Maintaining reliable and efficient communication has always been something of a challenge for most businesses, particularly companies that are expanding in size. The issue is even more significant now since 50% of US workforces will be remote by 2020.
The million-dollar question is this: how can you ensure your team members are making the essential connections that drive their productivity and engagement, while at the same time offers transparency for the employer?
1. Start with accountability and visibility
A level of accountability and visibility between mobile workers and their managers can help create a sense of community for employees and a sense of confidence that work is being accomplished effectively for employers.
Oftentimes a lack of periodic monitoring and two-way communication can cost the company. Some of those costs are wasted time spent working on something the company doesn't need and needless money spent to compensate the worker. Deadlines may be missed. Deals may be lost. The worker mae replaced by someone new only to have the same thing happen again.
The key is to find a balance between connectivity, accountability, and mobility along with effective resources to make that happen. The quality of voice communication across all platforms is particularly important in virtual work environments. For example, Deltapath, a unified communications company partnered with Dolby to bring cinematic call quality to its platform. The company's technology now has the ability to cut out any non-human voice and background noise, whether the users are customer service representatives or a member of the team the calls sound as if each party is in a quiet conference room even though they could very well be at a noisy concert.
Another tool that allows for more transparency and visibility into how work is being done is a screen capturing time log program. Hubstaff is one of the tools my agency uses to remotely monitor work being done. Throughout the work period, the program periodically takes screenshots, tracks app and URL activity and mouse usage, which the employer can view to ensure progress is being made. Utilizing this system has also been very beneficial when it comes to reporting back to clients that might have had some questions about why a task took as long as it did.
2. BYOD - Bring Your Own Device
These days it's obvious we all stay connected through mobile devices, not surprising considering 95% of all UK and US citizens have access to a mobile device of some kind. Whether on phones, tablets or laptops; through email, instant messaging, slack, zoom or any other program or app the commonality is the device. The beauty of this communication vehicle is that it can be customized with apps and programs to fit each individual companies needs in order to maximize communication effectiveness and speed within each particular organization.
Culture Trip, a company of 300+ freelancers, uses a blend of traditional tactics and online tools specifically geared toward freelance creatives. Since managers also work as mentors to many of the freelancers, they find using Google Hangouts to do group mentoring sessions very effective. They also have a microsite with full guidelines on working practices, policies, GDPR [general data protection regulation] and many other items.
For another company, communication might primarily be through slack, emails and group texts and for another company something totally different. The flexibility and adaptability of mobile devices offer opportunities and possibilities for both companies and workers. New technology is coming on the market all the time to make communication easier and more effective. There are even messaging apps where you can directly instant message a file. This ability to customize these devices has changed the face of what we look at today as the traditional company.
3. Make managers responsive and visible
Studies show that relationships between team members and their managers can have a massive impact on the productivity and engagement levels of employees. If your staff can't access the managers in their department, they might struggle to stay productive. They may not be able to get the clarity they need on assignments and so may have to do them over again if they are forced to make too many assumptions as to what the employer needs.
One solution to communication challenges is setting up a regular check-in process with weekly meetings between managers and their teams. It can also be very helpful to have a set time during each day that employees send any non-urgent questions to their manager.
Managers should be encouraged to keep their availability up to date by filling out their workplace calendars and will let staff know when a good time to reach out is. While regular emails and text messages are great, it's important not to underestimate the value of face-to-face conversations too. Even body language and facial expressions conveyed over video can make a significant difference to the relationships built between your team members.
4. Don't overlook security
While maintaining great communication and collaboration processes are some of the biggest challenges that today's businesses face with remote and mobile workers - it's essential not to overlook security. In an era defined by cyber terrorism and global hacks, all companies are beginning to question how they can keep their data, employees, and information secure.
Usually, in a typical office environment, companies will have procedures, policies, and protocols in place to cover everything from password policies to virus protection. However, remote employees can experience a very different set of risks. For instance, a remote employee might try to access an internet connection from an insecure environment like a coffee shop or free Wi-Fi station.
It's a good idea to establish some emergency check-in protocols in case of a crisis or a threat that could harm your remote worker's operations. Ensure that mobile workers are trained on how to maintain information security and that they have the correct defensive software in place, such as virus protection. In fact, making security updates a part of monthly team meetings as well as the onboarding process can be a great prompt to make sure their systems and protection software are up to date.
For those businesses that don't have a designated IT person on staff, there are companies like Infosec that specifically train mobile employees in security awareness. Through cyber safety education, companies can equip remote employees with the right knowledge, tools, and mindset that will keep them from falling prey to cyberattacks outside.
5. Make time for water cooler talk
Although supporting idle chit chat might seem suspect, research shows that developing rapport is important for facilitating better employee engagement and wellbeing. Ultimately, many remote and mobile workers don't have a lot of opportunities to connect with their team members on an emotional level. This makes it harder for some employees to feel like they're part of the family so to speak.
Building relationships among employees by encouraging them to discuss their shared interests will help lead to better problem solving, improved ideation, and enhanced levels of customer service. The following are a few suggestions you could implement in your company to get the ball rolling.
- Have roundtable video conferences where everyone has a chance to see the faces of their team members for a little while.
- Encourage weekly "virtual water cooler" chats where people share news from their week
- Use icebreaker talks to encourage bonding. For instance, you could have one person from your team show you around their favorite local hangout or coffee shop through a video call.
- Offer a small stipend for virtual lunch or coffee dates to support staff relationship-building.
6. Don't forget to establish work/life boundaries
Finally, remember that mobile and remote workers can sometimes have the hardest time separating their work life from their personal life. Often, people assume that the more time they spend away from a desk or specific office space, the more work/life balance they'll have. However, this isn't always the case. Remote and mobile workers are constantly subject to distractions and interruptions that can blur the lines between their professional world and their personal lives.
To ensure that your employees remain as engaged as possible, and reduce their chances of burning out, it's essential to focus on encouraging a strong line between the workplace and the personal world. For instance, ask your employees to use their status features and presence features on company intranets and apps so that other team members know when they're available. When an employee isn't working, they should be able to turn their connection to the workplace off altogether.
While being committed to your work and your business is a good thing, nobody can thrive in an environment where they can never shut off from the office.
Moving into the mobile age
Research consistently suggests that organizations can benefit from making the move to a remote environment. What's more, the requests from employees to work remotely is and will continue to be on the rise for the foreseeable future. Also, with unemployment rates so low, it is definitely an employee market which means employers need to work harder than ever to retain workers. Essentially businesses either have to pay the price to keep their employees satisfied or pay the cost of replacing them when someone else will. More times than not, the cost to replace them is astronomically higher.
Is your business up to date with the most recent evolutions in the mobile industry? How willing is your company to meet the needs of today and tomorrow's employees? How are you using the latest and greatest gadgets, apps and programs to improve employer-employee communications? Is now the time to get up to speed?