These best practices can help remote workers engage their clients, listen to feedback, manage expectations, and be accessible … all while supporting their organization's success.
In the spring of 2020, I found myself working remotely for the first time in my career. I asked myself, "How can I make this work?"
As a supervisor and as a collaborator with my customers, my strengths as an employee all rely heavily on my ability to engage and interact … but not generally with a screen between us. It is awkward, challenging, at times exhausting, and not in my wheelhouse.
When I am working remotely, like many of us, I find myself at a bit of a loss and wonder how to do it well.
And it makes sense for those of us that feel this way. As Alistair Cockburn outlined in Agile Software Development, "the richness of communication decreases as the physical distance between collaborators increases." We have used face-to-face communication for years because it is very effective. I find myself having to accept that I couldn't work in a way that I always have, and I must seek help from the experts to make this work.
I began to research best practices in a remote setting and found some beneficial tools shared below. I believe these practices can help others improve their ability to work remotely with others.
We feel successful when we meet or exceed expectations, so improving remote communication requires a change of expectations. Keep in mind this is not a lowering of expectations, just a change. If we use different structures for remote meetings, and communicate those expectations clearly, we will find a higher degree of success. Some examples to consider are the length of sessions, the process for idea generation, and two-way communication protocols. Having clear expectations in these areas all help to outline what others should expect during a remote meeting.
Monitoring engagement during a remote meeting is a real challenge. Once a meeting reaches a certain size, it is nearly impossible to check in with every attendee. The best practice in this regard is to decide prior to the meeting if an interaction is required. If it is, multiple smaller sessions might be needed (max group size of six). If the reason for the meeting is mainly for dispersing information, then the group size can be much larger. Another tip for ensuring engagement in large discussions is to allow participants to "hang around" after the meeting to ask questions. Just like at the end of an in-person meeting, some might need clarification on specific points. By allowing for some Q & A time at the end of the session, it ensures that all team members will walk away feeling as though the meeting was a success.
And it isn't just about engagement ("Is the person even listening?"), but it is about feedback too ("What does the person think?"). Understanding feedback is incredibly tricky when we interact with customers in a virtual environment. In our organization, we have tried to use the chat options in most of our virtual meetings to ensure some kind of feedback occurs. In smaller meetings, each team member on the remote call reports in or shares a thought. The moderator/leader of the meeting "calls on" individuals to unmute and speak. This "traffic cop" model prevents the inevitable "talking over one another" and makes sure that every participant feels heard.
During remote work, workplace culture is another area to reconsider and view through a different lens. We created a certain "feel" in our workplace, mainly through our interactions with each other. Once we were working remotely, we had to ask, "How can we pivot to a new model?" Some great ideas, such as over-communicating and minimizing friction, can be found in this Atlassian article that outlines tools for building a remote workplace culture.
So far, we have focused on scheduled, planned communications of the team. But what about when co-workers would pop into your office for a quick question? How do we replicate that in a remote environment in the best way possible? As stated in this article by Forbes, being an accessible leader and communicator is essential when working remotely. But we have to ask ourselves what does an open door policy looks like in a virtual world? Influential leaders found scheduling one-on-ones with others works well. This focused interaction allows time for direct conversation, which is about the most natural way to communicate when virtual. Another healthy idea is to share your calendar. Employees can know what times are open and available to speak. To protect some of your personal work time, you can schedule a period every day for this kind of spontaneous communication. Creating these structures helps to maximize efficiency while at the same time allowing for a good feedback loop.
At the end of the week, we must seek feedback from our team or customers about the communication flow status itself. This feedback must be brief, as we don't want another enormous task on our to-do list. But this feedback loop is critical to ensure continuous improvement is encouraged, and high quality is maintained throughout the remote work experience.
Remote work is different but not necessarily worse. These best practices can help workers to engage their clients, listen to feedback, manage expectations, and be accessible...all while baking in quality and success to their organization.
Download this free guide that spells out how the Harmonics Way principles apply to remote work. [Download PDF]