For many organizations, COVID-19 has made efficient virtual collaboration paramount to growth, success, or simple survival. Over the last year, we have seen companies including Facebook, Okta, Slack, Square, and Twitter commit to remote work for the foreseeable future – and more will follow as the benefits become more apparent.
Remote work can increase overall job satisfaction and productivity, help attract and retain talent, and even lead to improved mental health. With more workers and employers realizing their work can be done from anywhere – sometimes even more efficiently – remote work looks poised to stay beyond the end of the pandemic.
At Automox, a cybersecurity company, we have always had a remote strategy and mindset – even before the pandemic – and many employees were accustomed to occasional work-from-home days. Like many companies, however, we also missed things that were taken for granted when we were in the office three to four days a week.
[ Remote work can lead some people to slip into micromanager behaviors. Read also: Are you micromanaging your remote or hybrid team? 10 questions.]
4 keys to improving collaboration during remote work
Here are some of the challenges that we faced, and the solutions that our IT teams put in place to ensure continued team collaboration and to make the remote work experience more engaging – and even fun.
1. Reimagining brainstorming sessions
One of the biggest hurdles we found when we moved fully remote was finding a replacement for the whiteboard. We are an engineering-driven company and when we were in the office it was easy to quickly brainstorm an idea or visualize a complex system on a whiteboard – that workflow is hard to replicate in a virtual meeting.
We still struggle with this issue, but IT has done a great job training and helping users become power users of our current tech stack. We have doubled down on documentation and consolidated documents into a singular spot for all to reference and view. We have also started to distribute drawing tablets to our teams and trained them on how to use whiteboard features in our video conferencing software.
While this is not nearly as seamless as everyone being in the same room, it does help make some of our meetings more impactful and often reduces the number of follow-up meetings.
2. Showing empathy and understanding
Many of our employees have worked fully remote for much of their careers, and for them the transition was fairly smooth. But for employees who have worked only in a hybrid environment or have never worked remotely, it has been more challenging. Training, constant communication, and patience is key to success for a remote workforce.
There are many reasons employees may be struggling, from unfamiliarity with new software to not having a comfortable place to work in their homes or even lacking the hardware they need to do their job efficiently. It’s important for your IT team to be accessible, understanding, and willing to address whatever is causing anxiety.
3. Fighting meeting fatigue
Like many other companies, we sometimes struggle with determining what should be a meeting and what can be done through asynchronous work and shared documentation. Zoom fatigue can severely impact the speed at which a company can execute.
We have adopted some new technologies and looked for new ways to consolidate meetings and explore different methodologies to help us be more efficient. For example, drawing tablets have helped with collaboration and whiteboarding exercises. We have a pretty sizable home office budget for employees, and many use it to purchase noise-canceling headphones and software for video calls. That is a major comfort when working from home, especially if you’re in a room that is open to most of the house, for example, and you have young children.
[ Does remote work leave you exhausted? Read our related story: Remote exhaustion: 13 tips to reduce fatigue. ]
4. Rebuilding company culture
It’s not uncommon to jump on a video call with a member of our IT team whose background is from an episode of “The Office” or inside the Millennium Falcon cockpit. We have replaced team lunches down the street with Grubhub orders and virtual bingo, and IT organizes monthly Among Us games. People are dealing with unprecedented stress levels and finding ways to boost and maintain employee morale is essential to everyone’s well-being, motivation, and productivity.
Our flexible work-from-home strategy has resulted in some unusual situations. For example, one of our IT systems engineers, an avid climber and camper, once gave us a tour of his campsite while on a video call. We noticed that one of his camping partners was using a chainsaw to cut some firewood, but we couldn’t hear a thing. When our colleague switched off his noise-canceling software, the noise from the chainsaw was so loud I had to quickly take off my headphones.
I remember marveling that he was able to use his hotspot to connect to the internet from his corporate machine and hear us on the call thanks to the noise-canceling headphones, and that we could hear him with no interruptions or background noise. He still got a ton of work done that day – even from a camp in the mountains – because we have fully embraced a remote workforce tech stack.
Communication and collaboration can be difficult and frustrating for organizations with a remote workforce. There are still plenty of improvements to be made and questions to address as the world begins to reopen. Yet I’m proud to be a part of a company that truly wants everyone to succeed and is invested in giving its employees the tools they need to work together seamlessly and efficiently – and to thrive in their roles and as a team.
[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]