7 Keys to Great Teamwork When Working From Home
Depending on where you live and the nature of your business, your teams are likely working from home at least part of the time now.
Some places are still at home full-time with no plans to return for months and others have worked out hybrid models, but regardless of your specific circumstances, everyone is trying to navigate a fundamentally different work environment without any certainty about when or if things will return to normal. So, rather than dwell on what we can’t control, let’s focus on things we can do to keep our teams efficient, productive, and motivated.
1. Seeing People Face-to-Face Matters
Yes, many people are sick of constant video calls at this point. “I can’t believe I have to change out of my pajamas” has become the new “this meeting could have been an email.” Nevertheless, being able to see the person with whom you’re speaking adds critical layers of information, complexity, and meaning to communication. Being able to see facial expressions even enables better communication across cultural and linguistic divides according to multiple researchers.
No one is advocating that all communication must be done through video calls. However, as more people turn their cameras off during remote meetings, attention, engagement, and understanding start to degrade. Though this is partly done for the sake of convenience and avoiding having to dress up, it must be noted that looking presentable makes people feel better and work better.
Just remember: before the pandemic, your teams had to get dressed, drive to work, and sit in meetings anyway. It’s honestly not that much of an inconvenience to put on a nice shirt and comb your hair so you can turn your camera on when you compare it to the improved communication available when people can see each other’s facial expressions.
Obviously, the best solution is to work in-person when it’s safe. Being at the office rather than your living room creates a separation and fucus that can’t be replicated. However, there are social implications as well.
2. All Work and No Play Makes People Have a Bad Day
On top of improving communications, research published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience has also found that face to face communication improves both mood and work performance. But, most interestingly, a follow up study conducted to test the specific ways in which this happens found that interaction during informal times like breaks or social gatherings were most influential in producing the above results. Specifically, the researchers discovered that “informal face-to-face interaction among employees, captured by wearable sensors that the employees wore, significantly affects their performance” and that “face-to-face interaction during breaks significantly improved mood state.” The inverse was true as researchers “also observed that the verbal working memory task performance of participants who did not have face-to-face interaction during breaks decreased significantly.”
So, not only does informal face-to-face interaction boost mood and performance, but lack of that interaction can impede working memory, our ability to hold multiple pieces of information in our minds simultaneously. The first and most important implication of these findings is that there are major benefits to in person work at the office. The moments where socializing happens are actually incredibly important to both the well-being and productivity of your teams. The next key implication is that if you are still forced into remote work, some socializing during video calls is critical. Because it’s unlikely employees will be on video calls during breaks, more organized activities that aren’t direct work tasks may be needed.
Either way, the lesson here is that human beings are social creatures and face-to-face interaction is necessary for us to thrive. Your employees’ well-being and your bottom line depend on it.
3. Focus on Culture
Yes, it’s hard enough dealing with the constant changes and stresses of a pandemic without having to feel like the bad guy. But maintaining a positive team culture during Covid is critical. You wouldn’t accept people looking disheveled in an in-person meeting. You wouldn’t be ok with someone sitting at their desk and calling into the meeting room down the hall on speaker phone. Nor would you tolerate people zoning out in a meeting room and having to send them a text message asking if they’re paying attention. But, with remote work, versions of all of this have become the norm. People leave their video off for calls. People wander off in meetings and miss key material. They come on video looking like they’ve just spent the weekend in Las Vegas. None of this is conducive to a positive work culture.
It’s not about being bossy. It’s just about maintaining standards of behavior that help ensure respect and productivity. No one is saying you can’t wear your pajama pants for video calls. Just that the visible parts of you look professional. In the same vein, leaving your video turned on makes it harder to just wander away during a meeting. Maintaining these boundaries will help your teams have mental separation between work and life and will make the transition back to office work much, much easier for everyone.
4. Be Understanding and Unifying
Understanding that culture and maintaining appropriate standards are key to productivity doesn’t mean that you can’t recognize that things are quite hard for many people at the moment. Just as important as not being too lax, it’s vital to be understanding of the immense mental strain people are under. Your teams are dealing with problems ranging from taking care of kids because schools are closed to the difficulty of living alone during a pandemic to the pressure of living in a crowded home and having to be productive.
To get the best our of your team, you need to understand their specific obstacles and help them overcome them. Social events can help. So can discussions of shared grievances about the state of things. There is real healing power in knowing that you’re not the only one dealing with a certain problem and finding common ground is a classic team building facilitator.
Find a balance between maintaining a professional culture and understanding how hard life is for your teams at the moment.
5. Find a Solution that Fits Your Team
Most of us long for the clear separation of work at work and life at home. We miss the flow of things in the office and the routine. Unfortunately, for many people, returning to the office is currently a wish, but not a practicality, depending on their health situation and location. As a result, many businesses have chosen a hybrid approach where some people still work remotely either full time or on a rotation to reduce the number of people in the office. Just like teachers having to teach simultaneous lessons to in-person and remote students, it becomes rapidly clear that the hybrid approach creates as many problems as it solves.
To combat these problems requires custom solutions. If you can’t have all of your employees in a meeting room, set up a camera so that those at home can see everyone, rather just hearing audio. Replicate in-office message boards online so that everyone stays on the same page. If you’re accustomed to large in-person meetings, perhaps break them into smaller video calls. Video meetings stop being functional past a certain number of participants. Remember, bridging the gap between in-office and remote workers isn’t permanent. You only need to get past the pandemic with bespoke solutions for these unique problems, and eventually you’ll be able to return to normal, perhaps with a few new tricks learned along the way.
6. If Possible, Find a Long-term Solution
Especially for offices where some people are coming in and some are working remotely, it can seem daunting to find ways to operate that make sense for now but will still make sense in the future. Nowhere is that more the case than with the layout and walls of your office. Before the pandemic, many workplaces went for open floor plans to foster interaction and have a more modern feel. Those companies could invest in building walls and offices now, but how will they feel about that decision and that capital expenditure a year from now? How will they feel about the disruption caused by construction, for that matter?
The practical solution and the elegant solution to this problem are one and the same: demountable glass walls. The installation time is a fraction of actual wall construction. The glass walls let in natural light and preserve an open feel. And, with certain products like those offered by Muraflex, you can have walls that open and close at the push of a button, allowing you to have both private meeting space and an open floor plan.
Don’t sell out the future to solve temporary problems. Find solutions that give you both short and long-term payoffs for your investment.
7. Define Roles and Responsibilities More Clearly
An old adage in the business world is that the right choice made too late, becomes the wrong choice. Never has this been more of a problem that during this pandemic. With people spread out, working in different places, and dealing with new stresses and challenges, it gets harder and harder to reach decisions. What was once easily done across a table in 20 minutes can take days of back and forth, scheduling conflicts, and debates about responsibility.
Without in-person management, decisions tend to get bogged down over the allocation of responsibility and the avoidance of blame. The remote working world requires more clearly outlined responsibilities than the in-person world. And, as responsibility and freedom are necessarily correlated, this also requires that team members be empowered to make decisions without having to clear everything with their superior. Absent the ability to poke your head in someone’s office and hash out an issue, people need to be able to act before problems caused by inaction compound. Trusting your teams will pay off in both loyalty and results.
- Face-to-face interaction facilitates better communication and enhanced productivity
- Informal face-to-face interactions boosts mood and performance, so leaving time on video calls for socializing can help a great deal if you’re stuck working remotely.
- Find a balance between maintaining a professional culture and understanding how hard life is for your teams at the moment.
- In an ever-changing world, flexible solutions like demountable glass walls from Muraflex enable your business to adapt to current challenges and future problems you can’t yet predict.