Improving Productivity for Remote and Distributed Work Forces

As work from home and distributed teams become a new normal, it's critical to recognize that managing remote teams comes with some different challenges. Here are four tips to achieving stronger communication and productivity gains.

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By Seth Elliott Originally published

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At a time when more people are working from home but business deliverables and deadlines remain the same, managers are seeking tangible ways to make remote work function just as well as the usual methods for employees they support. Below are four tangible steps that managers can take to combat communication or productivity issues that can occur for teams who aren't used to working remotely.

Related: 3 Ways Strong Leaders Can Support Work-From-Home Employees

Integrate your communications and management tools

Integrations allow distributed, remote-first and remote-friendly teams to connect regularly and with little to no effort. Communications-based SaaS platforms have now transformed into "virtual offices," where employees, especially those working in different time zones, can talk both one-on-one and in groups. Particularly, Microsoft Teams and Slack have become some of the most important spaces for daily activities and team interactions and team building.

Your people are already updating each other on the progress of their tasks in these channels, so why not take advantage of integrations with management software to save them the work of updating unnecessary spreadsheets?

Related: How I (Almost) Doubled My Productivity While Working From Home

Make progress visible and simple to understand

Combining goal-setting processes with the means to effortlessly and instantly see how you are actually performing is a priceless motivator for employees. It propels them to gain an in-depth look into the overall health of the business while finding areas for personal improvement and opportunities for advancement or specialization.

To ensure that your employees are progressing toward their goals and those of the company while working remote, they need to know how to prioritize their time, delegate, track task progress and stick to deadlines. Every teammate should be aware of not only their responsibilities, but also their peers' as well, which is why organizations should try to be as transparent as possible throughout all levels (especially the C-suite!).

Related: 10 Tips From CEOs on Working From Home Effectively and Happily

Use data to illuminate productivity and communication breakdowns

In an ideal organization, data makes it possible for everyone to track their work's impact on the overall business. Of course it also helps people set and manage goals and stay aligned on what good performance looks like.

Most unified communications and organizational management software now display data in a dashboard format so that people can conveniently draw conclusions and quickly make data-fueled recommendations. Proper data collection — and putting it in an easy-to-understand manner like this — helps employees at all levels. But arguably its biggest value is that it allows executives and managers to see what issues have occurred (and where) and identify performance problems or irregularities.

Related: Why Working From Home Is Beneficial for the Employer and Employee

Connect on the most human level possible

One element often overlooked is how challenging it can be to maintain coherency in a remote or distributed environment. Even parsing the meaning of phrases, punctuation or emoticons can become overwhelming for some employees. In-person workplaces have the advantage of context, but in virtual and written environments, employees can take 20 minutes to determine whether a period instead of an exclamation point indicates anger or frustration. For global organizations, language differences only add to the challenge. It's not an exaggeration to say that remote working often brings its own set of intense frustrations.

Managers can and should use tools and technology to ensure that the day-to-day work is being done and the bottom-line goals are going to be met — but don't forget that as a manager, your longer-term goal is to do just that: manage. Keep in mind the bigger picture of ensuring your employees are engaged, happy and productive. Often, a call or little reminder (an e-gift, mailed card or even a link to a book they'd enjoy) can go a long way in reminding them that there is a bigger purpose in the work they are doing, that they aren't being forgotten and that their work isn't going unnoticed.

Change is never easy, particularly when it is sudden and implemented amid stressful circumstances and uncertainty. When shifting some of your workforce into new, distributed environments, it's natural to expect a period of adjustment. However, if you make the commitment to implement the above changes to your management style, it can do wonders in making such transitions easier for your company.

Related: 4 Major Cybersecurity Risks of Working From Home

Seth Elliott

Chief Marketing Officer of Gtmhub

Seth Elliott is CMO at Gtmhub, where he equips modern leaders with OKR software to improve strategy execution management and achieve better business outcomes. In 20 years as a senior executive, he has helped accelerate corporate growth in diverse markets and across varied industries.

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