Learn how to implement a successful, unified team of on-site and remote workers with these tips on leadership practices and suggestions for digital tools and hardware.
Remote working is not just a future trend – it is here to stay. Seen in the light of current events, working remotely is becoming the new normal. Companies must adjust and adapt to cater to the new reality, where some employees - perhaps even entire teams – work remotely. This scenario comes with a unique set of challenges for management; managing remote employees requires a specific set of skills and a variety of tools to enable effective communication and leadership. These challenges aside, remote/partially remote working policies create exciting opportunities for companies, allowing them to recruit the best people regardless of geographical barriers, and giving employees the freedom to create their definition of work-life balance.
Let's dive right in and explore the facts, benefits, challenges, and the tips & tools to overcome those challenges to create successful mixed-location teams!
The state of remote working in 2020
Buffer and Angelist have, for the 3rd year running, compiled the State of Remote Work report, where they have surveyed over 3500 workers on their experiences with remote work. Here are some statistics and conclusions from the report:
98% of respondents would like to work from home - at least some of the time - for the rest of their career
97% would recommend remote work to others
70% of respondents are happy with the amount of time they work remotely
80% of respondents work from their own homes
43% of respondents work in companies with a mix of full-time office workers and full-time remote employees
Perceived benefits of working remotely
The benefits of remote or partially remote work for employees are many. First is location independence, meaning the flexibility to work from anywhere. While according to the survey, most remote workers choose to work from the comfort of their own homes, location independence allows workers to travel around the world while working.
Remote working typically also offers flexible schedules, especially with global teams who work in different time zones. The ability to spread working hours around the week to make them fit their personal lives is something that most remote workers cherish deeply.
Another benefit tied to location independence, especially when working from home, is not needing to commute! Commuting can be a big issue, especially for residents in big cities, where the morning commute is both time-consuming and stressful. Working from home makes companies more attractive to people who are not willing to travel very far due to family commitments. Furthermore, avoiding commutes saves workers money on transportation costs and can benefit the environment by reducing carbon emissions and energy usage.
Issues & Challenges with remote work
Despite the many great benefits, looking only at the perks of remote work does not give an accurate and fair picture of the lifestyle. There are several drawbacks and challenges to working remotely, which we explore below:
Remote workers miss out on the social aspects of being physically together in an office. Feeling a lack of connection can be exacerbated in partially remote teams. Remote workers might feel like outsiders in their organizations since they are not physically together with the rest. The remote workers who choose to spend most of their working hours in a home office, instead of e.g., a coffee shop or a coworking space, are even more susceptible to loneliness due to lack of human interaction for long periods every day.
Tip #1: Loneliness impacts employee motivation and negatively affects mental health. Seeing and talking to – not texting and emailing - colleagues helps build relationships and combat feelings of loneliness. Make sure your company has the necessary digital infrastructure to support "face-to-face" interaction with a video conferencing platform. Examples include Zoom, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex Teams, Slack, BlueJeans, StarLeaf, and many more.
Tip #2: Check in with your remote employees in a 1:1 video call frequently to make them feel valued.
Examples of video conferencing applications
Decreased work-life balance
In theory, remote work frees up a lot of time to pursue hobbies, activities and spending time with friends and family. The reality, however, can be quite different.
Working from home and using personal devices for work purposes can be a slippery slope. The boundaries between work time and free time become very blurred, and it's very easy to forget to switch off mentally. Overworking is mentally taxing and can quickly lead to burnout. It requires discipline to create rules for when to start and finish work.
Tip #3: Explicitly communicate that you don't expect your employees to be available 24/7
Tip #4: Encourage them to adjust their schedules to make the most out of their productive hours. Flexible schedules are necessary for parents who need to juggle work and dozens of other activities relating to their kids.
Tip #5: Implement time management tools/apps such as ProofHub, Hubstaff, and Harvest to gather data about how your team spends time. These apps help leaders manage their teams' workloads and provide you with valuable insights about when your team members are most productive.
Tip #6: Suggest creating a dedicated space in their homes for working remotely. Take it a step further by giving them a "home office" allowance to help them buy the equipment they need to create a comfortable, ergonomic, and productive home workspace. Essential home office equipment includes a monitor, mouse and keyboard, webcam, and headset.
Collaboration & Knowledge Sharing
A significant challenge in a mix of remote and office-based workers is effective communication, as the two groups have different methods of communication available to them. Naturally, workers who are sitting in the same office prefer to communicate face-to-face verbally with their colleagues, being the easiest, fastest, and most effective communication method. However, if workers fail to document impromptu offline meetings and conversations properly, it becomes tough – if not impossible – for the remote workers to collaborate effectively and do their jobs properly. As a leader, you risk allowing an information hierarchy to establish itself with remote workers at the bottom.
