- Intro: the rapid evolution of remote working
- What comes after the ‘new normal’?
- Preparing for the world of hybrid working patterns
- Realising the potential of remote working
- What are the challenges of managing remote teams?
- How remote working challenges employee wellbeing
- How to improve wellbeing in a remote team
- Priming your systems for better remote working
- “So, what technology do remote teams need?”
- Managing Remote Teams: The takeaway points
Intro: the rapid evolution of remote working
It wasn’t too many years ago that remote working was still a fairly elusive concept in most places of work.
While smaller businesses, start-ups, and those at the cutting edge of tech and digital were leveraging agile working with little reservation, this reality was a long way off for many other organisations.
For many businesses flexible working was allowed for select individuals and circumstances – board members, sales executives with high travel mileages, those with childcare duties etc.
But the possibility of flexible working for all felt like it was miles off in the distance.
What comes after the ‘new normal’?
2020 saw the average competency and understanding of remote practices pushed to a new height. A height which many thought it would have taken much longer to reach.
But 2020 was also a year wherein the goal for most was simply to hang on. To adapt to the changes as they happened and, above all else, survive them.
Now, we find ourselves at a point where businesses have proven they can take on the so-called ‘new normal,’ and the world has been given a long overdue jump start on the road to digital transformation.
With everyone now on this irreversible journey into more tech-enabled, flexible modes of working, one big question remains: what happens next?
Preparing for the world of hybrid working patterns
With the UK on an irreversible path out of lockdown and onto the road of recovery, remote working looks set to become a permanent part of the day-to-day for most professionals.
But contrary to what we thought the future might look like in 2020, it appears fewer organisations will be making the decision to go fully remote.
So just what is hybrid working?
The phrase hybrid working is currently being used to describe a number of different circumstances.
To some, employees having the choice to work some days in the office, some days from home each week represents a hybrid working model.
Others insist that a hybrid working model refers to splitting remote and on-site work by team or department. E.g. marketing could work remotely, while the sales team remains on site.
Ultimately, hybrid working can refer to any combination or split of on-site and remote working dynamics that grant employees more autonomy over where, when and how they get their work done.
Current attitudes to hybrid working
Based on the data of employee attitudes and changing business infrastructures, it looks highly likely that hybrid working models will be the norm for teams in the years to come.
- Research from the Adecco Group suggests 77% of UK employees feel a mix of office-based and remote working is the best way forward post lockdown.
- In a Gartner survey of 127 company leaders, 82% intended to permit remote working some of the time as employees return to the workplace.
- While 61.4% of respondents in Atlas Cloud’s Get Hybrid Working Done survey stated they would prefer hybrid models of work pattern/location, a percentage which was only at 24.9% during lockdown (while 70% of respondents wished to work fully remote).
Realising the potential of remote working
Organisations must now look to level up how their remote teams operate.
To evolve their remote capabilities beyond simply being a ‘Plan B’ and allow their geographically dispersed teams to thrive in the more hybrid future of work.
In 2020, the world learned how to manage agile working practices. Now, it is time to maximise them.
When managed well, remote working practices will proactively drive more business success – thanks to teams being happier, healthier, more skilled and more productive.
In order to achieve that, the first thing you need to do is assess the potential challenges it can bring.
What are the challenges of managing remote teams?
If done right, remote working has the potential to unlock numerous benefits for employees. Increased feelings of autonomy and independence, greater productivity, and better work-life balance.
In fact, these upsides were often cited by early adopters of remote working (such as Buffer) as the very reasons why their peers should embrace it.
But the sudden and large-scale uptick in remote working during the pandemic also revealed the drawbacks remote working can have.
The reported negative impacts of remote working
- 27% of respondents cited feelings of isolation as the biggest drawback of working from home
- 20% of respondents cited poorly functioning remote collaboration tools
- And 19% stated the biggest drawback of working from home was feeling disconnected from the company.
For the most part, the difference between remote working landing your team on the right or wrong side of productivity, work-life balance and autonomy, is simply managing it the right way.
There are two aspects to this: your team need to feel the same level of mental and emotional support that they would in the office, while having access to the same technological capabilities.
Achieving these things means enhancing your wellbeing practices and enhancing your systems.
Making these improvements will not only serve to proactively support the productivity and wellbeing of your employees, but it will also equip them to support it themselves.
So, first things first, let’s look at the challenges remote working can present to employee wellbeing, and what practices and processes managers can use to address them.
How remote working challenges employee wellbeing
Many of the factors impacting the mental wellbeing of remote workers during lockdown have been unique to the pandemic, and the global atmosphere of crisis that has come with it.
