Remote working has now become an increasing norm of working life. Previously this arrangement was made based on preferences and agreements between employers and their employees. In 2018, it was estimated that 22% of Americans worked from home and nearly 50% of the workforce were involved in virtual or remote working teams. It is common for businesses to use distributed teams to better utilize their resources and prepare for entry into new and diverse markets where they may not have the required expertise or skill set.
However, recent events have led to the need for a much greater volume of employees to work remotely. This has undoubtedly led to dynamic and wide-scale changes to how work is conducted. Management must actively concern themselves with how remote teams collaborate and communicate with one another. This is especially important in cases where teams work across functional or geographical boundaries. Management must ensure that staff have the required skill set for the demands of a largely digitally-driven job, including digital literacy and strong communication and collaboration abilities.
A major challenge for people who work remotely or as part of remote teams is communications. With the majority of conversations conducted through digital technologies, a specific skill set is required.
When we examine how individuals derive meaning from conversations, body language represents 55% of communication understanding, with 38% coming from voice tone and modulation and only 7% of meaning being derived from the words spoken. This means that through a lack of body language distributed teams miss out on the largest proportion of how we understand meaning. The use of video conferencing can help to alleviate some of this shortcoming but is unlikely to ever replace the understandings derived from in-person conversations.
Additionally, communicating remotely can distort the pace at which our everyday conversations are conducted. This is because the lack of in-person contact means that communications tend to take place through asynchronous mediums. This imposes an unavoidable delay between messages. Such problems can often be exacerbated where inboxes and chats are being flooded with messages. Delays and wait times can lead to team members overthinking and second-guessing their words or decisions, while also leading to feelings of frustration or even distance, which can be detrimental to collaboration efforts. The team as a whole is required to alter their expectations of how quickly discussions, and in turn decisions can occur.
Often individuals try to reduce the volume of words that they communicate with in order to increase efficiency. However, this brevity can lead to increased issues as team members have to spend greater time trying to analyze the nondescript communications to decipher their meanings. It is frequently suggested that it is better to share more information than less as the communication of context can help individuals to prioritize the given information, interpret its meaning, and derive necessary actions.
Establish communication norms
When working remotely and with little opportunities for teams to be collocated in the immediate future, it is essential that teams establish communication norms; this can be done at a team level. However, it is also important that team members actively keep each other aware of upcoming times when they will be unable to communicate. Such periods could be due to large looming projects or even requirements at home such as attending to their child’s needs. Some team members may have a preference to communicate over email, while others may prefer to use messaging boards, calls or even text messages. By understanding each member’s unique and particular behaviors, teams can better communicate and meet the requirements of each individual.
A key area of note when it comes to communication norms is that not everything needs to be communicated immediately. It is good practice for teams to have a weekly or even daily call where they can discuss ideas and opportunities that are not of a time-sensitive nature. This will reduce the volume of communications, which may otherwise appear to be relentless and overwhelming. As mentioned previously, messages should not be shared across a multitude of platforms, mediums should be chosen based on time sensitivity, participants’ personal preferences, and the required information to ensure complete understanding.
Remote working teams and their management must work together to create intentional spaces for collaboration. Not only is this important for teams to build foundational relationships and to get to know each other better as individuals, but it is necessary for the success of remote collaboration efforts. This is often done through group calls or chats. It should be ensured that these times include general conversation or ‘water cooler’ chat so that members can get to know each other and potentially discover common interests and bonds. This is especially true in cases where workers have been unable to meet teammates in person prior to engaging in remote work. It will also help to eradicate potential miscommunications before they can occur.
To ensure strong collaboration, team members should, where possible, be aware of what projects and work their colleagues are undertaking. This can be done through tracking systems, message boards, or shared schedules. Such knowledge will ensure that remote workers are not undertaking the same work due to lack of awareness, potentially causing other projects to be left incomplete.
It is imperative that teams and management work together to ensure that the organization and team cultures remain strong even in a remote environment. When a team is isolated from each other, especially unexpectedly, individuals may feel that they are forgotten or alone. This may reduce their desire to work hard and contribute to the organization at optimum levels. Critically, it can also have a negative impact on employee well-being and morale. It may cause employees who are typically introverted to find themselves becoming more withdrawn as they struggle to reach out to others. This could make their future reintegration into an office or collocated environment harder and even jarring.
Deloitte suggests that there are a number of important behaviors required for effective remote collaboration. Firstly, individuals should attempt to understand each other’s situations and perspectives. All members should actively participate in discussions and bring their individual insights to the table. They must actively work together to ascertain the best ideas and examine problems through different lenses and viewpoints. Individuals should not be afraid to challenge their colleagues where appropriate and voice their viewpoints without fear of negative consequences. Plans should be tailored where appropriate and most importantly, there should be a clear allocation of expectations and required workloads.
Successful remote collaboration often utilizes a multitude of software tools to provide the best experience for all involved. For example, distributed teams tend to rely on video conferencing technologies to brainstorm, debate ideas and reach decisive conclusions for the next steps. However, issues can arise which lead to distractions, irritations, and the inability to collaborate effectively. This can include excessive background noise, poor connection, and time lags, which can increase crosstalk and confusion.
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Spearline's platform proactively tests inbound telecommunications services, as well as dial-out. Connectivity and audio quality are monitored on fixed-line, SIP, or mobile networks, globally. Spearline enables organizations to provide uninterrupted services to customers around the world. For further information, or if you have any further questions .