What Can Remote Work Teach Us About Working in Teams?
No one likes to imagine that in 20 years, we'll all still be wearing masks any time we go out in public. Hopefully going out to restaurants is far from extinct, and future people will still be hugging and singing in choirs and going to concerts. Some--if not most--of the conditions we're now living through will revert back to the norms that we cherish. But perhaps there are some things that will persist, not out of a need to adapt to the reality of a pandemic, but because certain adjustments made because of Coronavirus proved to be more effective than the norms we had grown used to.
One of these adjustments that are easy to imagine becoming a more permanent fixture of our world is the ability by a much greater amount of people to work remotely. There will certainly be office-buildings in 20 years, but will it be the default way of life to spend so much of your time there?
For decades there have been evangelists in Silicon Valley criticizing the limitations of in-person work and pushing to make remote-work more popular. But they have always seemed a bit odd, challenging an idea that was so fundamental to society. If you were to tell your employer, or your family, that you were planning on adjusting to a remote lifestyle, you were probably looked at as if you had just said you planned on adjusting to life as a professional salsa dancer. Sure, some people do it, but you're 35 and don't even know how to snap your fingers.
But even as remote work was an eccentric thing to aim for, a certain minority of professionals did manage to do it. Over the years, they became more popular, but they remained a minority. Having a remote-work option was an occasional luxury some people had some of the time but going into the office was typically the default. Still, their numbers grew gradually year after year. Many dreamed of the day the world would gradually shift away from the repetitive commute to the office, but the idea still appeared radical to anyone conditioned to think of work and the workplace as synonymous.
And then it all changed in a moment. Everyone, even the skeptics, was forced into an experiment whereby the vast majority of office-work needed to be done remotely. The results have been hugely mixed, with some companies reporting an improvement in productivity, while others are worried about both the productivity and the mental well-being of their employees.
The truth is that "working from home" or "remote work" or "distributed work" can't really be generalized as a single thing. Just as "in-person work" isn't one thing. A company's culture and process can make going into an office vary wildly depending on which place you're going to work for. The same is true for working remotely. There are right ways to do it and many wrong ways to do it. The technology a company brings on board to tackle this process will also largely determine how effective they can be in this period. So far, many companies hoping for a quick return to in-person work have been stuck with Band-Aid solutions like utilizing rogue applications and crossing their fingers. Of course, this isn't going to come close to the kinds of results they're hoping for. But remote work can be exponentially more rewarding depending on the technology available.
Our latest eBook, "Operate From Anywhere," delves into the future of remote work and how to optimize it.
For now, returning to the office remains a distant goal, so we all should be trying to learn as best we can how to make the most of this new condition. We might find out along the way that there are certain advantages to remote work that we won't ever want to do without.
Make More Tasks Asynchronous
One of the strongest fears bosses have had at the prospect of letting people work remotely is that a remote worker might just slack off. But this fear is unfounded if you view it from the right lens. It's actually much easier to detect if a remote worker is being unproductive. Simply look at their output. Are they doing what they said they were going to do? Is there something to show for it?
But when everyone is together, it's harder to do this because it's easy to mistake proximity for productivity. They're at the office, so they must be working, right? One of the most egregious examples of mistaking proximity for productivity is how people use meetings. If everyone is together, ostensibly discussing something important, then the time must be being used wisely, right? But this is obviously often not the case. It has become a meme in recent years to point out which meetings could have always just been an email.
The need to be more selective about what issues warrants a meeting is even higher when your office is operating remotely. 8x8 strives to provide the best video-conferencing experience possible, but we also acknowledge that there are certain drawbacks to the video format, especially if it's the primary tool your organization is relying on. Avoiding video-burnout is essential. A lot of people experience, after sitting in video conferences for hours back to back, that they've stopped functioning at the kind of level they're used to.
Our Vice President of Business Marketing, Todd Goldman, recently sat down with Dr. Jessi Gold, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University to discuss this phenomenon. You can read the full interview here.
Dr. Gold explains that the video format causes us to miss out on most of the ways we typically take in information, and instead can sometimes saddle our brains with an overwhelming amount of less relevant material that leads us to burnout:
"If you're in a big 8x8 video meeting and there are 10-15 people all cameras up and one person is talking and someone else is talking to someone else and someone else's dog is there and someone else's kids are there... your brain is pulled in all directions and you're not sure what you're supposed to be looking at... Your brain is just firing on all cylinders trying to make sense of it and that's just really exhausting."
Most things don't need to be done together in real-time, and that's where asynchronous tasks come in. What needs to be done all together in the same virtual space, and what can just be an email or a message, allowing the other person to do it on their own time?
The meaningful distinction here lies in whether something is both important and urgent. Many things are important, but only some important things are also urgent. For anything important but non-urgent, like brainstorming or planning certain details that need to be hashed out for the future, a video-meeting just isn't the most effective use of everyone's time.
Allowing things to be asynchronous takes a little faith but will wind up being a more productive and liberating option in the long-run. Decide what really needs to be done in real-time and let everything else happen on its own time.
Communication is Key
It's not an exaggeration to say that, when everyone is working from a distance, communication is really all you have. Use that to your advantage. Whereas details might have been lost in the ether when casually discussed at the office, everything now is being logged and recorded for clear reference. But writing clearly can only happen as a result of thinking clearly, and so leaning into the written word necessarily means you have to work to actually be as intentional as your language.
Remember, also, that you're dealing with human beings who don't have the benefit of getting to hear your voice or see your body language as you speak. This means you have to work extra hard to make your words come across the way you want them to. Tone and feeling too often can get lost over text.
It can be a creative challenge to communicate well when you're limited to the written word or your voice without the in-person ability to read another person's body language. But the very best way to ensure that your team is interacting effectively is to make all of these formats available to them under one integrated platform. Communication styles vary from person to person and vary within people from hour to hour. Someone may need to stick to chat, while then a few hours later they're really looking to see their coworker's face. This kind of flexibility is what we aim for with our X Series, which provides an all in one communications platform that brings together text, voice, video, and content sharing all in one convenient application.
Use the Cloud
When you're trying to make remote work effective, there is a world of difference between using a simple rogue video client, or a system designed to streamline teamwork. The cloud is absolutely essential for both synchronous and asynchronous work, connecting people over one safe and secure platform. It also facilitates communication by providing a shared virtual workspace where ideas and progress are tracked alongside shared data points. Cloud technology really is essential in this age of remote work, and it's difficult to imagine being able to pull off leading a distributed team without it.
If you're considering seeking a cloud communications solution, 8x8 is here to help you manage your transition to the cloud as seamlessly as possible. After tens of thousands of deployments across various industries and degrees of complexity, we're confident we can help you with a technological solution crafted specifically to suit your communication needs. To hear more about our cloud services, visit https://www.8x8.com/solutions/cloud-migration.