5 tips for long-term remote working success

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It’s been about two years now since teams were forced, almost overnight, to switch to remote working. While many companies feared things would fall apart, most found that business was going smoothly. And that there were actually benefits, including saving money, increasing productivity, and improving the quality of life for employees. As a result, with the end of the pandemic perhaps seeming in sight, leaders are beginning to consider whether or not to return to in-person work.

Related: Pros and Cons of Remote Working: Will Your Employees Adapt?

Unsurprisingly, many companies, including my own work, are choosing to transition to at least some amount of long-term remote work. LinkedIn’s Mark Lobosco notes that “[n]Now that companies have built the framework — and realized the time and cost savings associated with it — there’s no real reason to go back.

Walmart’s Suresh Kumar backs up that sentiment by acknowledging that their team not only coped, but “really thrived.” Kumar says they are now “more focused on the things that have the biggest impact for [their] customers, associates and the company. Remote work has led to “a big boost [that they] need to figure out how to move forward.

As remote work becomes a change that is not short-term reactionary change, but rather long-term strategic change, leaders need to focus. They need to make sure their teams are getting the most out of it and that they have all the right tools and systems in place to succeed.

To help leaders do just that, here are five tips to help your team be more successful while working remotely.

Focus on communication

In a 2020 study that looked at the state of remote work, the biggest challenge reported by employees was communication and collaboration difficulties. By this stage, most teams have routines and communication systems in place. However, it is an area that leaders should regularly assess, adjust and improve.

When improving communication systems, it is useful to keep in mind that with many different communication channels available, it can be difficult to know which channel to use and when. For example, when should employees use instant messaging, email, project boards, or video chats.

Providing clear expectations for when each channel should be used can help avoid both miscommunication and redundant communication. Plus, it helps everyone feel more comfortable and confident when connecting with team members.

Finally, when planning to communicate, make sure you allow regular check-ins with team members and create space for informal check-ins. This is something that is often lost when teams are working from home. Check-ins can help improve relationships and can ensure everyone on the team is on the same page.

Related: How to Manage Remote Teams to Improve Internal Communication

Pay attention to planning

In this same study mentioned above, employees indicated that the possibility of a flexible schedule is the greatest advantage of remote work. But, while flexible hours offer many benefits for employees and teams, it can also be difficult for team members to connect.

Leaders need to be aware of this tension and think about ways to resolve this issue. There are a variety of options, including scheduling blocks of time each day when all team members are available, having team members always set their status to away or active, or having employees plan their schedule and make it available to the whole team.

There is no one right way to do it and it largely depends on the needs of each team. Leaders need to proactively approach planning to ensure it doesn’t become a point of tension or frustration.

Make sure all team members understand their role

When working remotely, it’s easier for tasks to slip through the cracks or for employees to focus on the wrong things. Managers can avoid this by ensuring that all roles are clearly defined. Here are some tips to make sure it becomes second nature:

  • Always end meetings or emails with specific action items assigned to a team member

  • Clearly define and assign any new task or project

  • Have regular check-ins with all team members that include a clear to-do list and updates on ongoing projects

  • Use a project board or project management tool where projects are assigned and tracked

Prioritize data

Despite the best communication and check-in efforts, the reality for many leaders is that they simply don’t have the same opportunities to assess their team’s work in progress when working remotely. Working in person means regular collaboration, informal check-ins, the ability to see and respond to body language, and more natural responsibility.

To compensate for this, managers must prioritize data and documentation. This helps track progress, assess productivity, and ensure teams are using their time and resources as efficiently as possible.

Heather Wilson of TaxJar, a company with 160 completely remote employees, advises “a good rule to consider for remote work: if it’s not documented, it hasn’t happened.”

Find ways to allow all team members to connect

A final piece of advice for leaders is to find ways to ensure their team is connected. One of the biggest risks of working remotely is that employees feel isolated and alone. Leaders should strive to combat this by creating opportunities for all team members to connect and build personal relationships.

There should be opportunities for entire teams to come together, celebrate the work of teammates, and share interests outside of work. John Furneaus, CEO of Hive, shares some of the ways his team successfully found ways to connect, “[t]The most important keys to remote work in a startup have been weekly stand-ups. At Hive, we all log onto Zoom once a week to chat and thank the team.

The reality for many companies is that remote work is here to stay. And, while this has a number of benefits, it also presents challenges for leaders. Rather than simply falling into habits that emerged from a sudden shift to remote working, leaders should take the time to ensure their teams are getting the most out of remote working. These five tips will be a good start to guide you through this process.

Related: 5 Ways to Develop Remote Leadership Skills

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