How to Engage Remote Teams

Remote work is on the rise. Whether from home, in satellite offices, or in separate workspaces, a growing number of teams are now collaborating through virtual means. With this, comes flexibility and autonomy, something incredibly important to younger generations of workers. It also comes with unique challenges. Namely, how can organizations best support good communication - key to high engagement - between leaders and their teams on different sites?

Who’s Working Remote?

Well, in short, nearly everyone.  The State of Remote Work 2019 survey found that 91% of business owners responded that they had always intended to support remote work (up 88% from the previous year), demonstrating the massive increase in this trend.  The same survey in the previous year found that 90% of remote workers plan on working remotely for the rest of their careers and 94% of remote workers said that they encourage others to work remotely. Moreover, as we are all now being reminded - or perhaps learning for the first time -  there are times in which extenuating circumstances necessitate widespread work from home policies, perhaps even for quite extended periods.

Regardless, the high value placed by the Millenial and Gen Z workforce on flexibility in working location, means companies need to be prepared to not only accommodate, but embrace remote working even more in the future, in order to successfully attract and develop the best talent. 

However, it’s one thing to put policies in place that allow for remote work, and it’s another thing entirely to proactively adopt guidelines, best practices and tools that promote a healthy and engaging work experience for your employees whether they’re at home or in the office. Because while there are many positives that come more of your staff working remotely, there are also challenges that present themselves.

The Social Side of Work

A key part of many on-site workers’ day is the ‘around the watercooler’ chat, as well as all the other micro social interactions it’s easy to take for granted.  As well as the purely functional need for frequent check-ins with remote workers, there is an equally important need for cohesion within teams socially. The State of Remote Work 2019 survey found loneliness as second only to struggling to ‘unplug’, in the top difficulties of remote workers. To combat potential loneliness of remote workers, Gallup workplace research recommends frequent, ongoing conversations. This creates a feeling of connection, community and shared purpose.

Remote worker burnout

A recognised risk of remote or flexible working, as noted in “Doing More with Less? Flexible Working Practices and the Intensification of Work” is overexertion and burnout. Employees feel so grateful to be able to work where and how they want, they overcompensate in effort and time. This unsustainable output can create a situation where remote workers end up running on empty.  Harvard Business Review recommends that “to ensure employees experience gratitude rather than indebted servitude, check in...Leaders need to know what is going on with their people beyond just their work”. 

It's in this context where good communication and alignment between colleagues is especially important. If you or some of your team is sitting remotely, make sure to prioritize 1-on-1s and check-ins; giving them the time and focus they deserve. These frequent check-ins create an environment of Increased alignment, improved relationships, easier cooperation, open channels of communication, and clear goals.

So frequent check-ins with remote workers are key to their happiness, engagement, productivity, and balance, but how can you ensure your conversations are as effective as possible?

Let's run through some practical steps you can take to get the most out of your 1-on-1s when working remotely:

Preparation

Good preparation is key to ensuring you have made the notes you both need to have the best conversation you can, in the allotted meeting time. If you're working remotely and don't otherwise have much contact time with one another, it’s especially important that you stay on track with your scheduled conversations and don’t let them slip by. If you’re using Duuoo to facilitate and record your 1-on-1s, then make sure to utilize the reminder emails and notifications to prepare your notes well ahead of time, so you can be as ready as possible for your meeting. This way, you'll both be on the same page and ready to discuss the topics at hand.

A quiet location, free from distractions

As with any face-to-face meeting, the environment chosen will have an impact on the participants and the outcomes. Try, as you would were you together in person, to find a quiet, private location, where you both can speak freely and honestly, feeling relaxed and safe to do so. Ensure that the places you both choose are as free from distractions as possible, so as not to disturb the flow of conversation.

Sharing the Screen

The first note on beginning a 1-on-1 meeting in Duuoo reads "You should be sitting together looking at this screen." And of course, in an ideal world, we would all have our 1-on-1 talks in person. But this doesn't mean that you can't have a great conversation while sitting on opposite sides of the globe. In order to both be seeing the same screen without physically looking at the same one, leaders holding the meeting can screen share via Skype, Slack, Zoom, or any other of the numerous video conferencing tools available today. This also means that when you're discussing the talking points with one another, you can use the video conference to be able to see one another's body language, facial expressions, and make eye contact, all of which forms key parts of the conversation.

Summing Up

Utilize the last section of the meeting well, to discuss anything else that may be on either of your minds. Not having the luxury to bring something up across your desks later in the day, means that it's prudent to ensure everything is discussed that needs to be, during the meeting.

Final Thoughts

We’ve seen a clear trend over the last several decades of a growing percentage of the workforce going remote, and this trend shows no signs of stopping. Moreover, as we’ve been reminded in recent days, there are times in which circumstances simply dictate that all or a large portion of your employees work from home for weeks at a time. The advantages of the increase of availability of tech to support remote work, such faster internet, cloud-based file sharing etc, need not be restricted to purely what’s needed to perform the bare bones of a role. In an age where remote working is made possible by the right technology, we can also make remote working productive, fun, social, and inclusive.


Further reading (listening): https://www.duuoo.io/post/episode-vii-remote-work-and-employee-happiness

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