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Business Collaboration in the Age of Remote Workers

March 15, 2019

Companies are noticing that if they want to be an attractive destination for job seekers, they need to create flexible work environments that prioritize getting work done over spending long hours in the office. Roughly 63 percent of companies today have some form of remote workers, which isn't surprising. Today’s employees would rather spend 30 minutes catching up on emails than sitting in traffic.

With that said, it’s important to make sure that you’re not putting business collaboration on the back burner. For teams to be effective, their individual members need to be aligned and working efficiently towards a common goal - in fact, 86% of employees and execs cite lack of collaboration for workplace failures. Companies now have to strike a pretty difficult balance; create flexible work environments without disrupting communication & collaboration between employees.

If you’re able to get this right, you make yourself a more appealing place to work for existing and potential employees - not to mention, you can save some money on office space in the process.

Employees need options

This is super important to recognize. Today, business collaboration relies on employees to be able to communicate how they choose - that means providing multiple channels that combine real-time communication (voice, video, IM) with non real-time channels (email, voicemail etc). They also need different ways to access and share information, like file-sharing programs and internal wikis.

Having access to different collaboration tools is a huge help to remote employees. Think about the last time you worked from home. You probably used some combination of calls, email, instant messaging, and even video to stay in touch with coworkers. If you’re working on a team project, it’s so much easier to use a file-sharing application than sift through emails hoping you have the latest version of what everyone’s working on.

Take some time to think about the tools you’re using. It can be a little overwhelming at first - given how many options are out there that promote communication, co-creation, and task management, it’ll take a while to find the mix that works best for your employees. Once you do though, you’ll make life a lot easier for people that work remotely, and your teams will benefit as a result.

Establish (and trust) a process

Once you’ve adopted the right tools, you get to the hard part: figuring out how to use them effectively. Effective business collaboration hinges on clear guidelines for communication and information sharing, which is especially true if you have employees that work from home. When you’re using voice, IM, email and file-sharing at a minimum, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. At its worst, information overload leads to lost productivity and missed deadlines - the exact situations that companies are trying to avoid when they implement new communication channels in the first place.

Employees are overloaded with information and requests to collaborate. And they struggle when content and messages fly at them from all directions from too many different systems.

-"Why Businesses Need A Collaboration Strategy" - Forbes Insights & Dropbox

McKinsey tells us that workers spend close to 20% of their week searching for and gathering information. This can be especially problematic for remote workers because they rely on information sharing to be seamless.

By providing guidelines for information flow, you allow your employees to focus on having productive exchanges, rather than scrambling to find what they need to collaborate effectively.

Have a plan for engagement

This should go without saying, but there’s more to remote employees than just their output. One of the biggest challenges to working remotely is staying engaged with your team - at its worst, a lack of engagement can lead to feelings of burnout and isolation. Employees that don’t feel connected have a hard enough time being productive individually, let alone as part of a team.

Think about ways that you can encourage remote workers to consistently engage with their in-office teammates. One way we’ve tackled this at Votacall is by changing our meeting structure.

Effective meetings are an important part of business collaboration, but they can be tricky to run if your team is made up of both remote and in-office employees. We’ve had some success engaging our remote employees by having them virtually meet with their teams more consistently. Rather than having longer, less frequent meetings, our teams meet for shorter “burst” sessions daily to go over key projects and share ideas.

When remote employees interact with their teams more consistently, it’s a lot easier to keep them in the loop on projects and provide feedback. Although we don’t have the data to prove it, I have to think that it keeps them from feeling isolated too.

To Wrap Up

If you want your business to hit its goals in 2019, you need to think critically about how you’re going to enable your remote employees to collaborate effectively. Adopt the right tools, figure out the most effective way for your teams to use them, and make sure that you’re keeping remote employees engaged and communicating.

 

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