The shift to remote work has been nothing short of a revolution for professionals across the globe, and we’ve really only just begun.
Businesses are operating more efficiently, with less overhead, and employees can take jobs from locations beyond their geographical confines. Things are changing at every level, and fast!
Still, there are plenty of challenges that come with remote work. We talked to a handful of business leaders about how they’re making the digital workplace better for everyone.
Because we are no longer side-by-side with coworkers in a physical space, it’s important not to let things like etiquette, respect, and professionalism take a backseat.
Managers and leaders need to reinforce these good team habits and retain some semblance of cohesion, especially with everyone working remotely.
“Dedicated collaboration and team building are vital for small businesses,” said Vincent Bradley, CEO and Co-Founder of Proper Wild. “Mutual trust, respect, and great communication are the hallmarks of any strong workforce, and face-to-face video meetings are a great way to help my employees feel connected to my company as they continue to work remotely. Socially, events like Zoom Happy Hours foster social connections that are vital for my employee’s happiness in our digital workplace, and these events allow professional friendships to grow naturally in low-pressure group environments.”
We may not be dressed in business casual every day, but that professional attitude is still key.
Without tools and systems to connect your employees to one another, your digital workplace won’t get off the ground. Think about the best ways to connect employees and promote collaboration in ways that are both intuitive and accessible.
“With most working remotely, Slack has been one of the most essential tools in keeping employees connected,” said Louis Leidenfrost, CEO of Paint Your Numbers. “The best part of Slack is having the option to use different programs such as apps within the app itself. One of my favorite apps that is easily accessible on Slack is Google Drive. I’m able to share files and documents on Google Drive with other teammates and simplify the process of sharing a document directly through Slack.”
Everyone will have their own unique way of working remotely, but the right tech can level the playing field and open up channels of communication.
Many services offer all-in-one solutions for the digital workplace, but we’re quickly discovering that a more customized infrastructure is better in every way.
Use templates and established formats to get started, but keep pushing for improvements.
“Being mindful of one’s digital workplace environment can help the organization become a more enjoyable and efficient place to work,” said Eric Kaye, CEO of Kayezen. “Our team continuously remains open to new opportunities to improve our digital workplace by investigating new processes, apps, and services that can make our time- or data-intensive tasks more efficient and increase the overall productivity of our team.”
Look for gaps in your digital workplace and fill them with individual apps to make things work as a whole.
Does this technology actually help your teams work more efficiently, or is it just a shiny object that will sit on the digital shelf? That’s the question you need to ask yourself when selecting new applications and deploying them to your staff.
“With the help of technology and computers, making a digital workplace has become more efficient than ever,” said Michael Scott Cohen, CEO of Harper and Scott. “Technology has created a workplace that delivers an outstanding experience for many companies. Video meetings are now more prevalent than ever due to working from home. Programs like Zoom, Google Meets, and Skype are all new forms of communications that have proven to shape and transform the way we work from home during lockdown.”
You might find that only a few programs do most of the heavy lifting, so stick with those and ditch the rest.
A Plus for Diversity
Diversity and inclusion have been on the corporate docket for years, but many firms are slow to follow through on their promises.
Some business leaders are saying that remote work practices can help speed things along on this front, which is something we can all celebrate.
“I can’t tell you the number of CEOs I talked to who are thinking, ‘I have to solve the diversity challenge in my business, and remote work is one of the key tools,” said Upwork CEO Hayden Brown. “We have to let go of this very office-centric culture and incorporate people who are in a lot of geographies.”
More opportunities, more skill training, more technology – these all help equalize the workplace and give everyone a chance to succeed.
There’s reason to be hesitant of automation on a macro level, but in the daily grind of the digital workplace, it can make everything so much easier for employees and team leaders.
Identify which mundane tasks are eating at productivity and deploy automation tools to save yourself a lot of time and effort.
“Social media scheduling tools are all tools that have helped improve the digital workplace,” said Artie Baxter, CEO of Paperclip. “It is important in today’s modern day to have a vital presence on social media platforms. This is important to not only people but businesses as well. Social media scheduling tools allow for people to have an active social presence on media platforms while not allowing it to take a majority percentage of your time.”
Not sure if there are automation tools that fit your workflow? Do some research or create something from scratch if you’ve got the bandwidth and skills.
If you don’t have the right apps for the job, employee productivity will stagnate and frustration will flare up before you know it.
