The technologies that make remote work possible have existed for over a decade, yet, it took a global health crisis to force businesses to adopt remote work. Today, as the vaccine rollout continues to progress and life returns to normal, many businesses have decided to continue with remote work or some kind of hybrid work model. Many managers had feared that remote work would result in a dip in productivity, but so far, they have found that there have been no productivity losses as a result of a shift to remote work. In many instances, productivity has actually risen. It’s not surprising that many firms are now offering remote work as a signing-on bonus. In a world of remote work, you can work from anywhere. Location is no longer important. A remote worker can settle down on an island, or small town somewhere and work for a business located in a metropolis like New York. Many remote workers are taking advantage of this. We are in a brave, new work-from-anywhere world. The question for many remote workers is, “How do I succeed in a work-from-anywhere world?”
Relaunching the Team
One of the losses of working remotely is the loss of incidental information. By this I refer to information exchanged around the workplace, in elevators, by the water cooler, during lunch, all those ad hoc, incidental meetings that workers have in the office. Potentially, teams may also struggle to build relationship capital. You see, there is a difference between an established team that goes remote, and a fresh team that starts off remotely. The fresh team may not have the relationship capital to make a success of working remotely. Remote work expert, Tsedal Neeley, suggests that virtual teams relaunch every six to eight weeks. In both the physical and the virtual office, teams are seldom static. Teams are dynamic, evolving bodies and even our feelings about them changes and evolves with time. In a virtual environment, teams have to take that extra step to ensure team members are all rowing in the same direction. Values, goals, processes and norms must be, in a sense, over-communicated -as compared to in physical settings-, so that they are deeply embedded in the team. Everyone must understand the work model, how communication is handled, and what the team aims to achieve. The virtual workspace has to be a safe space where workers can communicate freely and build the relationship capital that new teams so often struggle for. This process will ensure that some degree of incidental information is shared. In this way, some of the deficiencies of remote work -deficiencies fresh teams are particularly exposed to-, are dealt with. Relaunching a team need not be an involved process. An hour and a half or even a two-hour meeting should be enough to relaunch the team. Richard Hackman, a famed sociologist, believes that relaunching a team can improve a team’s chance of succeeding by 30% or more. Relaunching can be applied by individual workers, who can use the period to reass and imbed values, goals, norms and processes.
Building trust in a work-from-anywhere world of remote work is vital for the success and durability of the enterprise. Trust has two components: cognitive and emotional. It is often easy to build cognitive trust, to show the mind just why the system works and that they can trust their teammates. Cognitive trust can be built simply by demonstrating that the team, its leaders and workers, can be relied on to do their jobs at the required level and in the right period of time. This kind of trust can be built fairly quickly. Emotional trust is much harder to build. It is also a trust that is very difficult to restore once broken. Yet it is emotional trust that binds teams together. Emotional trust is about a feeling of empathy between and among co-workers. It is about knowing that your co-workers and managers care about your needs and are concerned for your well-being. It takes longer to develop because it requires more interactions, especially informal interactions in unstructured times. It requires creating a space where everyone feels able to speak their minds and open their hearts.
Minimize Tech Exhaustion
In the present technological moment, we are constantly connected, constantly accessible, constantly flooded with messages. It is no wonder that many people say that they feel a sense of tech exhaustion. There is just no letting up. In the context of remote work, everyone has to pay attention that communications and connectivity do not rise to the point of being exhausting. More asynchronous ways of interacting must be adopted. We have to be more deliberate in our communications, with clear goals and questions asked about alternative ways of achieving that goal. For instance, a video conference call may be replaced by an email, or some other communications platform. Teams have to embrace more tools and methodologies, using both synchronous and asynchronous tools, lean and rich media, sending messages to one rather than all team members, as well as to groups of individuals. Teams must be more active in deciding whether to capture, store and reuse content. With the right framework, it is possible to avoid tech exhaustion. It just requires time, deliberation and effort.
An important part of this process requires that thought is placed on the tools that the teams will use. For instance, many Gen Z workers find using email as a collaboration tool was too clunky for them, preferring Google Docs, Zoom and iMessenger instead. This is not just a question of preferences, but suitability for the task at hand. For instance, Slack is better for instant messaging between teams, file transfers and message search, than email, which is better for more structured, and formal communications. Relying on one tool may then lead to the wrong kinds of messages being funneled through a platform.
As a remote worker, you can always learn more to improve how your team works and increase its odds of success. We should recognize that despite the success that we have so far had with remote work, there is a big difference between a temporary and a permanent shift to remote work. To succeed going forward, we have to think more deeply and deliberately than we did in the last 17 or so months to establish the right norms and processes to make remote work work for us.