yet, many struggled with the shift.
Initially, this was due to concerns about worker productivity. But today 77% of remote workers say they’re more productive when they’re working from home. It would seem that companies can lay this particular ghost to rest.
Another reason for resistance is that leaders and managers believe that remote work can negatively impact workplace engagement and motivation. They worry about the difficulty in establishing a cohesive and consistent culture. At the functional level, concerns remain about the difficulty of collaboration, communication, and employee ownership to drive creativity, morale, and satisfaction when employees are largely remote.
Many leaders believe that remote workers cannot form truly connected, unified teams that benefit the company. Fortunately, this particular worry is proving unfounded because it is possible to get remote employees to bond with each other and work effectively together with common goals, objectives, and values.
The secret: use of technology, but wisely.
By leveraging the power of technology and by adopting some best practices, the company leadership can bring people together, and transform them into high-performing, cohesive teams.
1. Pick the Right Technology
Companies can now use remote technology to attract, hire and retain the best talent, manage projects, track employees’ schedules, connect with their teams, conduct virtual meetings, and more.
However, technology can also hamper employee productivity and lead to frustration and burnout. It can further weaken the bonds between individuals and eventually affect the company’s output and profitability — making the otherwise unfounded beliefs elucidated above all the more valid.
- It’s important to pick the right technology from the ever-expanding technology ocean.
- It’s vital to explain the benefits of new tools to employees from the perspective of “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM).
- It’s essential to always get employee buy-in before deploying any new technology to address any resistance early and ensure that they’re on board from the start.
2. Make Digital Meetings Interactive and Fun
In the new remote world, digital meetings through Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other tools have become extremely common, allowing organizations to bring people together virtually to share ideas, discuss progress, and find solutions to business challenges.
And yet, such tools can also cause harm. Employees may consider such meetings as a waste of time and make excuses not to attend them. They can get distracted and tune out from such meetings. It’s also harder to create a communal atmosphere with digital meetings. Ultimately, such meetings may lead to “zoom fatigue” that ends up alienating workers from their job, the company, and even from their colleagues.
Companies can prevent zoom fatigue and make virtual meetings more effective by adding interactivity and fun to each meeting. Visuals, polls, and gamification can boost participation and encourage multi-way communications. They can get remote employees to connect and bond with each other and find common ground. As such, a fun ice-breaker or warm-up exercise at the start of meetings can set the right tone and ensure that everyone is engaged and involved from the very beginning.
3. Provide Communication and Social Support
In office environments, employees can easily communicate with each other by simply walking a few steps to someone’s workstation. This is not an option with remote work, especially when teams work in different geographies and across different time zones. In one study, 40% of people said that collaboration, communication, and loneliness were the biggest challenges of remote work, leading to alienation, disconnects between colleagues, and even misunderstandings and conflicts.
To avoid such issues and strengthen interpersonal connections between remote workers; team managers:
- Must establish a formal communication plan
- Must specify which communication channels employees can use and the best ways to use them.
- Must clarify whom to contact in case of emergencies.
It’s also crucial to set up regular virtual meetings where people can catch up, talk about challenges, share best practices and knowledge, and celebrate wins. Ongoing check-ins can help keep everyone in the loop and reveal red flags that may indicate problems related to productivity, efficiency, miscommunications, disengagement, and burnout.
Non-work-related communication such as virtual games, parties, lunches, competitions, and even “happy hours” can further boost engagement, foster team spirit, and make people feel appreciated and connected.
Another great way to bring people closer is via dedicated chat rooms where employees can have non-work-related discussions about life, family, children, hobbies, etc. Companies can also provide one-on-one support through “virtual drive-bys” or employee mental health hotlines to encourage them to share their remote work struggles and create a sense of belonging — vividly manifesting that “we are all in this together.”
By 2028, 73% of all departments are expected to have remote workers. Clearly, remote work is here to stay. By adopting this new work model, organizations can maintain business continuity and remain competitive and profitable in the new normal.
But these benefits notwithstanding, remote work can also lead to virtual fatigue, create disengaged employees, and affect team spirit and bonding. Fortunately, organizations can eliminate these challenges by using technology and using it right.
Further, by keeping communication lines open, offering social support, and encouraging one-on-one connections, they can create cohesive, high-performing teams that successfully guide the company into a brighter future. The digital world need not be any less effective than the real one.