Pundits are postulating that this mass exodus from the office cubicle is going to be permanent, at least in part. Many employees are loving the work/life balance that working from home brings — throwing in a load of laundry between meetings, shopping for groceries at lunch, spending more time with pets and families (although that in itself can be a distraction), and best of all, no fighting traffic or crowds during the morning and evening commute. Many companies that were wary of allowing employees to work at home have realized that not only are their employees still productive but thriving. People are just as productive if not more so at home, and the idea of downsizing expensive office space is an attractive boost to the bottom line.
Despite all of those positives, working at home also means collaborating from a distance. Navigating this new normal makes even those who are seasoned working remotely take pause.
Here are some common snags of remote working and collaboration, and fixes to those problems.
Problem: Collaboration delays. Popping by your colleague's cubicle is a thing of the past in many companies now. Impromptu brainstorming sessions in the conference room aren't possible, either.
Fix: Many remote collaboration tools, including Microsoft Teams and Slack, have instant messaging features. Using those, you don't even have to leave your desk to virtually pop by to ask a colleague a question. It also allows colleagues a moment to think and reflect on answers, leading to more accurate and thoughtful feedback.
Problem: Time zone or language confusion. This is especially true in global companies, where you may have traveled to your overseas branches for important meetings or in-person negotiations. If your company required overseas travel to get the job done, you may be getting used to the idea that many borders are simply closed to Americans right now. In terms of time zones: What time is it in London, again? In terms of language barriers: When you don't have translators and are dealing with people one-on-one, how do you collaborate successfully?
Fix: Try to schedule recurring virtual meetings with global clients and colleagues at the same time. Say you're on the east coast and need to meet monthly while working on a project with colleagues in London. Schedule those meetings for 9 a.m. eastern time. That's 2 p.m. in London. If you schedule recurring meetings at the same time, you won't have to calculate the time change every time.
For the language barrier, translation software is nothing new. But another way you know that your overseas colleagues can get the job done is with the "common language of verified skills." Digital credentials in verified skills can make you more confident in your collaborations, knowing your far-flung partners have the skills necessary to do the job.
Problem: Varying home internet speeds. Not everyone has lightning-fast internet at home, so loading big files or sharing screens, or even using video meeting apps like Teams or Zoom can cause delays and difficulties. Many home internet providers or cell phone providers "throttle" connections that cause consumers to have to pay more for a higher, faster level of service.
Fix: Consider setting your employees up with a Virtual Private Network (VPN). It will encrypt your transmissions and can prevent that sort of throttling.
Problem: Colleagues aren't proficient in remote working skills. Working remotely requires many skills that people don't necessarily need to hone and perfect when they're working in an office. Success in remote working and collaboration means people need to excel in these skills:
- Written and oral communication
- Time management
- Remote collaboration technology
If your colleague can't figure out Microsoft Teams, can't manage his or her time, isn't able to focus, or doesn't communicate well on chat, you can run into delays, problems, and other snags that can sap productivity. For managers who are working with far-flung teams by necessity now, how can they be sure their team members have the skills to work successfully at home?
Fix: Offer employees to upskill with digital credentials. This is a case for upskilling if there ever was one. As an employer, you need to be sure your employees can be as effective and productive as possible while working remotely. The impact, profitability, and long-term success of your business depends on it. When employees take an online course designed to help them collaborate remotely, hone their time management skills, and master technology, it will help your entire team get remote work down to a science.
At Credly, we're dedicated to helping companies upskill their employees with verifiable digital credentials. In this age of remote work, it's more important than ever.