We have seen a dramatic shift to remote work and home office. More and more, people are working in the remote work environment and setting aside a space in their home for their home office. While commute times are eliminated and freedom is elevated, the need to connect with co-workers and clients still remains.
For some businesses, remote working employees can actually be more effective and more productive than a traditional office setting. A recent Harvard Business Review study of a call center found remote call center employees were more productive and happier with their jobs. (To Raise Productivity, Let More Employees Work from Home (hbr.org))
Benefits of having a remote office environment:
- Happier employees
- Elimination/reduction of commuting time
- Elimination/reduction of office overhead costs
- Fewer meetings and wasted time
- Increased productivity
- Better collaboration
Simply setting your office loose to work from home is probably not the best idea, however. The main setbacks to the remote office are the impact on company culture as well as a lack of communication. What are some ways you can promote company culture and improve your team’s effective communication in the remote work environment?
Define and Communicate Your Company’s Core Values
If your employees have a good idea about the big picture, they’ll be less likely to feel lost or disconnected when working. Having a goal in mind will help motivate your remote workers. Define what your company values, but beware to have generic, vague values which can lead to demoralization and disconnect.
- Values drive a community feel. You want your employees and remote workers to all feel connected. Defining the company’s beliefs will help bring everyone together and make work feel like more than just a paycheck.
- The right values prevent toxic work environments. When everyone knows what is important and are working together towards a common goal, they will communicate effectively and stay productive and happy.
- Core values should define your company. The right core values will differentiate you from competitors, educate your customers and, in the long-run, streamline decisions.
Collaborate with your employees to define, or redefine, your core values. Just make sure everyone sticks to and believes in these values
Define Communication Methods and Expectations
Different companies and people all have their preferred communication channels. Some like email, others prefer text while others use chat apps. Don’t let communication methods become a guessing game.
- Define and separate communication types. Legal documents and official announcements should be separate from group messages and inter-group questions. Once you figure out the categories, set expectations for the standard channel for each, such as email for legal and Slack or Skype messaging for daily discussion.
- Set expectations for response times. Having a remote work office means workers can be connected 24/7. While this sounds great from a management viewpoint, it’s a recipe for employee dissatisfaction. Keep communication within normal or set business hours.
Encourage Open Communication
As a remote office worker, it can become easy to slip into feelings of isolation. “Maybe my manager is too busy to email or text?” “I can probably finish this project on my own.”
Encourage everyone to communicate and keep in touch. Working from home means there isn’t a water cooler where everyone can meet up and chat. But there are ways around that. Ways to make open communication easier in the remote office:
- Ensure equitable communication contribution. For conversations and emails, make sure you get input from everyone on the team. Don’t let the loudest voices drown out conversations.
- Create a chatting channel for off-topic conversation. Just as a physical office has a break room where workers can gather and chat, you can have a chat room or channel just for off-topic conversation.
- Use surveys or polls to start a conversation. Help your workers find a common interest. Polls help get a conversation going and you can make sure everyone is included so no one feels left out.
- Use video to create a virtual workspace. This will depend on your teams, but some people may like the feel of working around others. Setting up video while people can work just ‘together’ in virtual space may help with productivity and motivation.
When everyone feels comfortable talking to one another, you’ll help foster an environment of open communication. Just be sure to gauge your communication channels periodically. Not all ideas that start out great work well in the long term.
Measure Productivity and Employee Engagement
Don’t track hours, instead measure productivity. If employees can finish their projects at their own pace it will be much more valuable tracking projects rather than time. You don’t want your remote workers feeling as if they are under house arrest. Some other tips:
- Divide projects into bite-sized pieces. Make work more manageable and not seem overwhelming. You can divide work amongst your remote workers and piece it together as the pieces are completed.
- Set milestones. Set expectations and deadlines for project pieces. This will help ensure schedules are met and you can gauge areas that need more attention.
The pandemic has forced many offices to turn remote. With a little extra planning and collaboration, you can improve your company’s culture as you shift to a remote work environment.
If you are working from home, use these tips to help stay focused and productive. For further reading about working from home, check out these other resources:
How to Define Company Values (And Why It Matters) (liberationist.org)
How to Use Zoom, A Beginners Guide