Industry Dialogue: Mindset & Behavioral Changes Are Essential For Productive Remote Working

The future of work has been, for many years, touted to be remote. And now, all of a sudden, we’ve all been forced to embrace it without warning. The current COVID pandemic is keeping us indoors, lashing down with unimaginable wrath. That means even companies who’ve never really had employees working from home before are having to do so out of necessity. While working from home might be great for certain people – especially individual contributors like writers and coders – it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. That’s because there are many downsides that come with it. For starters, you’re prone to distractions, there’s a bit of loneliness and there’s lack of motivation. Regular communication gaps aren’t uncommon. And if you’re working with a team, there’s just a lot more chaos. The constant back and forth between team members can lead to miscommunication. Ensuring everyone on the team is on the same page while working remotely can be a challenge in itself. That said, creating the perfect environment for remote work, establishing set routines, and making slight changes to the way you communicate can help negate most of these problems.

THERE’S NO PLACE FOR BREVITY
Remote work can easily open up the doors to miscommunication. Here’s why: A lot of times, we tend to keep our messages brief on text when communicating with our team. You might believe you’ve conveyed your point – but your colleagues could be spending a lot of time and effort trying to interpret what you’re saying. So, how do you make communication smoother and easier? For starters, be as clear and detailed as possible while communicating with your remote co-workers. Don’t assume they would be able to read between the lines. Ask yourself: would they understand the point I’m trying to make? Or, would this lead to more questions? If so, what are these questions and how can I be more clear?

It’s always best to overcommunicate as it helps reduce second guessing and saves everyone a lot of time. Managing a project? Document every single step and share it across your team so that everyone is on the same page. Guiding a colleague on how to set up a business VPN? Elaborate on each step with screenshots. Nothing beats in-person communication as you can assess non-verbal cues as well. But by bringing more clarity to your written messages, you can do your best to make up for the communication gaps that arise by the lack of face-to-face meetings.

FIND WAYS FOR PEOPLE TO VOICE THEIR OPINION
When there’s so much written communication floating around within your team, unlike when you work in an actual office, it gets hard to convey intent and emotion. Shooting a slack message to your colleague – I don’t think this design idea would work. Let’s try something else – could easily come across as showing stern dissent even if you didn’t mean it that way. Also, many employees might not openly voice their opinion for fear of being misunderstood.

So, how do you encourage your team to speak out when working remotely? What can you do to dispel the fear of being misunderstood? Interestingly, the product management team at Zapier came up with a really cool idea. They agreed on a ‘safe word’ on Slack to indicate whenever they had bad feeling about a project. And that was a pomegranate emoji. It’s random but light-hearted and does the job. No one feels anxious if their point-of-view has been incorrectly interpreted. Similarly, you could think of fun ways to encourage your team members to speak up.

DON’T ABUSE FOLLOW UPS
The thing about remote working is that there are so many channels – email, text, phone, slack, and more – you can leverage to collaborate with co-workers. That can be a blessing as well as a curse. In many teams, it can so happen that you have colleagues following up constantly on a task across multiple channels. This is nothing but a relentless abuse of the digital medium. It’s not uncommon to feel more stressed and distracted when someone is regularly pinging you asking for updates.

While technology has made it ever so easy to stay connected, it’s important to respect each other’s time and space. Decide on a timeline with the other person so that there’s a clear expectation on when they’d expect you to follow up. Make sure the channel you’re using to follow-up is something the receiver is comfortable with. Also, never send the same message across multiple channels.

CREATE COMMUNICATION NORMS
As the cliched saying goes, human beings are creatures of habit. We prefer it when things are predictable. Second guessing makes us anxious and worried. That also applies to work. When there are a clear set of communication/collaboration protocols and rules being followed consistently across a team, everyone feels less stressed. And having this rulebook in place for work-from-home teams can be a game-changer. Ideally, you’d want teams to have clarity on the following:

● What is the standard wait time before following up?
● When to use Slack, Whatsapp, Phone, and Email and when not to?
● What communication platform to use for discussing feedback on a project?
● Guidelines on preferred time zones for communication, writing style, and tone.

This would eliminate a lot of guesswork and help your team members go about their day with a lot more confidence and conviction.

FIND WAYS TO CELEBRATE TEAM WINS
Working remotely involves quite a lot of emails, catching up on status updates over Slack, and following up on a deadline over phone. So much so that we miss out on a crucial aspect of team-building. Employee recognition and employee morale. But, why is this important? According to a Canadian workplace study, when employees were asked what their managers could do to improve engagement, 58% said ‘giving recognition’.

It’s always easier to acknowledge and reward someone’s effort when you’re co-located. Have a quick get together at the office and sing the praises. Or you could even have 1:1 face-to-face meetings to reward employees.

But, when working remotely, as much as the onus is on clear communication, creating a space for acknowledging employees is a must. Have regular virtual meetups where you can talk about everyone’s achievements. You could do virtual birthday celebrations. You can also hand out e-certificates to employees or give shout-outs in internal newsletters. As far as monetary rewards are concerned, gift cards are a great idea – but double-check if it’s something the receiver would actually use.

The self-isolation, loneliness, and distractions that come with remote work are pretty inevitable. But, we can turn this around by making adjustments to our daily routine, and learning to use different communication and man-management techniques. That way, work from home can actually be quite fun.

GIVE STRUCTURE TO YOUR DAY
Remote work has a big impact on your daily routine. You don’t have an office to go to, no colleagues to look forward to, and no reason to dress up smart. You tend to wake up late, stay logged in throughout the day, and ultimately, end up stretching your work hours way past the norm. And, according to a survey by Buffer, the most common struggle with remote work is the inability to unplug. This is something that can have a serious impact on your health in the long run. Based on a United Nations report, 41% of remote workers reported high stress levels, compared to just 25% of office workers.

So, how do you combat this disruption to your daily routine? It helps if you can tune your brain to thinking that you’re going to an actual office everyday – wake up on time and get ready just like you’d go for work. And to strengthen this mindset – invest in a designated work area. Bringing structure to your day is easy when you figure out when you’re most productive. For instance, if you’re a morning person, an 8-4 or 9-5 slot would be ideal, following which you could tend to your house chores. At the same time, if there are dependencies on other team members, ensure you establish common working hours so that it’s convenient for everybody.

Most importantly, ensure your work area is optimized to improve productivity. Sufficient lighting is a must. Make sure the laptop/desktop screen is at one arm’s length to avoid stressing your eyes. Every 15-20 minutes, get up from your chair, walk around a bit, and commit to doing basic stretches.