Despite the predictions that after COVID-19 everyone will go to complete remote work, many companies want to see their employees back in their offices as soon as possible.
Physical offices are not going anywhere. Many are trying a hybrid approach, the middle ground between office and remote work, with employees working from home and occasionally visiting the office. There are companies that have been working remotely for many years. For example, Basecamp has released a book called Remote, about the culture of remote work.
The pandemic also included those for whom the pandemic changed work processes for the better. However, even at the initial stage it was not easy for them to adapt offline processes for many employees from different countries and time zones.
Why do you need remote work
The benefits of remote work are found by both sides: both the employee and the employers. Employees gain freedom and flexibility, and companies have the opportunity to attract new professionals from anywhere in the world or those who like to travel constantly. In a remote work environment, a company scales faster: having mini-offices in many cities is easier than gathering the entire staff in a multi-storey office in one city.
Office work processes can be roughly divided into two parts: short periods of direct collaboration between people: meetings, negotiations, brainstorming sessions, and longer periods of study, reflection and design. Many people find that they are more likely to be in a productive flow state when working from home. Everyone creates their own environment that helps them concentrate and do better work in less time. It is often beneficial for developers to work remotely, which means fewer distractions for them. Also, remote work allows employees to avoid daily trips to the office, which saves time and their lives from the difficulties of moving in a metropolis: traffic jams, parking lots and fines.
The fact that an office exists does not mean that people have to work in it all the time.
Of course, offices matter, but not so much as happy and productive employees. If the team has a low level of socialization and empathy for each other, their constant presence in the office will not help to achieve success. The best metric for increasing team effectiveness is employee productivity, not the amount of time they spend in the office.
Remote team problems
During the pandemic most imagined remote work as a simple transfer of meetings to Zoom, thinking that this was only a temporary format. This approach naturally made remote work more inconvenient than in the office.
The work of a remote team where all employees are located in different cities and countries, is different from working from home, and even more so from being forced to work from home during a pandemic. To succeed in a remote work environment, you need to rebuild the processes within the team: determine the rules of communication, create a documentation center and have a proper rest, dividing personal and work space.
The most common and difficult problem is building communication within the team. Communication, as a rule takes, place in different chats, emails, comments in task managers or on calls. Written messages reduce the non-verbal cues we read in face-to-face communication. Even video calls can hide small details of facial expressions or intonation.
Without the habit of constantly monitoring signals in instant messengers, employees may feel alienated from the team. In the office, important information about business was often obtained in informal ways: in conversations at the cooler or at coffee meetings. When working remotely from home, many do not feel like part of a team.
Another important issue is that when working remotely, it is difficult to understand the boundaries of the working day. People run the risk of working late into the night or never starting the day due to the lack of the right environment.
How to get remote work back on track
For successful interaction within a remote team, remote work must be built into the structure of the company. All communications and communication tools must comply with the principles of remote work.
The larger the team, the more difficult it is to establish connections within it. Making a call for more than 20 people is an almost impossible task. Ineffective ways of communicating only burden employees and steal company time.
To make remote team communication more efficient, try the Asynchronous Communication Toolkit. Most likely, you will have to use several tools, there is no single application that will satisfy all needs. Instead of calls - video messages that will not require you to be distracted at a certain time from your tasks. Brainstorming sessions that take hours of discussion can be replaced with interactive whiteboards where each participant can save their notes for others. Smart bots in modern messengers are capable of taking responsibility for people who are not there.
Another big challenge when working with a remote team is storing files and documentation. Files can be mixed up or be without description, this leads to a general misunderstanding. In a team, everyone should know where and how to communicate, exchange tasks and files. The documentation should always be in plain sight so that beginners can refer to it without outside help.
You also need to build uniform expectations among the entire team regarding how long it takes to respond to a letter or a personal message in the chat; what time each participant is available, what services to use for file sharing. These general guidelines will increase overall team productivity and reduce communication stress.
In addition to work topics, remote work should have a place to relax. Employees should encourage each other to talk about their hobbies. People will find more common ground if they have 'rooms of interest': talking about music, streaming films together, and showing photos outside the window from different cities will be a good way to build rapport and the lifeblood of remote teamwork.
To determine if the work is well aligned, the remote team should do a retrospective from time to time. Regular anonymous surveys will help to find out how satisfied employees are with the state of affairs, what ideas they have for improving processes, and what the manager should pay attention to.