It's Not Just About Logistics
From one day to the next, you moved your entire team out of the office and now you’re all working from home. Maybe some teammates had already been working remotely some of the time, but to most, this is an entirely new world of virtual collaboration, communication and connection.
By now, you’ve hopefully got all or most of your team members working from home, set up with a computer and connection, sharing files on Drive or Box, collaborating on Slack or Teams, and communicating on Zoom or Skype. While sorting through the logistics of working remotely can be hugely time consuming and inconvenient, at least you know what you need to do. Now comes the hard part.
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
While no one can predict how long the impact of COVID-19 will last, it's safe to say your team will need to adjust to this new world of remote work for months not weeks. If you are deliberate about the transition to remote work, your team will come out stronger and be working better together than ever before. If not:
- Team members can feel disconnected from each other. 40% of American workers already felt lonely at work, but now, without the benefit of face time and casual chats that happen in the office, team members may feel even more isolated.
- Well intentioned emails and chat messages can be misunderstood. Depending on the context, over 90% of how a communication is received depends on body language and tone vs the actual words. Because virtual exchanges lack the in-person cues that communicate intent, there is greater risk of miscommunication.
- Irregular schedules and unpredictable response times can kill productivity. When team members are co-located, they can see when someone is at work and/or ready to chat, and they can just go over to someone’s desk to get a response. Those cues aren’t present in a remote workplace.
The end result is that your team becomes ever more disconnected and dysfunctional over time, their performance can start to suffer, and stress and anxiety can build up to a breaking point, which unlike in an office, can go undetected.
Make Remote Work Less Lonely
As a fully remote company from day one, Ultranauts has spent the past seven years experimenting with new practices and tools for building fully distributed and incredibly diverse teams that are connected, engaged and empowered. Several of our F500 and startup clients asked us to share our insights and practices as they try to adapt to everyone working from home, so we codified a list of 8 practical tips and tools that we hope will help make working remotely less lonely and more productive for any team. E.g.
Tip 1. Establish clear ground rules for work. Issue: It can be challenging to set clear boundaries when “being in the office” or ”being at your desk” is no longer a signal for being ready to work and/or talk. Potential solutions: set clear expectations for all team members vis-a-vis availability during business hours and communications after hours; define proper etiquette for using real-time collaboration tools (Slack, Teams, Skype, etc).
Pro-tip: utilize your collaboration tool’s online “status” to signal availability or lack there-of and set up custom codes with a shared understanding of their meaning (e.g. “In a meeting” for not being available for an hour, “Heads-down working” for preferring to not join calls or respond to messages until further notice, “Out of office” for being offline for the rest of the day). At Ultranauts, we’ve developed a set of Work Rules that include guidelines for communication and collaboration intended to define etiquette for ensuring effective interactions on a distributed and diverse team.
Tip 2. Understand each other’s work habits. Issue: Not being able to “read” a team member’s reaction or walk over to their desk to get a response can result in friction and delays and can lead to misunderstandings. Potential solutions: don’t assume everyone has the same preferences as you do, instead share your preferences and ask your colleagues for theirs.
Pro-tip: have each team member create a “user manual” with a common set of fields related to individual work preferences that colleagues should be aware of – e.g. typical response time by communication channel, preferred channel for time sensitive messages, preferred learning style for new information, preferred timing and framing for receiving critical feedback). At Ultranauts, we all have a Biodex, a self-authored user manual to help our remote team get to know each other and work more effectively together.
The days, weeks and months ahead will strain all our teams, and we hope that sharing what we’ve learned at Ultranauts will help your team stay connected and engaged as your get through these challenging times, because we are all better together.