Over the past few years, remote work has boomed, with research showing that more than half of American workers (58%) report being able to work from home at least one day per week. The reality is that many teams are now completely remote, working from home full time from different cities, states, or even countries.
This boom in WFH has created a new employment landscape and offers opportunities in many industries, but it also comes with a new set of challenges for teams and the managers who organize them.
First, communication must be considered much more methodically for remote teams than those in a traditional office – you can’t just pop by somebody’s desk for a chat. If there is something to discuss in a WFH team, you need to organize a video meeting, call, or group chat.
What’s more, this lack of organic interaction also leads to some psychological and emotional challenges, such as isolation and loneliness. We often underestimate the importance of informal “water-cooler” talk in an office environment, but it is vital for people’s well-being and productivity.
The challenges of remote work don’t only come from what’s lost, however. Working from home means living at work, which can make it hard to disconnect from the workday. Moreover, the home environment often introduces distractions that an office would not – from pets to chores, and packages to childcare. These are a natural part of working from home but can have a serious impact on a team’s productivity.
That might seem like a whole lot of problems, but at the end of the day, the benefits of working from home will generally outweigh the problems, and whether you like it or not, working from home is here to stay. Moreover, each of these unique WFH challenges can be overcome with the right tactics and solutions. So, if your team is working at home permanently, here are some can’t miss strategies for you to try out!
Set Clear Goals (and Hit Them!)
Goals are a vital part of any team strategy but become even more critical when you’re working remotely since managers have less oversight than they would with an office-based team. Not only are goals important from a company perspective – overarching targets are reached – but people need to know what they are meant to be doing on an individual level.
Working from home can leave people feeling lost and can even lead to team members “falling through the cracks”. Clear goals offer direction and structure, so even if a person hasn’t got a team around them, they know what they are working towards.
When setting goals for teams that work from home, ensure that they are measurable – metric-driven goals are easier to grasp when you don’t have continuous contact to monitor a person’s progress. There are plenty of different goal-setting methods that can help keep your work-from-home team on track.
Give Your Team A Way to Get In Touch With You Daily
Staying in touch is vital for teams to work well from home, and a big part of this is giving employees the tools and channels they need to get in touch with you or other managers. Email is the powerhouse of business communication, so it should remain one of the methods by which reports can contact you, but a variety of tools should be used for different needs. At minimum you should have:
- Email: already mentioned, but email is one of the most important forms of communication for teams working from home.
- Video Meetings: ideal for more in-depth discussions that can’t happen over email or for staying more connected through a “face-to-face” chat.
- Voice Calls: people don’t always want to look at a screen and be on camera, voice calls offer a great alternative to one-on-one or group video meetings
- Voice Messages: for topics that require more explanation than a text but don’t need synchronous communication.
Clean up Your Tool Sprawl
While having all these different communication methods sounds great in theory, in practice it can lead to the dreaded tool sprawl: where your company’s tech stack is so tall it’s going to topple. More specifically, you’ve gathered a different app to address each need – a chat app, a video meeting app, a VOIP service, an online note service, etc. Now, you’ve got so many tools that they use more time and money than they save.
At an individual level, remote workers have to switch between all these different tools, leading to context switching, and ultimately reducing productivity. However, there is a simple solution: get an all-in-one productivity app, like Spike.
Spike supercharges your existing email account with Conversation Email and Priority Inbox, as well as combining all the other communication channels you need into a single package accessed from one cross-platform app. With Spike, you can switch seamlessly from a Video Meeting to collaborative Online Notes and then check ongoing team Tasks, all without switching tools, or context.
Implement a Two-way Communication Strategy
Your work-from-home team now has the tools to communicate in every way you need, but do they have the framework? Your remote team needs to know the right tool for the right job, and it’s up to you to implement a clear communication strategy to make this happen. Covers when and how remote workers should use the various tools at their disposal. For example:
If a client suddenly changes their requirements, your strategy might advise a text update in the relevant Group, changing the relative collaborative document in your Online Notes, and scheduling a Video Meeting to discuss how to pivot.
This gives clear guidelines on how to use the various team collaboration methods.
Keep in Regular Contact with Your Employees
When working remotely, it’s easy to feel disconnected from your team as a whole. This can lead to practical problems, like somebody not knowing what to do, as well as deeper issues, like an individual employee feeling alienated.
To avoid these issues, keep in regular contact with your work-from-home team. Depending on how you usually operate, this can be done in several ways (and will be part of your communication strategy!). Two common methods are either organizing a daily team meeting or weekly one-on-one meetings.
These will most likely be video calls, but if you’re on a hybrid work schedule, it might be helpful to schedule these when team members are in the office to allow for some face time. A quick check-in is often more useful than a protracted meeting, what’s important is that the contact is regular and consistent, so remote employees know that there is a regular opportunity to touch base with you and possibly the rest of the team.
Make Sure There are Opportunities for Social Interaction, Even if Only Virtual
We mentioned earlier the importance of “water cooler” talk, but the social aspect of work is often overlooked, especially for teams working from home. Team chemistry is vital for productivity and, more importantly, the well-being of your team members.
There are plenty of social activities you can try while working remotely – from something as simple as a social chat channel to an organized team-building video activity. Whatever you end up doing, just make sure it aligns with what your team wants. Talk to them and figure out the kind of social activity they would like. Some teams love a Friday afternoon shared lunch, while others would prefer to just be able to drop a cute cat video in a shared chat — there’s nothing worse than forced fun.
Let Your Employees Disconnect
Being able to disconnect from work has always been a hot topic, but never more so than with remote teams, where people live in their de facto offices. It has become such an issue that governments are even trying to legislate the right to unplug, and it’s no surprise – not being able to disconnect inevitably leads to burnout, which is detrimental to health.
When leading remote teams, it’s your job to ensure that employees are not only able to disconnect, but have to. One of the simplest ways to do this is to implement asynchronous communication rules as part of the two-way communication strategy. For example, employees can’t use synchronous communication (such as video calls) or even send emails to team members who aren’t meant to be online.
Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you all have to be working at the same time – with tools like Spike, you can schedule emails to send later and snooze tasks to appear when you need them. However, something as simple as this can help remote teams not be tied to their emails and constantly online.
Simple Strategies for Your Work From Home Team
Working from home is here to stay and, when embraced, offers many benefits to individual team members as well as companies as a whole. There are challenges, of course, but with these simple strategies, you’ll overcome the issues to have a happy and productive team work from home.
Just remember to set clear goals to keep people on track and comfortable with their tasks, give team members multiple ways to contact you as well as clear guidelines on how and when to use each of the channels. Regular communication is key, as is social interaction and the ability to unplug – so balance the need to collaborate with the need to unwind. More than anything, don’t get tangled up in the tools: keep things simple with an all-in-one app for work-from-home teams.
The future of email is here,
are you ready for it?
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