Ask your employees what they need and act fast to implement them – time is money.
“Having the accessibility to connect through written communication such as email, Slack, Microsoft Teams, or any other messaging system helps a team stay productive and intertwined with one another,” said Sean O’Brien, CMO of Modloft. “The details that exist in apps, i.e. Slack showing the current status of an employee like, ‘in a meeting’ are all important key factors that have been made to set a team for success.”
Even if there’s a slight learning curve for new apps, the eventual ROI is worth the wait.
The shift to the paperless workplace has been happening for a while now, but recent events have accelerated that trend to the point where paper is basically obsolete.
If your company is still lagging on things like digital documentation, now is the time to get up to speed and take the leap to full digital.
“Being able to email important documents or share a workspace where employees can access all documents are all a prime example of a collaborative environment for teams, which in return can help speed up the process of accomplishing the workload that needs to get done,” said Sunny Mills, Design and Production Director of Yoga Club. “Document management is critical when running a business in the digital era.”
Once you see how easy it is to go paperless, you’ll wonder what took you so long.
No Burnout Allowed
It’s easier than ever to work from home, but that comes at the cost of work/life balance for many employees.
Everyone is responsible for their own wellbeing at the end of the day, but companies need to acknowledge the fact that pushing workers too far can backfire. Give employees tips to fight burnout and stay centered.
“For many, the distance between your work office and bedroom is now inches away, so it can be difficult to not burnout,” said Lauren Bosworth, CEO of Love Wellness. “One essential key to improving your digital workspace is to work in an area with natural lighting. Lighting can help you be more productive and efficient during the working hours but also help you wind down at the end of the day. If there’s a window in your bedroom, I’d recommend taking advantage of the natural light and opening up the curtains.”
A lot of us look forward to the social aspect of work, but that’s difficult to replicate in a digital environment. Companies must come up with creative ways to keep employees social so that engagement doesn’t take an unnecessary hit.
“Since it’s a bit difficult to do physical events at the moment, planning virtual events like happy hours, group lunches, etc. can go a long way,” said Brandon Werber, CEO of Airvet. “The team gets to hang out together without talking about work and can ‘let their hair down,’ which is so necessary for a remote environment.”
We might not get back to the physical office for a while, so now’s the time to try some different ways of digital socializing.
In the traditional workplace, roles were very clearly defined and it was rare for employees to step out of line beyond their position. That has changed a lot in the digital workplace as workers feel more empowered to offer creative solutions and take charge of projects.
“We are seeing an acceleration of the trend to democratize the workplace,” said Diane Gherson, CHRO at IBM. “During these last few months, digital technology has flattened hierarchies, with everyone connected and getting information at the same time, and so many channels for employee input and involvement in decision-making in real time.”
Managers should encourage more input from teams and work together side-by-side to achieve ambitious goals.
With everyone working from a home office, team leaders can sometimes forget to offer recognition to employees. This can result in unhappy workers or other problems.
Set systems in place to ensure employees all get the recognition they deserve, and keep them motivated to do their best work.
“It’s imperative to recognize your team even though you aren’t in person,” said Assaf Kostiner, Founder of Paint Your Life. “The same way you would check in on everyone in the office and acknowledge them when they do well, you must keep that up in the remote world. There is so much that can distract us while at home – from the needy dog to nosey neighbors, to homeschooling, so making sure to acknowledge everyone is key to keeping on track with the workload. Best practices for recognizing your remote workforce would include sending a check-in and round-up at least once a week.”
Realize that everyone works in their own way, so never take a one-size-fits-all approach to recognition.
Find Killer Apps
Have you ever downloaded an app that changes your life so much, that you just felt compelled to tell the world about it?
These are the types of apps that you should never keep a secret. Share them with your coworkers to improve digital work and make everyone’s lives easier.
“Technological innovations have been the name of the game for this new normal that is work from home,” said Nik Sharma, CEO of NSharma. “The Superhuman email app has been a great integration for us. Not only has it provided succinct organization with a gorgeous aesthetic. This email host offers features that truly encompass the name Superhuman like lightning speed, insights from social networks, read statuses, follow-up reminders, etc. It’s definitely a one-stop shop email that has been a game-changer for us.”
With so many less-than-great apps out there, make a point to highlight the best ones.
