In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work has been hailed as the "new normal" by numerous publications. Startups and tech companies were the first to test the waters, as work-from-home was rarely the majority preference in organizations with more than 50 to 100 people. Now, workplace practices have shifted so much that we're no longer debating remote work benefits. Whether we like it or not, it is here to stay, and companies would do well to adapt sooner rather than later to the new reality.
However, working remote, or running a remote team, does not come without its fair share of challenges. Global Workplace Analytics recently estimated that 44% of US jobs are still not fully compatible with remote work.
Therefore, companies operating in today's knowledge economy are essentially the pioneers paving the way for the future's workforces.
Perhaps the biggest concern for these companies is productivity.
Let's talk about how organizations can help remote workers hone their soft skills to be more productive at home or wherever else they choose to work.
1. Make Communication Priority Number One
Communication is the key to making the entire concept of working remote function. A McKinsey study found that productivity within an organization can improve by 20-25% when employees effectively communicate with each other.
As opposed to an office, where back-and-forth communication is easy, remote workers must know how to convey information to team members concisely with very little ambiguity.
Depending on the time difference, communication can become even more critical. For example, let's say team members are working in both the United States and India (12.5-hour time difference). Lapses in communication or unclear instructions could potentially render an entire day useless. For this reason, remote workers must hold communication as their number one priority.
As much of the discourse in this situation will take place over email, text, or private IM messages, employees must communicate at an extremely high level, especially when giving directions. Shoddy writing can wreak havoc on productivity for everyone involved. There is perhaps nothing more frustrating than spending time to complete work, only to realize later that the instructions were misinterpreted due to poor communication.
When typing up correspondence or talking on the phone, remote workers need to simplify things as much as possible and make their words easy to digest. Keep in mind; the best communicators emphasize not just the message but how the message is received. When you cannot communicate face-to-face, there needs to be a strong focus on the other person and less on yourself.
For employee-to-employee communication, it's highly recommended to invest in an exclusive communication tool for the team. Instant messaging and videoconferencing programs like Slack or Zoom allow remote workers to converse easily within their system.
2. Improve Self-Motivation
When working from home, there will inevitably be times when finding the motivation to be productive is tough. Combining all the distractions and the fact that nobody has a manager breathing down their neck, maintaining the drive to work will require some discipline. That said, companies should leave the business of motivation to every individual worker.
There are many strategies to keep in mind when it comes to staying motivated day-in and day-out. One of the most common advice that many accomplished remote workers give is to keep your work area and living area separate. If you don't, it can be tough to draw the line between work and relaxation. Over an extended period, this can lead to a dip in productivity, and eventually, burnout.
Many professionals and productivity experts claim that time blocking is an incredibly effective method for spacing out your schedule and stay focused throughout the day. This involves breaking your day up into sections of 25-30 minutes, with a few minutes in between to rest and reset yourself. These time blocks should be designated for focusing on one thing and one thing only.
For example, you might reserve the first time block of the day to answering emails or messages from clients. Then, dedicate the time blocks in which you are most productive to essential tasks requiring critical thinking. Tools like the Pomodoro technique make the prospect of organizing your days and weeks easy in this way.
Most importantly, be sure to dedicate time throughout the day to take breaks. After all, humans were not designed to stare at computer screens for hours and hours on end.
For many employees, work from home has been a curse in disguise – they've ended up working an average of 48 minutes more every day after being relegated to working from home in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, as per data from the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Again, tools can come to the rescue here. To ensure this doesn't happen, you can use rota management software that can allocate and schedule work according to employees' skillsets, smartly rotate leaves and working periods, and even prevent fatigue by limiting the number of hours they work.
3. Encourage Thought Leadership
Thought leadership is a fascinating concept. Just as technology has given people the ability to work remotely, it also gives everyone a voice that can be heard by the masses. One of the most significant drawbacks to working from home is that it's much harder to have in-depth one-on-one conversations and share value through personal observations. Remote workers are likely to spend most workdays by themselves and are not directly exposed to mentors and industry leaders.
That said, as a remote worker, you are wise to take advantage of the technology and information at your fingertips as a means to fuel your dedication while helping your company become an industry leader.
As a manager or leader, insist that your staff (both remote and in-office) dedicate a small portion of their day to reading up news and blog posts related to what they do. The information or content consumed can then play a significant role in the strategies used throughout projects that they work on. Whether you do your catching up over morning coffee, during lunch, or over breaks, staying in the loop on industry chatter doesn't just keep you informed; it gets your brain working and encourages you to add your insight.
Over to You
Remote work is both a blessing and a curse. While the freedom it grants can work wonders for some people's productivity, it can have the complete opposite effect on others.
Most employers don't take hiring people for remote positions lightly. They need to be sure they can trust the person to buckle down and properly contribute without supervision. You can hire the most technically gifted worker in your industry, but if they don't have the communication skills, self-discipline, or motivation to stay productive, there's no point.
Honing the soft skills necessary for remote work does not usually happen overnight. In many cases, it can take employees several weeks – or several months – to properly adjust to the freedom attached to working from home. So, the best thing you can do as an employer is to hire right, sit tight, and keep the encouragement going.
Author's Bio: Dipti Parmar is an experienced business and marketing consultant. She helps startups, brands, and individuals build a stellar online reputation and establish thought leadership in their industry with innovative content and digital marketing campaigns.