To dispel any rumors, let’s set the stage with some facts and figures about hybrid and remote working in the modern, COVID-influenced world.
Upwork surveyed 1,500 hiring managers about the realities of remote work and found 61.9% of companies already have or are planning to add additional remote work opportunities in the near future because of COVID, greatly accelerating previous trends.
The same survey found 36.2 million workers or 22% of Americans will be working remotely by the year 2025 – an 87% increase from pre-pandemic levels. Additionally, Global Workplace Analytics estimates that 56% of W2 workers or 75 million employers could work from home if their employers allowed it.
COVID may have been the gasoline vapors wafting toward the open flame of the hybrid-remote trend, but it worked as an accelerant all the same. As many new employers are finding, when their geographic location is no longer a constraint, businesses can inclusively attract talent from anywhere.
Not only are hybrid teams better for workers, but these kinds of offices can also save businesses – and the planet – big time. More research from Global Workplace Analytics breaks these savings down into the business impact for individual companies, employees, and the environment:
- A typical business would save $11,000 per person per year.
- The telecommuters would save between $2,000 and $7,000 a year.
- The greenhouse gas reduction would be the equivalent of taking the entire New York State workforce permanently off the road.
Seems like a win-win, right??
Well, proactive organizations have been excited about the benefits of a remote workplace for years, but at many small businesses, leadership is often unsure how to manage a remote team.
How will the team communicate? How will documents be accessed, shared, and organized? How will projects be managed? How can the company maintain its culture? The questions feel endless and impossible to address fully, but there is plenty of opportunity in the chaos.
Here are a few ideas for those who are thinking about going remote with an entire team or even just a few employees.
Management Tips for Remote Teams
Managing a remote team is a bit different than managing an on-site team. When you're not in the same physical location, communication becomes more challenging. But as long as you have a plan in place to address the obstacles, your remote team can be just as successful as an on-site team.
1. Hire Selectively
Not everyone is cut out for remote work, even in today’s world – and that’s totally fine! Not everyone can dance or cook either, but then they probably shouldn’t be dancers and chefs, right?
Employees who work from home have to excel at specific things such as spotless self-management and effective two-way communication. And because the nature of remote work is more solitary, you'll need to look for people who don't need constant in-person socialization from their place of work.
While the right mentality and self-management skills are critical, the most important factor to consider when you're hiring for a remote team is trust. You have to be able to trust your employees and they need to see that you trust them. When you hire the right people for your specific hybrid environment, the magic can really begin. According to one study, no matter how your employees choose to split their hybrid time, average productivity can increase across the board.
2. Set Clear Expectations
For remote employees to do their best work, they need a roadmap. When are they expected to be available? Who should they reach out to with questions? What projects do they own? It's helpful to have weekly status meetings where you review goals for the next month or quarter and decide what should be accomplished in the upcoming week. Clear expectations will eliminate the majority of potential problems.
3. Schedule Regular One-on-Ones
No one likes to feel left out, even (and especially) introverts working from home. Every employee wants to feel like a valued member of your team, not just cogs in a machine rolling forward despite the endless barrage of problems and setbacks. One-on-one meetings where you make time for small talk and focus on building the relationship will help keep employees happy and motivated.
4. Include Remote Workers in Team Meetings
If part of your team is on-site and only a few work remotely, don't forget to include them in team meetings. Even if they don't technically "need" to be there, inviting them to be a part of the meeting will help them feel like a true part of the team and give them the opportunity to share their input.
Research suggests properly designed open office plans with dedicated individual desks promote positive productivity in hybrid work environments, and thus the most common additions to modern hybrid offices are dedicated video conferencing rooms where advanced solutions such as shared digital whiteboards and virtual meeting rooms integrate directly with smart cameras and sound solutions that keep everyone in the room connected. No matter where your team members find themselves working from that day, they can be a part of the team.
Tools for Open Communication and Effective Collaboration
The biggest challenge that hybrid-remote teams face is how to communicate and collaborate in an efficient and productive way without getting into the weeds or missing the ability to stand up and walk over to their teammate. Employees in the post-COVID world need tools that facilitate open communication and seamless collaboration. Here are the tools we recommend most:
Document Sharing and Collaboration
Office 365 makes your Microsoft applications and files available anywhere, from any device, and all your data remains secure. Office 365 also includes tools that make real-time collaboration easy, like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Calendar, Publisher, OneDrive, Teams (our personal favorite and how this blog came into existence), Power BI (Business analytics service), Skype for Business, and SharePoint.
Keep Communication Efficient
According to the statistics, 57% of employees report not being given clear directions and 69% of managers are not comfortable communicating with the employees in general, while on the flippity flip (shoutout to Michael Scott) effective communication can increase productivity among teams by upwards of 25%.
To keep your organization running like a well-oiled machine, utilize programs like Microsoft Teams, which allows employees to ask project-specific questions, have quick discussions, and share information, links, and documents. This incredibly useful tool keeps conversations organized and out of email inboxes.
If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that video communication can bring people together despite all other odds. While it's not exactly the same as in-person conversation, it's absolutely the next best thing – a Boston Consulting Group survey found that 75% of respondents felt like they had maintained or increased their productivity after going remote. This trend is in part due to the convenience and efficiency of virtual conference rooms and video calls.
Skype for Business gives teams the ability to host one-on-one video calls as well as group video calls. Microsoft Teams offers a video call function as well, so teams that are already using it can jump on calls directly within their Teams app.
Build a Vibrant Company Culture
Slack is currently the world's most popular chat tool for business, where organizations can create different channels for their different teams, projects, and topics. (Microsoft Teams' chat tool is very similar to Slack.)
Internal communication platforms are perfect venues for colleagues to show off their personalities with different GIFs, custom emojis, and immediate responses to anything that might come up. While you should monitor your platform of choice to ensure it doesn't become distracting, a playground for bonding is important for coworkers to feel valued and connected.
Get Out of the House
Sometimes, your employees just need to get out of the house but don’t want to or can’t make it to the office. Workfrom.co offers a searchable database where workers can find places to work that offer fast WiFi, natural light, and other amenities. The database includes public spaces, like coffee shops, and private spaces, like coworking locations, that employees can join. The main danger here is being on public networks, and as Microsoft says, avoid connecting to suspicious public networks and set up a dedicated IoT home network.
Remote teams can be vibrant and productive, contributing just as much value to the company as an on-site team. The key is to be mindful of what makes remote teams successful and ensure that you're focused on providing your employees what they uniquely need as a remote team.
If you have questions about how Microsoft’s products can help your remote team, give us a call at 864-552-1291, and we'll help you evaluate capabilities and options. For more information on topics like hybrid work productivity, sign up for PTG Tech Talk and follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter!