Since we first experienced the effects from COVID-19 and the restrictions following the onset, an increasing number of companies are moving towards remote work. This has presented some new challenges, as it is very important to be able to manage your team properly, but requires a new set of skills and tools.
As many people around the world predict we will not be moving back to a full five days office week, which means remote work is here to stay, at least to some degree. By adopting techniques and tools early on that allow your team to work efficiently, you can stay ahead of the competitive curve and reap all the benefits.
As COVID-19 is still active around the world and doesn’t show signs of slowing down within the immediate future, there are short-term benefits to adopting a WFH policy. But there are also long-term advantages of transitioning to a more digital workflow.
Early on during the initial stages of transition, we saw a shift in the tools and services that companies use internally as well as externally. Zoom saw massive increases in their user base as the tool quickly became the most popular tool to enable remote work communication. And Microsoft Teams, which also offer video communication went from 13 million users to 145 million users in less than two years.
As the world is moving towards a life where COVID-19 has less of a daily impact, but where we have now experienced the benefits of remote work, more than 80% of people asked in a recent survey, say that they won’t be accepting job offers from companies not allowing remote work opportunities. So is working from home going to be permanent?
A large number of people have expressed a desire to work from home at least once or twice a week, with some even hoping to only visit the office a few times a month for important meetings. And looking at current statistics, we can see more than 60% of the workforce between ages 22 to 65 are working remotely, at least partially.
Overall this seems to be a general trend and not based on specific industries, which might showcase an underlying desire for a larger degree of autonomy in the workspace than we have previously had.
As remote working most likely is here to stay in one form or another, once the pandemic ends it will continue to be important to know how to communicate with and manage home-based employees — and a critical aspect of the future of work in general.
Since many companies will most likely not be moving to a full five-day work week at the office, using the current situation to adapt the processes, workflows, structures and overall strategies to fit a hybrid environment will be a long-term solution, rather than a temporary contingency.
And as with most innovative and disruptive ideas that bring progress, being at the forefront rather than ignoring it can lead to great results and success, both in the short term as well as in the long run.
There are a number of positives when it comes to employees working from home that might not be readily apparent. There are obvious benefits, such as less energy consumption at the office, and similar expense related advantages that are easy to measure and benefits such as:
● Increased productivity due to employees working at peak motivational timeframes
● Less disruption and disturbance from coworkers
● Flexibility with working hours and scheduling
● Provides more satisfaction for employees
● More options in terms of team compositions
● Promotes innovation and initiative
● Less work for managers once the process has been set up
● Time is spent more efficiently (no waiting in traffic, for the meeting room to become available etc)
● Easy access to management and other employees via text
What are some challenges of leading virtual teams? Many managers have expressed concerns or worry about relinquishing the control that having employees working in the office provides. They are concerned that it will be impossible to know whether the productivity will remain at the same levels, or drop due to less oversight and control.
By looking at research provided by ResearchGate, we can see that some of the most common worries are the following:
● Difficult to know if your team is actually working or not
● Family members and household pets can distract from the work
● How much time are they spending on tasks at home versus the office?
● Availability during office hours and beyond
● Lack of social interactions can lead to increased loneliness
● Ensuring everyone has the same goal and vision
● Measuring whether remote work is effective or not
All of the above points make great sense, and it is logical for managers and business owners to have these concerns. However, by analyzing the list carefully we can actually see a few patterns emerge, one of which deals with trust.
Many of the worries expressed have to do with a lack of control or transparency. Some managers might worry their employees will spend less time on work and more time with their family pets, while others might worry that it will be difficult to get the entire team onboard with the same vision.
Managers feel in control in the office, as they can look at an employee's desk to see if work is being done or not. But as we all know, it doesn’t guarantee your employee is working, just because they have a spreadsheet open on their desktop.
Rather than worry about losing control, managers can consider that adopting remote work techniques actually can increase the level of information they are being offered. Many remote work services and apps include time tracking, detailed planning and workflow tools that provide a better framework and overview for managers.
We’ve concluded that there can be many advantages to adopting a WFH policy, but also a set of unknowns and potential disadvantages. We are already seeing more than 50% of the US workforce have adopted a remote work policy, so surely it must be possible to do so successfully. But, how do you transition employees to remote work?
By transitioning to a remote work policy, managers will need to spend more time planning and managing assets. This includes keeping track of which employee does what, as well as managing the access they have to resources and tools.
It also involves making sure information flows freely between teams and departments, and creating a healthy environment where they can still engage in small talk with their coworkers.
As mentioned above, we covered some of the most common concerns that business owners and managers express, and therefore the key should be to identify which potential downsides your business might face, and then select a strategy that addresses this.
