Suppose I asked you whether working remotely had increased or decreased during COVID. I think we’d all probably arrive at the same conclusion. Many organizations that previously would never have allowed their teams to work remotely were pretty much required to do so. If they didn’t, they risked grinding to a halt…maybe permanently. COVID-19 has compelled millions of people to stay at home. As a result, we’ve learned a lot about remote connectivity and collaboration.
None of us operate in a vacuum…we are social animals and work best when we can connect with each other. That’s not very hard to do when you’re at the office or workplace, but it’s not easy when you have to do it remotely. Tools like Zoom Google Meet and Microsoft Teams have helped tremendously. Still, those spontaneous meetings around the water cooler or at someone’s desk are often where great ideas are hatched.
Microsoft studied the effect of COVID on their team dynamics and found that their meeting frequencies went up by 10%, but the length of their meetings went down by 22%. They were able to get things done in a shorter amount of time because people were focused on the task at hand. They drew some interesting conclusions from their study. The short summary was that even though people were not physically getting together to collaborate, it was happening anyway and more efficiently.
Somewhat surprisingly, a Gallup poll found that workers who spent 60-80% of their time away from their workplace had the highest engagement and productivity rates. Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom conducted a study that revealed that work-from-home employees work a good full day (or more) rather than being late to the office or leaving early multiple times a week. The study also found working remotely to be less distracting, with employees finding it much easier to concentrate at home. In addition, employees can work when they are most productive, even if that means late at night or early in the morning, and they tend to work extra hours per week.
One of the main challenges to teams when not physically together is having good communication amongst the team (no surprise there) and making sure the balls that are in the air don’t get dropped. Not communicating effectively has the added challenge of affecting morale, which can seriously impact the productivity of individuals and the team.
Thankfully, there are more tools today that are more robust and effective than just six months ago. If you want to be successful, make sure you have a firm grasp on how this technology works and how it can benefit you. Speaking for myself, pre-COVID, I don’t think I’d ever used Zoom or Google Meet before. I had used Skype for personal use but only on a limited basis. I can honestly say I now consider myself an expert in Zoom usage. I am often tapped by friends and co-workers to help them when they need to do presentations. It has helped me immensely as I’ve done my own presentations to clients and has dramatically improved my confidence when I present since I don’t have to think about technology mechanics.
An additional challenge can be the loss of culture in the workplace. While team members appreciate and enjoy the flexibility of working remotely, they often comment on the loss of camaraderie with fellow team members, and they have less visibility to what’s going on with the overall company vision and goals. Often, this leads to a sense of seclusion and isolation and frustration with their job. It’s not easy, but creating a work-from-home culture is very important to help remote employees feel part of the group and a valued member of the company.
This can be done in several ways: providing opportunities for remote workers to connect with one another via team building activities, social activities (appropriately distanced of course), engagement in social media groups or other social sites, and making collaboration a high priority can all help keep employees engaged and highly productive.
One of the significant advantages of working remotely is the cost savings of having employees stay home. It’s been estimated that a company will save approximately $11,000 per employee by having them work remotely. That is a big number when multiplied across hundreds of workers. Tracking employee performance is critical to making sure the work is getting done. It’s crucial to establish clear expectations so that employees know what is required of them, and goals and benchmarks should be provided, so they know where they stand. When they are armed with information, they will be much happier and more likely to live up to those expectations.
Nearly 5 million people now work remotely, and that number increases each day. It is expected to continue to climb exponentially as organizations now understand the value of remote work and have gotten some practical experience with it. It is exciting for both employers and employees as it provides a win-win scenario for each. Keeping teams fully engaged and highly productive is achievable with some careful thought and preparation.