If you’re a tech-savvy person who has been working remotely for some time, this digital workplace thing is nothing new to you.
However, there are people on your staff who are experiencing remote work for the first time, so be sure they have all the training and resources they need to thrive.
“When it comes to improving the digital workspace, your first step should be to ensure that all of your team members are fully trained to utilize the tools that are available to them,” said Jared Zabaldo, Founder of USAMM. “Many times, some employees may not always feel as if they are familiar enough to use a particular app or software. So, making complete training a priority will help improve your company’s overall use of digital tools and more.”
Take nothing for granted and explain everything to the fullest extent. No assumptions!
After your teams have become more comfortable with the flow of remote work, they’ll probably start to outgrow certain apps and come up with new ways to tackle projects.
Rather than preventing them from innovating, allow them to take chances and they will likely come up with something unexpected – and better.
“Your employees can accomplish a lot by virtue of their own ingenuity and creativity,” said Tyler Forte, CEO and Co-Founder of Felix Homes. “There’s no need to be super strict with your workflows and processes if teams can improve in their own ways. Be open to new styles of work to find the best solution for everyone.”
Of course, if things start falling apart, you’ll need to steer team members back on course with your established best practices before long.
Since we can no longer shake hands, give high-fives, or send paper planes across the office, we’ve lost a lot of the fun aspects of the office experience.
That’s okay because you can still show appreciation and enjoy your work life with technology, provided you are authentic and don’t just “phone it in”. Be real!
“Another tip for improving employee retention is to celebrate the little wins, especially as a group,” said Sarah Morgan, CEO of Even Health. “Giving recognition to the small wins enhances company culture because oftentimes these can get overlooked in anticipation of big wins. So make sure to take time during weekly meetings to recognize even the smallest achievements, because that’s what makes people feel recognized and appreciated for the hard work they put in.”
Never forget that all employees love a bit of appreciation, and it means a lot coming from you.
No Stopping Now
So you’ve successfully made the shift to the digital workplace – now what? It might seem like the bulk of your work is done, but there are always small ways to tweak and improve the experience.
“Many businesses have been pleasantly surprised with their remote work strategies thus far, but they shouldn’t be satisfied with the bare minimum,” said Aylon Steinhart, CEO and Founder of Eclipse Foods. “We need to keep pushing new solutions and technologies and always be looking for that extra competitive edge.”
A great way to improve your infrastructure is to simply ask frontline employees what needs fixing or speeding up. They’ll be happy to share their thoughts.
Trying New Things
Some of us work better in the early morning, while others are night owls that don’t do their best work until the late hours.
Understand that employees all have different approaches to working remotely, and figure out ways to accommodate, as long as it doesn’t disrupt projects.
“Encourage your staff to experiment with their routines and try new ways of working that they might not have considered in the past,” said Alex Keyan, CEO and Founder of GoPure Beauty. “Everyone has different hours for peak performance, energy, creativity, etc. The only way to find your best flow is to try new things, and right now is a great opportunity to do so.”
Say goodbye to the 9-to-5, because the new way of work is here to stay.
Engagement is Everything
Now that it’s harder to get a gauge of employee satisfaction, HR departments have a new challenge on their hands. Happy employees are the engine that keeps the company running, so engagement must be taken more seriously.
“As we transcend geographical limits with remote work, you’ll want to really double down on retention and employee engagement,” said Jason Wong, CEO and Founder of Doe Lashes. “Dissatisfied workers will poison the well, so to speak, and they can quickly jump ship if you don’t anticipate these issues. Be ready to put out fires and come up with creative solutions to keep everyone happy.”
As we all become more comfortable working remotely, hopefully any growing pains will subside.
Don’t Overdo It
The market for digital workplace tech has been heavily saturated in the past year, and every product claims to be the “last piece of software you’ll ever need”.
Be careful of buying too many apps and services, because it can end up doing more harm than good for your team’s productivity.
“It’s easy to overload your teams with technology and apps to promote productivity, but those efforts can sometimes have the opposite effect from their intention,” said Derin Oyekan, Co-Founder of Reel Paper. “Sometimes less is more, and we’re all learning that lesson in real time.”
Test every app before you buy and make sure there’s a logical reason for its implementation.
Digitize it All
Executives tend to think on a departmental level when it comes to digitization, but the truth is that the entire company needs to be on the same page for these solutions to fully work.
