Your Team Wants to Work From Home. All You Have to Do Is Keep Them Connected. The option to work flexible hours from home is one of the most prized perks, and probably the easiest one for employers to afford.
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With high-skill tech jobs in demand and the popularity of SaaS, telecommuting is the newest darling of tech companies across the globe. According to a survey by Gallup, within 2012-2016 the number of telecommuters in America surged four-fold. Another study from Telework Survey finds that a whopping 79 percent of global knowledge workers have telecommuted or do telecommute at least some of the time.
Although telecommuting is not yet universal, its adoption by technology giants and startups is very telling.
Accordingly, many perks account for the meteoric rise of this nascent shift. On the employees' side, remote working means avoiding traffic jams, flexibility and more time for life outside works. Employers save overhead costs and can hire from a larger pool of talents. In a study conducted by Stanford University professor Nicholas Bloom, more employees and employers are confirming that remote workers are more productive. In a nutshell, it is a win-win situation.
As intriguing as this may be, telecommuting is not without its downsides, some of which are giving telecommuting giants hard-boiled challenges in achieving their bottom line. Recall how Yahoo! called for all its employees to be on-site in 2013. Some high-profile companies (Reddit and Best Buy) followed suit. To call for that, there must have been some disastrous dealings with remote employees on the background. Basically, the most prevalent problems with distributed companies can be narrowed down to three Cs: Communication, Coordination and Culture. Two of these three, communication and coordination, appear the most challenging in effecting smooth collaboration.
To make this clear, one distributed company organized a workshop in which participants were divided into a groups of three; one team member was shown an image and was asked to describe it to another participant over the phone. The second person, based on the description, emailed the third team member with instructions on how to re-create the image. At the end of the day, the whole workshop room was filled with laughter.
But don't forget: Our topic of discussion here is not solely about communication, it is about collaboration from whatever angle, with communication as the most important factor. Read on for four effective ways to navigate through the choppy waters of collaboration in a distributed company.
1. Pair each employee with a mentor.
Even with the wide adoption of effective telecommunicating tools such as Slack, Skype and many others, there is still some gap in the communication ability of remote workforce in times of emergency. Imagine situations where some employees have problems on their end and have to consult with decision makers in the company—time zones are different, and failure to communicate immediately would mean failure to meet deadlines.
In situations like this, a mentor-employee pair can help reduce delay and limbo. In what way, exactly? By assigning a mentor to an employee to supervise a particular project, employees know whom exactly they should reach out to in times of urgency and what time is best to connect with them given the familiarity inherent in such an approach. In these situations, the work of such mentors includes seeking regular updates on an ongoing project, personally involving in it and remaining alert to the need for instant messaging.
2. Make teleconferencing your company's culture (including the smallest units).
As much as it is commonsensical that in some cases where teleconferencing works, other communication mediums do not , many companies like to default to the easiest ways of communication, like the instant messaging of Slack. In so doing, they forget that body language, intonation, inflection and seeing what is being talking about (as the case may be) are essential to effective communication.
As in the case of the workshop cited in the beginning, you can see clearly that emails or phone calls may never suffice in describing an object appropriately, thus it makes perfect sense that you make video call your best friend in communicating many ideas. In today's digital world, many technologies have been built to cater for this need.
For example, Owl Labs, the company that sponsored the study into the state of remote working cited earlier, developed a smart videoconferencing camera that gives remote meeting attendees a sense of being in the room. While this and many others will surely benefit large conferences, common video-calling apps such as Skype and Whatsapp can be equally beneficial at smallest units.
With continuous internet penetration across the globe, access to video call is no longer an impossibility. Foster this as a company culture until every worker in your company gets accustomed to it.
3. Random dialogues.
It is well said that discussion is the fuel of change. Millennial employees are unlike other generation. Millennials are the largest workforce in the U.S. today and consequently the largest distributed workforce. Why not? They are the children of technology who pull the lever for change in social norms and working culture across the globe.
Aside from being technologically savvy and identifiable, the majority want to work not for wages but to be involved with a company whose goal aligns with theirs. And they are gradually achieving this. In this light, one of the things they actually want is continuous contribution of value from their own side. And with these random dialogues comes a chance to contribute, get to know other contributors and mention some things behind the scene.
It is important, if you are going to enhance collaboration in your distributed company, to spark this kind of dialogue every once in a while. I understand that this might not always be easy since you don't get to see face-to-face, but you can call for it hours ahead to see if you can make any adjustments to bring in as many participants as possible.