Because of the global pandemic, most companies have been forced to transition to remote work and alternative productivity strategies. However, some countries were already in the process of adopting remote work strategies at least a decade before COVID-19 was on anyone’s mind. For example, 15% of the European Union’s workforce operated via remote work before the significant 2020 shift.
Even though many European companies already had some experience navigating remote work, the fact remained that most companies, both in Europe and around the world, faced serious difficulties in organizing effective remote work strategies.
Any significant shift in day-to-day operations will naturally present some unexpected challenges, but this was compounded because COVID-19 forced these changes to happen abruptly with very little prior preparation.
Many countries are beginning to return to a “new normal.”
However, remote work is something that is here to stay. This means that businesses should take the time to understand the difficulties that arose during their somewhat rushed remote work implementation.
Even if these businesses didn’t experience significant challenges, it’s helpful to examine the challenges that others in the industry may have faced if they come up in the future.
The good news is that even if remote work is still an everyday part of business operations, companies now have a bit of breathing room to evaluate the difficulties they may still be facing. The most common challenges businesses face regarding remote work organizations are quite solvable with the appropriate plan of action.
Provide access to information resources
In the traditional, “in-person” work format, new hires can quickly seek out more experienced colleagues, mentors, or superiors whenever they have questions or concerns. It’s easy to see how a remote work environment can make this learning process much more difficult for new employees.
The problem here is twofold. First, while it’s true that employees may be in constant communication via online messengers or work chat servers, new hires may not feel comfortable in this environment. It often feels too intimidating to pose a question to a roomful of colleagues, virtual or otherwise, especially if the new hire feels like the question is “silly” or “basic.”
Second, new employees may not have the same level of access to management that they would have in an in-person work environment, so they are more likely to feel less of a sense of direction. This can cause their productivity to suffer.
Fortunately, there are simple strategies that any business can implement to overcome information issues.
The easiest and most effective way to aid both new and veteran employees is to offer informational resources that are accessible and comprehensive. Try to outline as many situations as possible in an online resource that employees can quickly reference.
Be sure to include company policies, corporate culture norms, and specific guidelines for handling difficult situations. For newbies, in particular, have sections that address common mistakes and challenges, and include detailed steps for resolving these situations.
As an example, at Postoplan, my team has a corporate Wikipedia page specifically for this. It enables us to create a more productive experience when onboarding new hires. In addition, they have a clear and simple resource to help them navigate common pitfalls and challenges that employees often face.
Having a wiki-style page also enables you to maintain consistent policies and easily update or revise them to adapt to current working situations.
Find the proper project management tools.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that your company is only as good as the tools you use to manage it. In the case of remote work, finding the proper project management tools is critical to the success and effectiveness of your employees’ work.
It is absolutely vital to take the time to source the best project management tools for your industry, even if it means beta testing a few before settling on one in particular. A small amount of short-term stress or confusion is a worthwhile price to pay for finding a long-term solution that streamlines and improves remote workflows.
Regardless of the industry, you’re in, one of the main features that your project management tool suite should have is multifunctionality.
Remember that switching to remote work may be more stressful for some employees than others, particularly those who may not be tech-savvy.
You want to minimize the amount of new software they need to learn and ensure that what they have to master is as straightforward as possible. For example, while it may be no big deal for you to manage multiple employee communication channels in a day, this can be a considerable hurdle for employee productivity.
Using multiple channels of communication is also a quick way for vital information to get lost in the proverbial shuffle.
The second feature you should look for is convenience. Now is not the time to try an untested communication platform. If possible, take a poll or survey and ask your employees to help you decide your main channel of text communications.
Popular, easy choices include platforms like Telegram, Slack, and WhatsApp. Some companies also successfully use Discord servers.
Manage Successful Remote Work With These Project Management Software for the Best Results
The most popular project management software options are Trello and Jira. Trello is a classic kanban board for team tasks, and roughly20% of companies use this method.
Trello is also a great option to test out because it’s free and well-known. Jira is a more specific tool. Its primary use is to run and manage software development processes. Jira makes it possible to clearly set the tasks that need to be completed. It also allows everyone to see and monitor task progress and return to any of the given tasks for updates.
