Managers, take note: new remote work data has just been released that reveals some disturbing information. According to a 2019 study from Igloo Software, 54% of remote workers are excluded from meetings or brainstorming sessions, and 56% missed out on important information due to their remote status.
In examining the biggest challenges to collaboration that plague the modern workplace, Dan Latendre, founder and CEO of Igloo Software, explains that even though employees have access to more information than ever before, they also have more means, digital tools, and apps to collaborate, communicate, and connect. While coworker connection itself is a good thing, it can have a downside in terms of accurate and inclusive information sharing if it occurs across multiple platforms.
“Collaboration typically happens simultaneously through email, chat apps, shared documents, and intranets, but it rarely happens on a single platform, which causes information to ultimately be dispersed across a chaotic app environment,” says Latendre. “Because these channels are most often disconnected, information can become siloed across an organization as teams develop their own knowledge-sharing practices.”
Latendre emphasizes that collaboration stems from company culture—regardless of whether or not an employee works remotely or in the office. Because of this, it’s up to employers to cultivate a culture that prioritizes and encourages collaboration among all employees, regardless of their location or position. “Once this is in place, it comes down to providing tools that connect employees to the people, processes, and information needed to fulfill their role,” says Latendre. “If employees aren’t sharing documents because they take too long to find or are using a disconnected set of apps that create knowledge management issues, then employers need to recognize this and create a destination where work happens and resources are centrally located and easy to find.”
With the above challenges in mind, here are five best practices to improve communication and collaboration for remote workers that can benefit the entire company:
Make it easy to stay in the loop.
In addition to making information easily accessible, Latendre points out that organizations need a platform through which remote workers can seamlessly connect with each other: “Having a single destination where all channels of communication are located prevents missed opportunities and information silos, and makes communication and collaboration simpler for everyone.”
Establish office hours.
Remote workers lack the luxury of strolling over to a co-worker’s desk to ask a question—and reaching someone even digitally can be problematic when teams are operating on different time zones.
To avoid these communication barriers, Latendre advises leadership to set aside designated hours when all employees are required to be online at the same time. “Setting aside a block of hours per day for teams to connect can ease the potential for remote disconnect,” he says.
Solidify the “who, what, where, when and why” for every project.
When teams collaborate remotely across distributed work environments, communicating expectations early and often is key to helping project stakeholders know exactly where responsibilities lie—and ensuring no one is left off an invite.
Latendre thus emphasizes ensuring that each project clearly delineates the five “W’s”—who, what, where, when, and why—to avoid misinformation and dropped balls. “Having detailed employee profiles for all team members—including roles, responsibilities, and skill sets—helps get the right people in the ‘room’ together, even if it’s virtually,” he says.
Make it face-to-face.
Another best practice to keep people in the loop is to encourage employees to connect over video calls instead of the typical phone meetings. Latendre states that not only does this keep employees more engaged in the meeting, but it helps build rapport and allows remote employees to put a “face” to the email address: “Out of sight, out of mind shouldn’t apply to remote workers.”
Ensure every employee is treated equally.
It’s easy to forget workers who aren’t visibly present when it comes to things like birthday recognitions or other staff events. But Latendre believes that even if your organization is having an in-office celebration, it’s important to find a way to include remote employees. “It might be outside the budget to pay for remote employees to attend in person,” he says. “But streaming the celebration and giving remote workers the go-ahead to expense a slice of cake as a treat can go a long way in promoting an inclusive culture and making remote workers feel valued.”
Clearly, even though an ever-increasing number of employers are on board with offering remote opportunities for their staff, many companies still have a long way to go in order to set remote workers up for success. By following the five steps above, you can move your organization ahead of the curve in creating equal opportunities for remote employees to receive critical information and participate in company communication.
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