Believe it or not, remote work is on the constant rise. What used to be considered as a niche and perk, have already become a strong workplace trend - in particular when it comes to project management - and a common expectation. According to LinkedIn’s annual Global Talent Trends 2019 report, there’s been a 78% increase in job posts published on LinkedIn that mention work flexibility. Its authors state that employers who don’t offer any flexibility, and the possibility to work remotely or at least shift the hours from time to time, are now the minority.
And rightly so. Remote work affects teamwork on many levels - it requires a mental shift not only among remote workers but also among their managers and even team members. Based on years of experience with remote and distributed teams, we’ve gathered top tips for remote work from different perspectives and how everyone can benefit from it.
Tips for remote workers
Your boss has just approved your request to switch from the office into the home office? Congratulations! You’ve just started saving an hour per day on commuting, and from now on you can eat fresh home-made meals instead of microwaving or waiting for food delivery. You’ll be healthier and visibly less sleep-deprived - it was a pretty long time ago when researchers realized that commuting can be a significant factor in higher blood pressure and an overall mood.
If you add to the equation the fact that professionals working in dysfunctional office spaces - which includes open-plan offices according to the Entrepreneur Magazine - are being put under enormous stress and take more sick leaves than other employees, you can really feel this change is going to be good for you. However, it doesn’t mean that working remotely is always a bed of roses. People working from home frequently report loneliness, communication & collaboration issues and difficulty to unplug after work. Luckily, with our tips, you can become a happy and fulfilled remote professional.
Act as if you’re at the office
A common myth about remote workers is that they stay all day in their pyjamas. In theory, it’s possible, in reality - it’s a bad idea. It’s advisable to do a morning routine before work, no matter where it happens. Morning hygiene, changing clothes to comfortable but neat, coffee or tea and a healthy breakfast will help you start a good and productive day.
Another frequent misconception is that remote workers have at least some time during the day to run errands, cook or have a walk. However, unless you’re a project-based freelancer with an extremely flexible schedule, you have to be available and reachable during specified hours. If you’re supposed to work 9-5, be in your home office at 9-5, including reasonable breaks. When in doubt, ask yourself how would you behave in the office - if taking longer breaks or leaving the office to run short errands is ok with your employer, then you can probably do it. If you wouldn’t do something like that in the office - then don’t do it at home, during working hours of course.
A useful yet not so obvious tip is to be not not only reachable online during working hours but to also stay a ‘visible’ team member for everyone else. This means being as active on the communications channels as you would be in the office or at least almost. So, to make your boss as happy about the switch to the home office as you are - comment, ask questions, share doubts and what’s crucial: constantly share the progress of your work.
You won’t be able to fight every stereotype and people tend to imagine remote workers on their sofa, binge-watching TV series. You know it’s not true but you wanna make sure everyone else knows it too. Having a video call all the time might be a bit too much of a good thing but once in a while it can also be a way to minimize the feeling of being lonely and excluded.
However, it is also important not to go overboard with things. You want to be active and participate as a part of the group which is why you try to only share useful thoughts. What you don’t want is to annoy your team just because you wanna show you’re in front of the screen as well.
Get the most out of communication and collaboration tools
Remote work without the right tools is hard. If you’re a freelancer working with a few clients, it’s possible (although not the most efficient) to use email as a sole communication tool.
However, a distributed team won’t thrive without the right set of tools (or even better, an all-in-one collaboration and communication tool). Everything that is natural in the office environment, like informal chats next to the coffee machine and spontaneous discussions, is also possible remotely, but requires more effort and using communication tools.
Project management software solutions just like Stackfield provide help. Stackfield combines both project management and communication to one single tool and puts an emphasis on data privacy & security. Basically, it helps all team members (no matter if they are working remotely or not) collaborate on tasks, documents, and projects with the unique ability to encrypt data end-to-end as needed, so that everything is kept secure.
Tips for managers
It’s not only remote workers who have to learn how to manage their time and available resources effectively. If you’re supervising a distributed team, you might encounter some challenges - such as creating an environment in which everyone feels like they belong in a team. It’s not the only issue, though. Managing such a team requires a specific mindset and great organisational skills. Here’s what you can do to make your distributed team thrive:
Hold daily and/or weekly meetings
As already mentioned, staying connected is crucial for every team, especially a distributed one. Let’s face it - exchanging ideas and talking about recent developments is always easier face-to-face. There might be no need to be in touch all the time, but having daily, or at least weekly meetings to make sure everyone has caught up and is the same page, is important for everyone involved. To put it simply: regular meetings are a must, no matter how often they are held exactly.
There is something else that is really important:
Remember to always structure your meetings, though. If your team members work in different time zones - timing and duration of such meetings will be crucial for them. It’s normal to small talk at some point but you should always have (and follow) an agenda not to waste anyone’s time. Also, try to schedule your meetings when all your team members are available and can attend them.
Be clear about your expectations
Sadly, your team is unable to read your mind. It might be tempting to assume they do - but reading someone’s intentions, especially online, is quite difficult. There might be some misunderstandings, which is why you should make sure your expectations are always clear and realistic. Agree on tasks, KPIs & deadlines, and keep an eye on task progression in your project management tool to check whether everything is going in the right direction.
Speaking of - it’s essential to trust your team, but you should check in with all team members from time to time. This proves to be much easier in an actual office, but you can also stay on top of things with the right communication & collaboration tools.
Tips for distributed team members
Interestingly, most of the articles about remote work focus on the perspective of employees and managers. However, the situation where part of the team works in the office and another part remotely is not rare and requires some effort and a mindset switch from office workers too. It may be a challenge when the majority stays in the office and never freelanced nor worked from home. Luckily, with the right approach, it’s possible to create a real team spirit and to get the work done well and efficiently.
Don’t neglect communication tools
Man is fundamentally skeptical when it comes to new experiences - in fact, in everything that differs from the old. Communication tools are there to capture all relevant information. Short feedback on the latest development or a personal opinion on the design suggestion of the table neighbor would otherwise be presented intuitively verbally. Because information about the joint project and current developments can be relevant to all team members, it makes sense to provide everything related to the project or collaboration centrally.
No wonder that you have to get used to it first. But once you get used to it, you also recognize the benefits: information is no longer lost and can easily be found later, relationships are maintained, every employee stays up to date, etc. This is an advantage in all teams. However, in distributed teams it is urgently needed. Home office employees, freelancers or colleagues on business trips can otherwise no longer follow the work progress and feel isolated - not only from important news, but also from the team.
Include a short small talk before every meeting
Meetings, both in-person and online, have a reputation of being big distractors. No wonder that usually team members want to go straight to the topic and go back to work right after. However, for remote workers, videoconferences are often the only way to have a conversation with the entire team. Starting a meeting with a brief, maximum of 10 minutes small talk about what is going on in everyone’s lives won’t ruin the agenda and may help remote members to feel they’re part of the team and know their colleagues better.
Remote Work - rather obligatory than optional
Germany is often referred to as a „developing nation“ in terms of remote work and New Work in general. In other countries, home office and co. are a huge trend and in Germany, the trend will continue to spread. This also means that the concept, which was previously optional for companies, could very soon turn into a mandatory one, which is why it is better to deal with it and start preparing in advance. Taking the first step towards remote work is not difficult. Prerequisite for this way of working is a little flexibility, the right attitude and a suitable software.