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“The old rules of what makes a great team still apply, whether you’re a remote team or not. You can’t build a culture if you don’t have trust, accountability, and mutual respect. The best way to kill a culture is to stop trusting people and stop giving people the respect and the responsibilities they most likely want in their jobs.” —

Tracey Halvorsen, Fastspot

As the country focuses on how to overcome the impact of the COVID-19, the world of work as we know it is changing right before our very eyes. Yes, the growing gig economy has been a game-changer and has helped to bring high visibility to new ways to work, such as remote working and online collaboration.

However, like any significant change, many employers have been hesitant to get on board. It’s the modern-day equivalent of people who resisted the advent of the automobile, yelling “Get a Horse!” to drivers as they would pass by. The same way people eventually accepted and ultimately embraced the benefits of a new mode of transportation, it’s hopeful that business leaders will come to realize the value in leveraging the power of technology to give their employees the work-life balance that is becoming increasingly more important in today’s modern workplace.

A common misperception is that remote work inspires employees to waste time, so they need to have the structure of a traditional office to stay on task. However, in considering the top time wasters at work, it’s evident that many of them are tied to the physical workspace itself.  Employees stopping by each other’s offices for personal conversations, taking excessive breaks, or disrupting each other through use of speaker phones or other noise are real daily distractions.

Being in an office space does not guarantee that employees are being closely supervised or that they feel a heightened sense of accountability to focus on their work throughout the entire day. In fact, over time, businesses may start to encounter issues such as presenteeism, cyberloafing or goldbricking. Behaviors like this can erode the company culture, as those who do the right thing become jaded over time, as they continue to watch their peers fail to do their part day after day. Eventually, business leaders can fall into the trap of focusing more on showing up than on actually producing results.

When used strategically along with good employee engagement practices, remote working and online collaboration can actually help to create stronger teams and alleviate counterproductive behaviors as employees are empowered to manage their time and resources more strategically. This empowerment gives workers  confidence that their employers trust them to manage their workdays more efficiently and effectively, and they tend to do just that!

If tasks need to be completed on a specific day but not necessarily at a specific time, employees can plan their work around any other commitments such as doctor appointments, family responsibilities, or other work-life balance situations without having to go through layers of approval or waste time going back and forth to the office. 

They can manage each day as appropriate to get the job done while still handling their other life responsibilities, remaining accessible for quick questions as needed using remote work technology such as ZOHO Cliq. This alleviates pressure and stress, as well as allowing employees to avoid having to use sick or vacation days to cover the extra travel time.

Stanford economist Nick Bloom gives us a brief overview of the evolution of remote working, from perceptions that it’s not “real work” to success stories of how it’s supposed to (and often does) work for savvy companies.  He shows us that strategic use of technology combined with traditional face-time in the office can be an equally (if not more) efficient way to allow teams to collaborate as needed, without wasting precious time.

Think back to all the times we’ve all endured meetings that could have been emails, leaving us with feelings of frustration as we considered how much more productivity we could have actually accomplished during the extra time we spent in a poorly organized meeting.  How many times have we spent 30 minutes at a meeting during which we each gave a 2-3 minute update then spent the remaining time listening to others do the same, feeling distracted by the thought of what would be waiting for us when we were finally free to return to our work.

Now imagine being able to give that same update using technology such as ZOHO Meeting or ZOHO Projects, part of the ZOHO platform which provides a digital suite of tools and resources to keep teams connected while giving each member the space and flexibility to work and collaborate.

Each team member could post updates to a private shared Workdrive that allows users to share files, chat real-time (using a tool such as ZOHO Cliq) to help each other with quick questions, share screens, and even create documents collaboratively. Instead of suffering through a 30-minute meeting to share one update, team members could post their updates as soon as they are ready and continue with their work.  Any questions for specific individuals would be posted to the feed for the relevant team member to answer without taking time away from anyone else. This technology is a reality, and smart companies are leveraging it to allow their employees to be productive, enjoy flexibility, and be better engaged. 

In these challenging, unprecedented times as we face a “new normal” until the current COVID-19 pandemic is alleviated, employers have had no choice but to consider remote working as an option to keep their businesses afloat and the American worker on the job. Even the White House is on board, encouraging agencies in the DC area to implement remote working options to the fullest extent possible.

Business leaders that just a few weeks ago resisted the idea of allowing employees to work at home and were skeptical that online collaboration is a valid option are now forced to rethink their positions on this approach for the sake of business continuity. Companies that once insisted that their employees could never maintain productivity without physically being in the office 9-5 every weekday are now being forced to find ways to make it work. Companies like CE Marketing that provide the technology and implementation support to establish a remote work system; also offer technical support and other resources to help things run smoothly. 

The arguments against working outside of the traditional office space are being fully tested as Americans work to save their businesses from becoming casualties of the Corona virus disease. However, considering that the newest generations entering the workforce today are digital natives, it’s only natural that these emerging professionals would not only be receptive to and well-equipped to incorporate technology into the way they work, but they also expect to. Countless studies have reported that millennials prefer digital communication such as texting, while their business leaders from previous generations are more comfortable using the telephone or chatting at the water cooler. Just as it’s always been since the dawn of time, each generation brings a different perspective and has been shaped by living through different world events and technological advancements. Today’s reality is that the evolving workforce consists of professionals who have never known a world without real-time electronic communication tools such as social media, texting, and other online tools. The workplace can benefit from keeping up with this “new normal” and overcoming the impact of the current pandemic will shine light on this.

The Leadership Institute sheds some insight regarding what makes an effective team. While there are countless perspectives on this topic, any list you will find has a common element – the elements of an effective team are not tied to how or where the team displays key qualities. It has to do with demonstrating the qualities, however that may occur.

Positive interaction, trust, focusing on goals, getting work done, and other team goals can be achieved in person and remotely.  Quick questions can often be answered equally well via a chat or a phone call. A team member can guide a peer through an IT issue by sitting together at a workspace or by sharing a screen remotely. In fact, screen sharing may be the most effective option when it allows an employee to be guided through problem-solving hands-on as opposed to being shown what to do.  As Ben Franklin famously said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Online collaboration paves the way for this type of learning, both through impromptu real-time teachable moments and planned videoconferencing.

Yes, there is a time and place for everything, including face-to-face meetings. However, it’s up to today’s business leaders to rethink the way work is done. They can remove barriers that slow down workflow in the long run by focusing more on what needs to be done and less on micromanaging how it’s done. Remote work options help to empower employees, allowing them to be more productive, loyal, and have better morale. They feel trusted and appreciated, inspiring them to manage their time in ways that benefit both employee and employer in the long run – happier employees lead to happier customers! As we overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, both employers and employees will have a new perspective on remote working and online collaboration and will have some decisions to make regarding what comes next.  This situation is challenging the notion of how these modern work arrangements fit into our current society and will force businesses to evaluate if they need to permanently change the way they work going forward.  The technology has officially arrived… now it’s up to business leaders to decide what to do with it!