At the beginning of the pandemic, it was estimated that 37 percent of all jobs in the U.S. could be done entirely remote virus would kill a third of the world.
That is, more than 3 billion people. A story that got out of control, as the virus is a pneumonic plague, transmitted from human to human via droplets of respiratory and pulmonary fluids. However, with globalization and international flights, COVID is going to be one of many plagues. And even if we aren’t willing to give up our lifestyle, being in an airtight office with dozens of people for eight hours a day doesn’t make sense when health is at stake.
The point: Remote work has become a large part of our society and it’s not going away. It should be embraced and companies should work hard to keep their remote employees happy and productive.
But this isn’t easy. As I’ve written recently, there is a lot of things we need to do to keep our online team happy.
But is it true? Is 37 percent really accurate? Is technology making the world so much smaller than before and putting us in such close contact with everyone all over the world, which will make people increasingly difficult to interpret each other when we work together remotely?
Technology has not changed human nature, and human nature does not make it more difficult to work with each other.
Human beings have been working together from prehistoric times until now, whether in small groups or large companies, and the core of that collaboration has always been the same: social interaction.
And while technology can improve our ability to collaborate geographically, we should not let it be a crutch that conceals or distracts from the lack of knowledge or will to work as a team, wherever they are.
Our ability to influence each other and our surroundings has not changed since we started walking on two feet and developed language.
Our ability to learn from each others’ differences remains constant, no matter how far apart we sit.
And our need to be happy and productive in the workplace, regardless of where we work and who we’re working with, is just as strong.
What technology has changed in recent years, however, is the way we communicate and collaborate.
The growth of telecommunication technologies such as Skype or Google Hangouts has accelerated globalization and made it easy for individuals and organizations to interact with each other instantly, giving rise to remoteness as a new norm.
And it’s not just remoteness that’s affected by this technological change only: the way we speak, listen and behave at work is changing as well.
Some studies estimate that employees who work remotely are more engaged than those who do not, citing greater job satisfaction and higher employee retention. Other employee surveys reveal that remote workers feel less distracted, enjoy increased productivity, and rarely miss meetings.
All this seems to indicate that remote work can be better than onsite… But what about collaboration? Is working together really easier when you’re not in the same room? Can technology help us collaborate effectively so we do not lose touch with each other while we’re physically apart?
The answer is yes, but it depends on how you use them.
Use technology to your advantage, not as an excuse to act like emailing or Skyping each other is the same as working together in person. Technology can help us collaborate more effectively, but only if we remember that real communication involves subtle body language and nuanced expressions, which are best experienced when you see face-to-face.
If you want to successfully lead a remote team, you have to know how to balance the need for structure with the need for autonomy, both of which are essential to keeping them happy and productive. That means creating a shared vision, defining clear work processes, providing regular feedback, and fostering an environment where everyone feels comfortable being open about challenges or concerns.
Remote-first is a nightmare for a lot of managers and executives. It sounds scary, it sounds risky, and it makes them feel like they’re losing control. And let’s face it: many organizations still prefer to keep important meetings in person because there is a belief that people can better connect and establish trust with each other when they see and interact with each other directly.
But we are not trees, we shouldn’t be avoiding each other because we feel threatened by the lack of shared physical space. And who says that collaboration is not possible outside of a shared office?
The truth about remote work – and the reason many people find it difficult – is that we’re used to collaborating in person, and we confuse face-to-face interactions with intimacy.
And intimacy is not always necessary when it comes to collaboration.
If you are good at what you do, you can be equally (if not more) effective working remotely. Your opinion and presence will be valued even if you are not physically sitting next to your colleagues.
You can find people who will tell you that you cannot lead a team without working side by side with them, or that your employees will lack motivation if they don’t get any feedback from their manager every day.
They’re wrong: as long as you create the right conditions, you can lead a team without ever meeting your employees face-to-face.
And it’s not just managers who feel this way: even remote workers themselves often struggle to work effectively and productively when they’re on their own. They miss having someone to talk to every day and feel that their contributions go unnoticed, or they feel frustrated that their managers don’t seem to know them well enough.
But the truth is that your team will not start hating you because you work remotely – in fact, you could actually find they enjoy working with you more than other distractions.
Here are ten ways to keep remote teams happy and productive:
Set clear work hours.
If employees know when they should be available for communication, it will help avoid miscommunication and frustration during the day. While there may be some flexibility with these hours – because all jobs require some flexibility – it’s important to set clear guidelines and stick with them.
Use collaboration software correctly.
Collaboration software such as Google Docs, Dropbox, Asana, Jira or Basecamp can be a great help if you know how to use them effectively. Whether it’s a project management tool or a shared document, these platforms should make the work easier, not more complicated. Too often we waste time chatting about documents instead of working on them. The goal of collaboration should always be getting things done, not merely making it seem like you’re busy doing something.
Keep communication open and honest at all times.
Some people fear that remote teams will hide information from each other due to a lack of trust or visibility into what others are doing. To avoid this, make it clear that you expect everyone to communicate openly at all times. If people feel like they are being watched every time they collaborate, they will be less likely to share important information with each other.
Have regular check-ins.
It’s easy for remote teams to lose touch with what’s really going on if you don’t have a system that keeps them accountable. Regularly scheduled meetings help keep remote teams connected and working towards the same goals throughout the project or during specific periods of time rather than checking in sporadically which can often leave teams feeling lost and unproductive.
Schedule face-to-face time together.
Encourage employees to meet in person during company retreats and conferences. This will help people get to know each other better and bond over a shared experience rather than simply discussing concepts over Skype chats or GChat. Plus, these conference events can be a great opportunity for learning and networking with industry experts in the field.
Hold regular video conferences.
These one-on-one meetings allow employees to check in on a regular basis while avoiding the time commitment of large group meetings. If there is something wrong with the technology, go old school and meet in person! After all, it’s always easier to connect when you’re face-to-face.
Make everyone feel heard by assigning each person an “owner” or point of contact on different projects. Encourage strong relationships among the team members by making everyone feel comfortable to ask questions and voice concerns. The most important part of keeping remote teams productive is keeping employees happy, so make sure employees are feeling included rather than neglected.
Regularly send group updates about projects or goals.
Send out weekly blog posts or brief emails to your team with any relevant information. This can be anything from a new marketing campaign you launched to an internal announcement about company goals for the next quarter. Update people on anything they might need to know but don’t require them involved in, especially if you’re just sending out daily communications via chat features.
Make sure that – no matter how often you are communicating – there is a clear purpose for each message you send out. Remember that the goal of these messages should always be to improve productivity, not just keep everyone in the loop.
While it’s important to provide clear guidelines and stay dedicated to your projects, don’t forget that remote teams are often made up of talented people who are passionate about their work. Having fun – whether it’s through company events or random team chat conversations – is an easy way to bond with your employees and make sure they feel happy and appreciated throughout the day.
There are countless ways to keep your team happy and productive, these are ten of the most effective methods that I’ve found in my experience with managing remote teams. I hope they work for you too!