But feelings of isolation, anxiety, low mood, and low motivation are still alarmingly common among those that consistently work away from a physical office.
Remote workers often find themselves procrastinating excessively and lapsing into other bad habits.
Others feel working from home is eroding the boundary between their personal and professional lives, impacting their ability to focus while working, or to relax once the day is done. Here are some of the most commonly reported issues remote workers can face: -
Working more hours
Employees working away from the office tend to clock in more hours. In a recent Work From Home survey, 36% of respondents said they were working excessive hours, while 47% claimed they were not taking hourly breaks from their desk or computer screen.
Overall, those surveyed were spending 48.5 minutes more at their desk each day than they would in the office.
Finding it harder to ‘unplug’ from work
Working from home consistently can erode the distinction between work life and home life – whether that means domestic distractions interrupting the work day, or the pressures of work bleeding over into the evening and making it harder for us to relax once the day is finished.
In a recent survey of 1,000 Americans published by TELUS International, a huge 4 out of 5 respondents stated that they struggled to ‘shut off’ in the evenings when working remotely.
‘Zoom fatigue’ and burnout
Not only are we spending more hours in meetings on average, but the videoconferencing platforms we use to facilitate them have been shown to bring about more tiredness, worry and ‘burnout’ than normal meetings.
Numerous studies referenced in this article by the Psychiatric Times suggest that this could be due to video meetings lacking core aspects of face-to-face interaction, such as nonverbal cues.
How to improve wellbeing in a remote team
Prioritising wellbeing within your remote team is key to realising its full potential and helping your employees to be at their best and most productive.
Encourage employees to turn off their notifications
Even something as small as glancing at an email or Slack message out of hours can pose a threat to your team’s work-life balance.
Proper recuperation from the working day is what helps you stay focused for the next one. Encourage employees to use ‘Do Not Disturb’ or ‘Quiet Times’ settings on Teams, Slack, or whatever app they may use at work. This is crucial to protecting that border between personal and professional life.
Get the right ‘rhythm’ to your meetings
Having meetings too frequently can overwhelm employees and shrink the time they have to tackle their work, but having them too far apart significantly contributes to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Try to have regular, predictable catch ups to keep everyone in contact and maintain a loose sense of structure to the working week.
Finally, do all that you can to set aside some time for conversation that isn’t about work. In the absence of ‘water cooler chat’ provided by a physical office, it’s important that remote workers have some form of outlet to talk, blow off some steam and vent about everything and nothing.
According to a study by the AAT, the most important factor in workplace happiness is positive social relationships with co-workers.
Let your staff define what is urgent
Being disconnected from a physical team and office can make employees feel anxious that they are not doing enough.
This can then lead them to overcompensate and fall into the habit of ‘firefighting’, which eats into the time they have available to manage their own tasks.
Encourage your workers to prioritise themselves and their own workload and emphasise that they should not feel a need to respond to everything straight away.
The best way to help teams achieve this is with the right communications technology.
Cloud phone systems with call diverting capabilities and user-defined call forwarding are a great way to help your employees strike that balance of accomplishing ‘deep work’ while remaining contactable to the right people.
Streamline your systems
According to Human Resources Director, distributed teams logged a total of six billion minutes using collaboration apps at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While collaboration tools can unlock tremendous benefits for remote teams, they can also prove paradoxical – harming the very productivity they aim to support.
In Igloo Software’s “State of the Digital Workplace” report, remote workers reported an experience of ‘app fatigue’. 55% of them had to switch between two or more platforms just to accomplish their daily tasks.
One way to combat this is to strive for unified communications.
Integrating all of your tools for communication and collaboration and making them accessible through one interface can significantly improve productivity and focus by reducing ‘digital distraction’, among a number of other benefits.
Priming your systems for better remote working
Research carried out by digital consultancy Publicis Sapient indicates that, when asked how their employer could make remote working better, 41% responded with better or newer hardware.
In this same report, ‘training or support for tools and platforms’ and ‘subscriptions to collaboration tools’ were also the 5th and 6th most popularly cited, respectively.
Substandard technology can cause a number of significant problems for remote teams, including…
One thing that has proved even more significant than the surge in digital transformation and remote working during the pandemic, has been the explosion of fraudulent activity.
Data from Hiya shows there was an 850% jump in scam calls alone during COVID-19.
That means that your business information – whether it’s an email, a WhatsApp message, or simply something being said to a colleague over the phone – has never been more vulnerable.
When investing in remote collaboration tools and other technologies to facilitate more effective agile working, you need to know that your data and your communications channels are safe, secure and compliant from end to end.
Your staff also need to be sufficiently trained. Educate them on the threats that are out there, and how fraudsters tend to operate in order to access critical business assets.
