Remote operations have become a familiar feature of our digital landscape. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic made distance work a necessity, many businesses were discovering the benefits of teams that operate primarily online. Not only can it cut overhead, but it also provides access to a more diverse talent pool.
However, business leaders and managers are also left with something of a dilemma. The office environment and the presence of close-knit teams often innately inspires efficiency and productivity. In remote circumstances, there is no guarantee that employees have access to the motivation that tends to keep workers engaged while in-house.
So what can managers do to help balance both the advantages of remote work while maintaining high efficiency? We’re going to look at some key areas of focus that can help to keep business leaders and employees on the same page wherever in the world they are working.
One of the advantages of the office environment is a sense of structure. Offices generally have a visible sense of organization, with clearly defined departments and desks are often positioned to highlight employee hierarchy. There’s also clarity that tasks need to be completed within that 9-5 period. While the flexibility of remote working can certainly spur innovation, some workers find that working from home results in a blurring of these boundaries. As a result, business leaders should place focus on implementing time management strategies.
Nobody likes to be micromanaged. One of the reasons remote working can be so successful is that employees feel as though they have some breathing room in which to do their best work. Some businesses that have been forced to switch to remote due to COVID-19 have struggled with this idea. Managers have overcompensated for the lack of office visibility with elements of micromanaging. It’s a vital hurdle that leaders must overcome to reap the benefits of remote teams. By stepping back, and allowing their team to have a little freedom in their activities, they’re also providing them space to innovate.
In some circumstances, time tracking software can be a motivator for improving efficiency. Some project management software, such as Teamwork and Hive, have integrated tracking alongside other project tools, allowing employees to easily track individual tasks as they work on them. However, it’s equally important when implementing such tools to make it clear to employees what the benefits of tracking are. Demonstrate how boosting productivity can improve their own working practices and affect any bonuses the company offers. There should be a culture of equality here too. Managers should be using tracking for their own tasks, and being transparent with the results.
Planning and Analysis
One of the most effective ways to improve efficiency in any workplace is through ongoing project planning. This can help to not only ensure tasks get completed on time but keep everyone in the loop on progress.
Planning and implementation for projects should include:
- Full team involvement. You have employed people who you consider capable in their field — it only makes sense to include them in project planning. At the beginning of a project, bring everyone together in a video call to lay out the needs and goals of the project. Seek employee input and agreement on progress, timelines, and roles. Start together so that you can move forward together.
- Addressing challenges. There are always going to be challenges that are not only specific to the project but also remote working in general. Voice these during the planning stage, and begin an open dialogue with employees about what others may arise, and how these are to be addressed when they do.
- Using remote project tools. Using technology that is designed specifically for remote projects can help to improve the employee experience. Introduce tools such as Asana and Trello, which allow all employees to see exactly how the project is progressing, and how their individual elements are contributing to its success. This helps to both give a sense of ownership over their tasks and reinforces the responsibility they have to the team.
Collaboration and Team Dynamics
By its nature, working from home doesn’t naturally lend itself to leaning on the benefits of a cohesive team. However, understanding the basics of team dynamics and how they can be implemented across workspaces is key to efficient and successful operations. It also helps capitalize on the benefits that a diverse team from across the country or the globe can bring.
This starts with gaining a better understanding of how your team functions. Provide online opportunities to facilitate the phases of team performance, which can both give you insights into your employees, and provide a framework for making their working relationships more effective. Where there are conflicts, enact the storming phase by bringing them into group meetings, and identify the root causes. This can provide a forum to work through those conflicts, or for managers to address them with team members directly. Implementing strategies to overcome these conflicts that could mitigate such obstacles to efficiency.
Remote working can often be an isolating existence. Some workers choose remote roles because they prefer to fly solo. However, many adopt it by necessity; they may find loneliness detrimental to their working practices. On a basic level, this can be addressed by keeping teams connected by messaging services such as Slack or Google Teams and giving them leave to create specific channels for lighthearted chats throughout the day. Schedule fun events such as games or movies, and have snacks delivered. It’s also important to provide tools that empower employees to manage the challenges of isolation; from literature on how to spot signs that it may be affecting their mental health to access to counseling if needed.
Remote operations are becoming a more prevalent feature of our workplaces. But maintaining efficiency can be problematic. Rather than strictly policing employees, it is perhaps the best approach to instead provide them with the tools and knowledge to make improvements. Communicate strategies around time management, implement effective project planning, and develop a close, collaborative team.