Going digital one piece at a time is better than nothing, but ideally, you will find a way to promote collaboration and connection across all departments and teams.
“A key component of a functional digital workspace is investing in the right technology that will assist in automation, efficiency, and overall growth,” said Jeff Goodwin, Sr. Director, Performance Marketing & Ecommerce at Orgain. “Increasing your access to different types of systems that handle things like marketing, sales management, accounting, manufacturing bookkeeping, HR etc. will allow you to yield higher volumes of production while remaining organized and functioning at your optimal level.”
Family obligations, medical appointments, time off – these are all just a part of the everyday scheduling process in the workplace.
Now, however, we need to be extra careful with how we create schedules and map out projects for teams. Because communication is digital-only, there should be much less room for error, but it can still happen if you aren’t vigilant.
“Fortunately, we’ve always had a culture of measuring outcomes and that hasn’t changed in the digital workspace,” said Rishi Kulkarni, CEO and Co-Founder of Revv. “To foster a virtual work experience that flows seamlessly, we’ve encouraged our employees to optimize their work calendars to maximum by clearly distinguishing times they are and are not available, and be disciplined about these times this way everyone can maintain a healthy work life balance. This had become the lifeline for the company during this digital workspace era.”
Learn from past scheduling snafus and make sure they don’t happen again.
While some people are naturally talented at the art of communication, most of us need to be reminded to keep that flow of information going throughout the week.
It’s all about setting a precedent of constant messaging, emailing, and reiterating key objectives to drive the point home. It’s not annoying – it’s an essential practice that pays off.
“Establish a culture of over-communication,” said Olivia Young, Head of Product Design of Conscious Items. “Working in isolation in team-based organizations can prove to be extremely challenging but figuring out a system of frequent check-ins and opportunities to socialize with the team will keep your team connected in ways that is conducive to a productive work environment. The key to staying productive and properly aligned as a team while working from home is staying close-knit and locked in with your team members. Business leaders should organize frequent check-ins and round-ups so everyone stays in the loop.”
Even if you’re 99% sure your team is on the same page, send that extra message to make sure it’s a 100% certainty.
Your workforce is likely composed of people from different backgrounds, different age brackets, and different styles of communication. That’s just part of the world we live in, and you need to make sure nobody misses a beat despite the challenges of remote work.
“Working remotely has been all about figuring out the best way to innovate effective communication styles everyone feels comfortable with,” said Brent Sanders, CEO of Wicksly. “We had to build a communication system that wasn’t overbearing but also wouldn’t fall short of what we need from each other as a team. We’ve structured our days to have specific check-ins and have transitioned to a daily standup model where each member has an opportunity to share what they did yesterday, what they are doing today, and if they are blocked by anything and request help. This has helped us remain close as well as focused.”
You might need to be more hands-on with your management style at first, but the results will be worth that upfront effort down the road.
Give Some Space
Once you’ve got reliable systems and applications in place for your remote workforce, it might be time to lean off the controls and allow people to work more independently.
Don’t be scared to give your teams some more space and operate under their own accord, especially if you have done everything in your power to promote best practices.
“An easy mistake during this remote workforce time period is micromanaging your team,” said Rishi Kulkarni, CEO and Co-Founder of Revv. “As much as it may be nerve-wracking to not see your team working, allowing them to be autonomous lets them know you trust them and believe them to be capable. Employees do not want to feel their managers breathing down their necks and tracking each and every move while at home because this creates an air of stress which will only decrease productivity.”
If things get derailed or mistakes are made, be ready to intervene, but never micromanage if your team is already firing on all cylinders.
The Killer App
When you finally find that one great app that everyone loves, make it the centerpiece of your digital workplace, and don’t look back.
You want to minimize tinkering with the balance of productivity if you can, and only make big changes to the process if absolutely necessary.
“The application Slack has been a huge help in improving our digital workplace,” said Eric Gist, CEO of Awesome OS. “You’re able to download a variety of apps. One app that I think has improved the digital workplace is the “I done this” app. This app is essential to me because it allows everyone on the team to create entries directly on Slack and the best part is teammates are able to share progress reports and updates within Slack. This improves efficiency and keeps everyone on the team on the same page.”
The digital workplace has already come a long way in just a few short months, but it’s nowhere near its final form. Keep pushing innovation and find ways to improve upon these foundations, and your business will be at a massive advantage moving forward.