After COVID, Distributed Teams are Here to Stay
COVID Changed the Workforce
At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, many teams and companies frantically rushed into working remotely without completely thinking through how best to collaborate and communicate. Now, more than a year later, it’s clear that remote work is here to stay. By 2025, it’s predicted that 36.2 million Americans will be working remotely, an 87% increase from pre-pandemic levels, according to Upwork’s “Future Workforce Pulse Report.” Bottom line: distributed teams will soon be the norm, rather than the exception.
Staying distributed after COVID can be a win-win for both employees and companies. Employees get the flexibility they have always dreamed of and don’t have to fight morning rush-hour traffic, while businesses save on expensive overhead for office spaces they no longer need. Plus, employers are free to find the best talent for any role as geographic limitations are no longer an issue.
Since distributed teams are the future of the workforce, now is the time for businesses to rethink how teams can best collaborate and put processes in place to ensure remote employees feel connected even while a-part.
In a remote environment, it’s crucial to overcommunicate rather than make assumptions.
Think of a distributed team like a puzzle. Each team member is a vital piece of the puzzle. Even if the pieces are scattered all over, they need to come together in order to make a whole.
In the office, a lot of times this means scheduling meetings. But rather than rushing to the calendar, expand your definition of how work gets done. Put guidelines in place for using cloud communication tools that represent a single source of truth for all involved. Then, set intentional check-ins and regular one on ones to make sure employees have all the resources they need to successfully do their job. Aside from that, give employees some breathing room to get their work done.
Now, there is such a thing as too much communication—constant interruptions can cause stress and impact productivity. So, if a meeting can be an email or a message, opt for that. It’s important to find the happy balance with your team so they don’t suffer from video fatigue. Implement meeting-free days or even video-free days. As much as we all like looking at ourselves, it can be exhausting, so give your employees a break from video once in a while.
With team members spread across different time zones and continents, flexibility is key. It can be taxing for employees on opposite coasts to feel like they have to be available at all hours. Try to find times that crossover for the most important items, and try to handle other things by chat, or other means of communication.
This won’t always be possible, so consider using a tool like our b-hive mobile app to allow employees to make and take work calls from their personal devices wherever they are.
Being flexible also means giving employees the freedom to craft their day however is most productive for them. Encourage employees to structure their workflows around objectives, not calendars. If deadlines are hit and objectives are met, leave it up to your employee to find their groove and what works best for them.
Use Collaboration Tools
It’s essential to create processes to facilitate communication to allow employees to effectively collaborate. Find project management and collaboration tool(s) that complement your team’s workflow.
Without a physical office, your collaboration tools will act as a virtual office of sorts. Standardize the use of systems that allow your employees to chat in real time and receive instant feedback on anything they’re working on. It’s also important for them to be able to quickly hop on a call—the equivalent of walking over to someone’s desk—in case they need to discuss something in more detail.
A tool like b-hive Communicator allows you to integrate with Microsoft Teams so employees can easily message colleagues and video chat with coworkers in any location. We can’t stress this enough: effective collaboration tools will be essential to the success of your business and your team moving forward.
It’s important for team members to not only have all the tools they need to complete their job from a distance, but to also feel comfortable while doing it. Consider, for example, setting aside a budget to equip employees with technology and office furniture.
This budget could also be used to provide employees with a stipend for coffee if they want to work from a cafe or even a gift card to a space like We-Work or similar coworking spaces. The more you invest in your employees, the more they will invest back in you!
If you’re at all concerned about cost, the Global Workplace Analytics found that an employer can save about $11,000 per year for every employee who works remotely, and that’s true even for part-time employees. Just think: if you have 20 employees, that’s a saving of $220,000 per year!
Encourage Work-Life Balance
When working remotely, it’s easy for an employee’s work life and home life to blur together. There are no set hours, aside from meetings, which means they often take on too much. While we all appreciate the dedication, long-term burnout can become an issue quickly.
If working on a deadline, a few long nights are understandable but be sure to check in with your employees to ensure they aren’t taking on more than they can handle. Also, remind them to take breaks and get outside whenever they can, or even schedule time for them to put down work and relax.
Another idea is to encourage employees to turn off their chat notifications during certain hours. This will allow them to truly feel “off” once they stop working as they won’t be bombarded with messages. If an employee is getting notifications all night, it’s going to be hard to recharge and reset for their next day of work.
Host Virtual Get-Togethers
Working remotely can also been a very lonely gig. It’s possible, especially on a smaller team, that an employee might be the only team member in their state. Without face-to-face contact, this could become extremely isolating and solitary. Consider hosting virtual hangouts or happy hours to make team members feel connected even when they’re not physically together.
For some fun team-building activities, you could try a virtual escape room, a trivia night, a game night, or something similar. Anything you can do to make your team feel connected to each other will help them feel less lonely and instead a part of something bigger.
Create a Flexible Workspace
Virtual collaboration is great, but nothing substitutes for in-person collaboration. Consider maintaining a flex office that allows employees to have a space they can travel to if they need to have an in-person meeting or get together. This will cut back on expensive overhead to maintain an entire office but still gives your employees the option of coming together and collaborating face-to-face if needed.
Moving forward, it will be crucial for businesses to adapt toward a remote-first mindset when it comes to collaborating and communicating. This might seem overwhelming to some businesses, but it’s also an incredibly exciting opportunity for growth. You get to re-think your processes and establish methods that work best for you and your employees.
If done right, you can cut costs, improve employee satisfaction and retainment, grow your hiring pool, and create better work more efficiently allowing your employees to live their best lives.
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