If your connectivity suffers, so does your team.
Communication or network downtime is one of the costliest disruptions a business can face. And unfortunately, outages are more common than you might think.
In a survey by LogicMonitor, 55% of organisations experienced five outages or more between 2016 and 2019.
With the average cost of network downtime adding up to more than £4000 per minute (or $5,600 USD), remote teams can’t afford to settle for anything less than market-leading connectivity.
Fragmented communications infrastructure
If your team is normally kept in connection by in-office communications infrastructure, with physical hardware, ISDN lines and PBX desk phones, anyone working remotely – and therefore outside of your primary business communications network – will have to settle for substandard connection, voice quality, and general functionality.
This can develop into significant hindrances to productivity, particularly for employees that need to remain contactable on the go, or for internationally dispersed teams in need of consistent enterprise-level connectivity across all locations.
It can also present a significant hurdle for new business and sales teams, as operating from a ‘work mobile’ without caller ID or a single business number can lead prospecting calls to go unanswered.
“So, what technology do remote teams need going forward?”
While there are countless individual tools and apps, that can be added to your arsenal, what ultimately determines your ability to collaborate effectively is your communications infrastructure.
But with the future of work highly likely to be hybrid, organisations need more than just exceptional performance.
Businesses wanting to thrive need communications systems that provide incredible elasticity too.
A hybrid world of work means leveraging a lot of different potential team structures and dynamics, so tomorrow’s teams need communications systems that can be set up seamlessly, rapidly scale up and down, and adapt on the fly to match a myriad of potential team dynamics.
However you choose to manage and structure your workforce, cloud-hosted telephony can deliver the capabilities you need.
Read on to learn how cloud telephony will address the issues outlined above, while bringing countless other benefits.
Flexibility brings enterprise-level capabilities to your entire team
The beauty of cloud telephony is that it extends all the communications capabilities you’d have on an office desk phone system across every location, time zone, or device that your team needs.
And it allows your entire team to be contactable – whether in the office or off site – via one single business phone number.
This means all employees can enjoy a consistent level of communications performance, and hybrid teams need not worry about being harder to get a hold of on their work from home days.
Plus, having a single business number is proven to make your calls more likely to be answered.
Cloud telephony allows businesses to set up universal outgoing caller ID, so your prospects and customers can pick up the phone with confidence.
The best cloud telephony systems will give your whole team a consistently secure connection with a high level of guaranteed uptime, regardless of where they are based.
Opt for something with geo-redundant architecture.
This means the service you receive is backed up by multiple data centres, allowing you to benefit from reliable connectivity, high performance and exceptional call quality at all times.
Operating via the cloud means your telephone systems can scale up and down instantly. No need to install and maintain bulky hardware, setting up new team members is simply a case of ‘plug and play’.
This is especially handy for when you need to seamlessly recruit and onboard new workers.
The best cloud telephony systems provide mobile access to their connection via an app, so all staff can plug into your business phone line wherever they are, on whatever device they wish, as long as they have an internet connection.
New remote staff can get set up with a new extension, no on-site installation or desk phone needed.
And automatic system updates
Cloud-hosted services are also updated by the provider, so users can be sure that they are always on the latest and best version of their communications software.
As with the set-up process, this eliminates the costs and time of maintenance typically associated with business communications. It also makes the awkward process of keeping your systems with bolt-on attachments a thing of the past.
Managing Remote Teams: The takeaway points
The events of 2020 have demonstrated that remote working can be a viable reality for all (or all office workers at least).
Now we find ourselves in the opportune moment to push things forward and work towards realising the full potential that agile working practices have to offer.
As we move into the near future and hybrid working models become normalised, there are a number of ways that managers can allow their geographically dispersed teams to work better, do better and be better.
- Businesses are likely to adopt modes of working with a split between some days in the office, and some days working remotely. Now is the time for businesses to prepare and go from simply managing dispersed teams to maximising them.
- Remote working can lead to happier, healthier, more productive teams, but it can also cause feelings of loneliness, isolation and feelings of disconnection from the wider team. What your employees experience is all down to how you manage your remote teams.
- Managers can address the common psychological and emotional challenges of remote working by: -
- Encouraging employees to set a hard boundary between work and play,
- Establishing the right ‘rhythm’ of meeting regularity
- Supporting them in the prioritisation of their workload
- And streamlining channels by striving for unified communications
- Suboptimal communications infrastructure will further compound the difficulties that remote teams face. Organisations need to invest in systems that are reliable and secure, that extend enterprise-level communications to the entire team, no matter where they are, or what device they use.
Cloud-based telephony empowers remote teams to work effectively.
However you choose to manage and structure your workforce, cloud telephony can help.