Another example of bad practice is moving all company communication to real-time, chat-based systems such as Slack or Microsoft Teams. While convenient for a quick back and forth between colleagues, this communication method can quickly become overwhelming. Discussions get side-tracked, important messages get buried in an endless stream of messages, constant notifications cause distractions and waste time, and employees feel like they must be online constantly to keep up with what is going on. For teams working across different time zones, important conversations might be taking place while some team members are asleep, making it impossible for them to be involved and share value.
Challenges with collaboration and knowledge sharing damage workers' sense of belonging, their loyalty to the business, their motivation to do their jobs, and their trust in their colleagues. We cannot put enough emphasis on how important effective collaboration is to succeed as a team!
Tip #7: Aim to create an office culture of transparency and "over-communication". With a mix of on-site and remote workers, it's essential that everybody is on the same page, so you really cannot communicate and share too much knowledge!
Tip #8: Promote effective documentation & knowledge of best practices. To enable this, you require cloud-based applications and servers to make sure all the team can access the same resources and information. Examples of such platforms are Microsoft 365 and G-Suite. Best practice examples include taking minutes in offline meetings, recording and transcribing video meetings, using built-in collaboration tools such as commenting functions on word processors, and project management tools such as Asana, Monday, Basecamp or Trello.
Lack of emotional context in communication
While digital communication has enabled us to accomplish astounding feats (Never before in human history have we been able to create something called a global team!), some things are missing. Body language. Intonation. Facial Expressions. Nonverbal cues are vital to communication and cannot merely be replaced by punctuation, emoticons, and GIFs. Words are open to interpretation, and this ambiguity can cause employees anxiety and create tension between team members.
Emojis are not the be-all end-all of effective communication
Tip #9: Ambiguity in communication can prove deadly to team spirit and morale. Do not underestimate the necessity of seeing and talking to each other to build relationships and improve communication. Promote activities such as virtual coffee dates and encourage employees to get to know each other. Getting to know colleagues and becoming familiar with how they talk in person can help interpret their written communication more accurately.
What about the on-site team?
We've dedicated most of the article to tips on taking a remote-first approach to building mixed-location teams. Understandably, remote workers need attention, resources, and unique leadership skills from their managers to succeed. That said, on-site workers also require tools to succeed in collaborating with their remote colleagues.
Our tip #10 is, therefore, dedicated to optimizing on-site locations. Aside from the previously mentioned platforms and applications, offices need meeting spaces equipped with the right AV equipment to set employees up for successful remote collaboration.
The number of meeting spaces needed in an office depends on several factors, including the size of the on-site workforce, company culture, and on-site collaboration methods. No matter the type and size of a company, in an organization with a mixed location team, every meeting space requires an AV system that supports video conferencing.
How would such an AV system look in different sized meeting rooms?
Huddle Space and Small meeting rooms
The idea of a huddle room is to have unbookable meeting spaces designed to seat 2 to 4 people. Huddle rooms were meant to be for short, unplanned meetings; a space where people can have a conversation or a video call away from their desks so as not to disturb their colleagues.
Video enabled huddle spaces should, as a minimum, be equipped with a display, a webcam, and an HDMI cable to connect. A more comprehensive solution would include webcam, microphone and speakers/ soundbar such as the Neets Sound Bar, and a hub to connect all the devices such as Solvo by Neets.
Standard/ Medium-sized meeting rooms
A medium meeting room would typically accommodate 5-8 people and be equipped with a variety of AV equipment to support meetings with different purposes, styles, and lengths. Typical equipment in a meeting room includes a display, a sound system, or a Sound Bar, a PTZ camera to ensure all the meeting attendees can be seen clearly, a microphone, and cables to connect to the equipment. One might also introduce a wireless screen sharing solution such as Barco ClickShare, AirTame, or Mersive Solstice. More advanced solutions would include a keypad control system such as the Neets Control – UniForm. It provides a user-friendly interface and enables meeting attendees to switch between sources and control the equipment in the room easily from one central location. Alternatively, one might opt for a desk cable management solution with a built-in keypad controller such as Neets EasyConnect, gathering all the cable connections in one table well for convenient access and a tidy look.
Large meeting rooms or conference rooms
Larger meeting rooms (also called conference rooms and boardrooms) can host 10 to 20 people. The room would include a large display (75inches or more) or a projector and screen. Other must-have equipment could be a wall-mounted speaker system, one or more webcams and microphones placed strategically in the room, an audio amplifier, and a touch-based control system such as the Neets Control – TanGo and 7" Touch Panel. A touch control interface adds a touch of elegance and exclusivity to a conference room. Furthermore, this type of interface offers expanded functionality compared to a keypad controller, making it suitable for larger rooms with more complex AV installations.
Implementing a successful team made up of on-site employees and remote workers can be a challenge. However, the right combination of cutting-edge digital tools, hardware, leadership skills, and company culture can make this mix of working styles a rich and rewarding experience for everyone involved.
2020 has shown us the importance of being prepared for the unexpected. Having meeting rooms that can cater to any device and platform helps you make sure, as an IT manager, that you've never caught unawares.