By adopting a workflow that seeks to correct or mitigate the potential issues, we can eliminate many of the challenges associated with remote work, while maintaining the positive benefits. And looking at the numbers, we can see a larger increase in productivity than reduction compared to before COVID-19.
And in 2022 there are many online resources available in terms of apps and software, knowledge banks, studies and research to help guide our path. Choosing a workflow or planning tools as the center of your transition can be a great way to get a head start during the transition period.
As these tools have already been designed to allow for an optimal workflow, meaning managers can draw inspiration from planning methods, communication techniques and customer relation systems for a shortcut to a proper workflow.
A successful remote work strategy can work without using any tools, but it becomes significantly easier to manage employees and measure efficiency by using software and apps to track hours, organize projects and delegate assignments.
There are complete systems to handle everything from project delegation to customer relations, to extremely simple and streamlined apps that only focus on a single aspect. By getting familiar with a range of tools you can then decide which is the best for any given situation.
We’re going to cover the three most popular types of tools when it comes to remote work and managing employees. As discussed earlier, some of the most common concerns that managers have when discussing WFH are communication, workflow and efficiency.
These tools are all designed to help streamline the daily workload by creating clear goals, direct lines of communication and an easy overview so that every employee knows exactly what their task is.
Here are some of our favorites:
Ensuring optimal communication between employees working from different locations, and possibly at different times, can be made easy with one or two quality communication apps. It is important that it should be easy to use and learn for all employees, and that it should promote engagement rather than discourage it.
Slack is awesome for internal day to day communication as you can create various groups and channels depending on teams, and the software is easy to learn with a sleek modern user interface.
One of the main advantages is that all communication is kept stored in logs, so you can easily go back and find a 2 month old conversation that has the answer you were looking for. But at the same time, the informal design and option for casual channels encourages your employees to keep up the small talk and build professional relationships just as they would do in the office.
Discord is much the same as Slack in that businesses can create various groups and channels, and easily schedule a voice or video call with anyone else available. There are options for having customers join certain groups, while keeping other groups internal for employees only.
Most of us have had Zoom calls already, and the software has been the number one tool for businesses since COVID-19 started.
But your business might not have adopted a full Zoom or similar video-call strategy. Meetings can be held just as effectively online as they used to be during face-to-face communication. But it is important to ensure proper training and onboarding for the first time users among your staff.
These tools share some common features that in general encompass a wide range of functionality when it comes to managing your employees and delegating tasks.
The workflow tools we have listed are more or less complete in that they facilitate communication, project and task management, and integrations with other third party apps and services.
This complete package is built for medium to large companies that require a solid platform upon which they can build their entire online workflow. This includes project management, time tracking, invoicing, budgeting, kanban workflows and more.
While this will take some onboarding for both employees and managers to learn and use effectively, it provides a great framework and foundation for any business serious about remote work over the long term.
Todoist is a more simple project management tool that is aimed at small to medium businesses that do not need a lot of third party integrations, and are not looking at combining their finance tools with their customer relations apps.
While simple, the tool still allows for efficient project management and task delegation as well as collaboration with multiple team members working on the same projects.
Asana might as well be put under the planning tools category, as the main draw of this software is the unrivaled task planning platform it offers as the core of the service. But Asana is more than just a fancy to-do list.
Asana offers the possibility to track individual interviews as well as provide a general overview of how each task performs compared to the whole. And if your business is already using other services, such as Salesforce CRM, Gmail, Zoom or Slack, you can easily integrate these services with Asana to provide a seamless workflow between channels.
One of the more popular planning tools available, Trello has seen a huge surge in users since the pandemic. The easy design that uses tabs as we would use sticky notes offers an intuitive method of delegating tasks. Managers can easily assign specific jobs to employees, and employees have an excellent overview over which tasks are most important in terms of deadline and other metrics.
As the name suggests, this tool offers an easy way of planning projects and tasks with a visual interface using Gantt charts as part of the process. This includes milestones and options for internal communication between team members.
With this planning tool it becomes effortless to create complex plans with multiple team members over longer time periods, and you get access to metrics tracking deadlines, priorities, teams, customers, and even risk assessments.
With this software you gain a turnkey solution to managing your entire project pipeline in one easy application. With the simple drag and drop interface, managers and team members will quickly and intuitively be able to navigate the tools and features available with Liquidplanner.
Especially focused on planning and project management, features include a custom schedule strategy that can be applied to active or upcoming projects, and also comes with a workload report feature that enables managers to measure key metrics to predict and calculate the project costs.
Working from home does not need to scare managers or business owners moving forward. All data points to positive effects such as increased productivity, better employee satisfaction, and access to better metrics in terms of tracking and performance.
With the current situation unfolding as it does, it is logical to assume remote work will continue to play an important part of the overall workforce around the world, and by adopting these techniques, companies can be on the forefront of progress, rather than fighting the current.
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