Collaborating Together, Remotely

Working remotely isn’t new.  In many occupations it’s quite common.  What is new is having so many employees forced to work from home so quickly, and from every part of the organization.

It’s taken a tremendous effort for most organizations to get this many employees up and running, but as of this writing, they are figuring out the basics.  The challenge is, the basics may help you get by, but it’s not enough to ensure your company can thrive.

In a recent poll, conducted by Gartner, a majority of HR leaders indicated that the biggest barriers to productivity for remote employees are poor technology and infrastructure. To highlight the point, the same article* goes on to encourage organizations to communicate best practices in the use of core technologies used to communicate with each and with clients, including email, social media platforms, and instant messaging apps.

By implication then, most organizations still have work to do before they’re on solid ground.  But once you have your team(s) functioning, you need to start rebuilding – or redesigning – the connections, workflows, and efficiencies that gave you your edge when people and processes were co-located. 

Think Beyond the Basics

One of the things that will come out of our collective adaptation to this pandemic, is a fundamental change in how we think about and leverage a distributed or remote workforce.

For forward-looking organizations, this forced evolution will almost certainly create opportunities for building real and sustainable advantages and new benefits for customers and stakeholders alike.

In part, this new operational reality requires leaders to shift focus from managing activities to managing outcomes and results.  To succeed at speed and at scale, management should focus on;

  • Defining and communicating SMART goals and measurable outcomes,
  • Empowering employees, partners, and vendors to adapt processes to achieve those results, and,
  • Implementing the right set of technologies to help them succeed

Make Visibility a Priority

When employees are physically separated and working remotely the first casualties are the water-cooler, hallway, and breaktime conversations.  These ad-hoc, spontaneous connections are very often work-related, and can generate real value and efficiencies for your organization.  Wherever possible you need to create proxies for those types of open, unscripted interactions.

While there is no real substitute for in-person conversations, encourage your team to use video conferencing whenever possible, and especially in brainstorming and creative meetings. 

For internal, text-based communication, even though it may seem counterintuitive, it can be a good idea to allow or encourage employees to use emojis and other signals to enhance the content of emails and instant messaging apps.  In the absence of visual, non-verbal cues, the goal is to enhance and add nuance and color to conversations that used to happen face-to-face. 

It is also a good idea to encourage video huddles and other micro-meetings, between peers and working teams.  But, as with all meetings, be aware of how often you are requiring employees to interrupt normal work in order to participate.  Avoid the temptation to use meetings to monitor employee performance.  Instead, use them to overcome challenges, take advantage of opportunities, or create value for stakeholders and customers.

To be successful, trust is key.  In both directions.  Leaders should normalize and communicate expectations, empower their teams, and put the infrastructure in place to support their success.  Employees should be open to leveraging new tools and processes to make their own jobs easier and to create value for their teams and organization.

Finding the Right Mix

Where the rubber meets the road, improving collaboration and increasing productivity of remote employees requires identifying and implementing the right mix of enabling technologies.  The good news is there are scores of software solutions and mobile apps to accommodate a variety of specific needs and work styles. 

Start by understanding the core value of different workplace solutions. Some are great at facilitating real-time communication, some are better at tracking progress on projects, some at automating workflows and handoffs.  Others, like Microsoft® SharePoint, Google Drive™, and Confluence® provide a central, shared repository for information, documents and process control, etc.

Frequently used collaboration platforms include SLACK®, Trello®, Zoom®/Zoom Rooms, Google Groups™, Hangouts™, Microsoft Teams®, and others.  Some platforms, like VirBELA™, let you create and navigate virtual officescapes using personalized avatars.  Depending on their primary role, teams may prefer one solution over another because they are designed specifically for the way they are used to working. 

Developers, for example, may prefer a platform like SLACK, or JIRA.  Marketers may prefer tools like Wrike® or CoSchedule®.  Where possible and within budgetary limits, give your teams a voice in selecting the best solutions for accomplishing their goals, but, to avoid silos, require that those platforms support API connections with your core business applications.

Where to Start?

Take it one team at a time.  Some departments and roles lend themselves more naturally to working remotely and digitally.  Knowledge workers (i.e. engineers, lawyers, accountants, programmers, creatives) are well used to working digitally and have very likely identified the tools and platforms that work best for their role(s).

Others, like manufacturing operations, logistics, security, and health care delivery require on-site presence by definition.   

Of the teams that can operate remotely more easily, which will be a challenge from a support perspective?  Which might require greater management oversight or upskilling before they can be effective? 

Typically, IT, programming, and engineering teams will be used to the tools and operating model, and are location agnostic; they can work from anywhere.

Marketing, sales, customer success, and similar CX or teams working on the edge of your business will be the next easiest to optimize.  Use the experience you gain from them to apply to the remaining functional areas.

In all cases, success relies on ensuring connectivity within and between teams, and the ability to securely collaborate and maintain social channels is critical.

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STEADfast IT has years of experience working with multi-location businesses and organizations that rely on a distributed workforce – ensuring their remote employees are productive, secure, and engaged.

If you have any questions about what you have read here, or if you would like to discuss options and solutions for your own organization, we would like to hear from you.

* Gartner, Inc.; Smarter With Gartner; “With Coronavirus in Mind, Is Your Organization Ready for Remote Work?”, by Jackie Wiles, Contributor; March 3, 2020


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