In some instances, remote workers find tools like Microsoft Teams easiest to use. Microsoft Teams is essentially an all-in-one tool that makes it easy to combine chats, video calls, email, and shared task lists for better, more streamlined collaboration and communication.
Another excellent option for this type of tool is TeamViewer. This simple extension allows users to receive remote access to a colleague’s desktop for more straightforward screen sharing.
Finally, don’t discount popular messenger platforms.
Implementing the right mix of messenger programs is an ideal way to improve interdepartmental communications. In addition, a good messenger program can also help create better business processes as a whole.
In turn, this can lead to better, more helpful project management processes over the long term. Even if your company returns to an in-person work format, tools like these can be incorporated into this “new normal” work style.
Establish the proper system of communication
One of the biggest challenges that employers face with remote work is successfully managing progress oversight and productivity. In a more traditional office environment, it is a simple thing for management to make rounds and check in with employees regarding specific tasks and projects.
For better or worse, this provides a certain level of accountability pressure to employees and a greater sense of security and control over productivity for management.
With remote work, management no longer can know for sure that employees are working at any given moment.
The solution to this problem is not to demand frequent progress reports and status updates, nor implement extreme measures like desktop tracking and real-time screen monitoring. These methods create excessive amounts of tension and resentment, and they ultimately lower the overall morale and productivity of your team.
However, when36% of polled workers say that they find it more challenging to be productive when they don’t know what their colleagues are currently working on, it becomes clear that a problem needs to be solved.
Ultimately, management must understand that remote work is an inherently different beast than an in-office workday.
Because your employees are home, there might be other demands on their time and attention. This is especially true for people who must deal with children, spouses, and pets that may also be home because of things like vacations or pandemic restrictions.
This is not to say that your employees can’t still be productive. Instead, management must consider the fact that employees may be restructuring their working hours to fit with their new work situation. Work-life balance is much more challenging for some employees when they are remote working.
There is a certain amount of flexibility that management should provide for successful remote work scenarios.
As mentioned above, excessive monitoring like real-time screen trackers or online activity monitors is a recipe for disaster. These measures drastically increase anxiety and tension and do very little to impact productivity positively.
A recent poll from ExpressVPN found that more than 50% of respondents said they were ready to resign because of these excessive monitoring and control methods.
In many cases, it is more beneficial for the company to set goals, deadlines, and a few milestones for projects and then let employees structure their work schedules around meeting these goals.
After all, getting the project done well is typically more important than an employee’s precise steps to get there. Netflix is an excellent example of this. They measure employee performance by work results rather than working hours. Understanding that some employees work best at different paces is critical to a successful remote work situation.
The key is to balance flexibility and structure so that both sides feel comfortable.
To this end, management should make an effort to preserve regular communications and maintain a clear understanding of the work that’s in progress. Employees may not want to feel smothered by intrusive monitoring, but they also don’t want to feel entirely left on their own.
Remote work is most productive when there are clear expectations outlined and dedicated check-in times for employees to communicate with their superiors.
The exact schedule you follow will depend on the industry you are in, but in most cases, at least one review session at the end of the workweek is beneficial. This gives you the ability to check in with each team member individually or as a group to ensure that everyone is making progress and there are no issues that need to be addressed.
Many companies also find it beneficial to use the progress tracking features of the communication services mentioned above, such as Trello and Jira. This is a low-effort way for employees to make progress reports and management to keep tabs on the progress of a project.
You should also make an effort to connect with your employees on a non-work basis. Remote work affects everyone differently, and it can help tremendously for you to simply let your employees know that you care about them as human beings rather than just cogs in a machine.
Tying It All Together
The single common thread that runs throughout these tips is good communication. Providing excellent resources, implementing the right team tools, and balancing flexibility with structure all work together to create a stable and positive framework in which your employees can operate.
Remote work is undoubtedly very different from an in-person office environment, but it doesn’t have to be more challenging or stressful.
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