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The Secrets to Making Remote Work, Work Well

The real-time access control company Nira recently surveyed around 500 remote workers to get their takes on what works and what doesn’t. When it comes to the former, which is what we’re focusing on here, there was no shortage of solid advice. Tips ranged from communicating regularly and clearly to splitting your time between deep and “shallow” work. Sticking to a schedule and outside socializing were on the list, too, among numerous other insights. 

Drawing from Nira’s research and lots of our own, here are some guidelines for how to make remote work, work well.

  1. Use the right tools: That means a combination of synchronous and asynchronous ones. Sometimes you need to communicate immediately, sometimes you don’t. All-in-one virtual office platforms like Teamflow let you connect in a variety of ways — video, messaging, formal, informal — and integrate lots of your favorite apps for optimal productivity. Whatever tools you choose, make sure they’re right for how your team works and what kind of work they do. Additionally, they should be secure, easy to learn, scalable and compatible with other tools you’re already using.

  1. Lead inspirationally, not hierarchically: According to McKinsey, “when the workforce is hybrid virtual, leaders need to rely less on hierarchical and more on inspirational forms of leadership. The dispersed employees working remotely require new leadership behaviors to compensate for the reduced socioemotional cues characteristic of digital channels.” That could mean regular 1:1s that aren’t necessarily about a work project or initiative, or informal “drop ins” like those possible on a variety of virtual office platforms. Occasional in-person conversations help, too. If you’re hybrid, those will occur more often. For fully remote teams, it’s a good idea to hold teamwide off-sites every now and then so everyone can work and play in the same physical space.

  1. Meet less, flow more: This is crucial. So-called “Zoom fatigue” is real, but it can be greatly mitigated by eliminating all but the most pressing video meetings. Being on camera for hours at a stretch is a proven productivity buster, not to mention emotionally damaging, and more companies are beginning to require less of it because of those negative effects, among others. Choose your video sessions wisely and schedule them as infrequently as possible. It takes time for people to get into what’s called “flow state,” where they’re thinking deeply and firing on all cylinders. That’s where the best work happens, and meetings — most of them uncecessary — just muck things up.

  1. Prioritize productivity over presence: In a 2021 study by Owl Labs, 83 percent of survey respondents said they maintained their productivity or improved it while working from home versus the office. And here’s a Stanford study along those same lines. Call center employees of a large Chinese travel agency “were randomly assigned to work from home or in the office for 9 months. Home working led to a 13 percent performance increase, of which about 9 percent was from working more minutes per shift (fewer breaks and sick-days) and 4% from more calls per minute (attributed to a quieter working environment).” All of which is to say, just because remote managers can’t see their employees working doesn’t mean they aren’t working. On the contrary, they’re very often working harder and with greater efficiency.

  1. Establish team goals and set deadlines for achieving them: According to an expert take in Entrepreneur, “Studies show that when employees understand how their work contributes to company objectives, productivity increases by 56 percent.” As ever, clear and regular communication is key. So is effective management that promotes transparency and cultivates an environment of trust. Being goal-oriented and clearly defining expectations and processes also helps. “Try encouraging collaboration by holding interdepartmental-strategy brainstorming sessions as well,” the Entrepreneur article advises. “This way, different groups can see how their work fits together. When there are adjustments to a process, you can schedule training sessions to keep everyone up to date.”

  1. Maintain work-life balance: This may seem obvious, but it’s often forgotten. With remote, it’s frequently harder to disconnect. In fact, some countries have even introduced legislation to make it easier for workers to stop working in our hyper-connected world. “Traditionally, we have had spatial boundaries made for us by offices, shops and factories, which mean that home and other places of leisure are separated from work,” Alan Felstead, a research professor in the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University in Wales, told NBC way back in pre-pandemic 2017. “However, remote work blurs those lines and workers have to reinstate boundaries. That is often why it is difficult [for employees] to switch off.” Writing in Forbes, one executive coach suggested remote workers try the following steps to end each workday: a) Prompt yourself to wrap up; b) Power down devices; c) Plan for the next day.

Study after study has proven that remote work can be as or more effective than in-person. It just takes clear communication, good leadership, the right tools and plenty of practice.