From Shopify to Alibaba and Google to Ford, companies around the globe have been telling their staff to work from home in a bid to stem the spread of COVID-19. 2020 will probably go down in history as the Year of Remote Working and will leave a lasting impression on the way people live and work for many years to come. Although “virtual” teams have been increasing over the years with companies expanding their presence across geographies, increased telecommuting and shared workspaces, COVID-19 just accelerated this!
In a survey conducted by The Conference Board, 77% of HR executives expect a significant increase in the number of employees working remotely for at least three days per week - even a year after COVID 19 abates. Companies are moving towards a new work culture – that encourages people to adopt remote working – freeing up office space costs, encouraging more women to come back to the workforce & could even stop rapid urbanisation that we have taken as inevitable in our world.
"A shift toward more remote working will have major implications for HR departments." "Among other changes, they will be able to recruit workers from a broader geographic pool and will need to hire and promote those who can inspire remote teams" said Robin Erickson, co-author and Principal Researcher at The Conference Board.
So how do we adapt to that new world? We are delighted to bring to you some best practices & tools that you can quickly apply to get effective - and fast - in this new world!
Best Practices to boost productivity of teams working remotely:
Managers across the world are faced with handling virtual teams overnight. Productivity and efficiency of these teams are major concern areas today. So how do managers make and lead viable virtual teams?
Based on our experience helping organizations overcome collaboration challenges with our vEmployee model, we have collated a list of best practices to boost productivity of teams working remotely:
At the very heart of the business is people - having the right team could make all the difference between success and failure. What constitutes a great virtual team and what is an ideal team size?
Virtual team members need the following skills to be productive:
- Great communication skills
- High EQ
- Self-management + ability to work independently with minimal supervision
- High levels of self-motivation and
- Resilience - learn from failures fast and bounce back
Behavioural interviews and personality tests like Myers-Briggs can be used during hiring to get the right team in place.
b) Team size:
“It takes only 10 discussions for each individual on a group of five to touch base with everybody else, but that number rises to 78 for a team of 13.” - Harvard Prof. Richard Hackman
While team sizes vary depending on the project from less than 10 to 100 + for complex ones, the most ideal virtual groups are the small ones - less than 10 members, the sweet spot being between 5-10 members.
c) Engaged employees:
Engaged employees are more likely to be productive than those who are not engaged.
Creating work that is engaging is a big task in itself. For this, employees need to have the freedom to experiment, innovate and solve problems.
Flexport is one such company. They are a global freight forwarder and logistics platform. Flexport’s one major pillar is the company culture and employee inclusiveness plays an important role. Ryan Peterson’s, the CEO’s mantra for employees: “Make sure they’re treated well. It has to be a win-win trade.
Post pandemic, they got their ground level team’s help in generating ideas on how to ship critical goods in a highly constrained world. Using their team’s ingenuity, they packed 3 million pieces of PPE into a repurposed passenger plane for frontline staff!
The culture of the company plays a pivotal role in keeping employees motivated - trust and empathy are sides of the same coin. Perceived psychological safety and presence of a defined structure contribute to productivity of remote teams.
Trust & empathy:
With teams working virtually, there is always a concern about whether the employee is actually working or how productive they are in the virtual milieu. Trust and building a culture of empathy play a major role in addressing this.
“The value that I really learned to appreciate deeply and which I talk about a great deal is empathy.”
Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. Satya says that empathy is a business essential and a key factor of business innovation. Microsoft is using empathy and innovation to drive new product development.
Building trust is an on-going process. Some ways to build it could be:
- Asking people to share their personal side @ work
- Encouraging social interaction within the team
- Including employees in decision making wherever possible to enhance a sense of community
- Sharing challenges and inviting solutions
- Creating a milieu of comfort
Many companies are now focusing on making their newly hired employees feel at home in their virtual onboarding. For example, Delivering Happiness, a culture consulting company, gets their new hires to take video tours of their workspaces. Zapier, a software company, sets up video pairings randomly so that people get to know each other despite not being able to see each other physically. This allows co-workers to understand their new co-workers faster and communicate better.
Psychological safety & encouraging open dialogues:
The need to build the psychological safety of employees and avoid pangs of isolation and insecurity is an important task of a leader.
Some ways to reinforce this are:
- Encourage managers to have regular 1-0-1
- Constructive criticism in a caring way - phrases like ““I might suggest” and “think about this”
- Open & frank discussions
- Surveys to measure motivation
Well defined structure, objectives and directions:
Maintaining a fine balance between trust and structure is crucial for virtual teams to be productive. Virtual teams need clear and well defined objectives and guidelines.
- Teams work better when they have a common vision which brings them together and also see their individual needs and aspirations being met
- Specific rules for group interaction - rules decrease instability and upgrade trust in social groups
- Agree on how rapidly group individuals should react to questions and requests from one another
- Clear and crisp communication is important to avoid messages like “I thought it was understood …” or “I didn’t think I needed to mark it out”
- Post call meeting notes & call to action (CTA) to reinforce that everyone is on the same page
- Discourage multitasking on calls or switch to video for a more engaged call.
3. In-person meetings:
There are certain times that virtual groups have to come together in person - during induction & to celebrate a milestone success.
a) Introductory meeting/new joinee induction:
For a new joinee, an introductory meeting - be it face-to-face (wherever possible) or video is a great way to meet co-workers. Nonverbal communication like body language and eye contact aids in establishing rapport and trust. Pairing them with a buddy who can be their go-to-person for queries helps them settle in their roles quicker.
b) Celebrate successes/milestones:
Emails, regular phone or video calls work well in the short-term. For viability, in the long run, frequent physical meetings (wherever possible) should be held to inculcate sense of belonging to the company. Hitting certain milestones, achieving an ambitious target or yearly achievements could be some reasons for these meetings.
Last but not the least one cannot overemphasise the role that technology and tools play in remote teams. What would we do if we didn't have conferencing tools like Zoom/Skype, how would we collaborate if not for channels like Slack?
This table gives you a snapshot of the various tools available and their application.
Managing remote teams is no easy task; these best practices endeavor to make them more productive and content.
Want to hear about more such best practices from our experience or are you struggling to get remote teams productive? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org