Since shelter orders came into effect after the emergence of COVID-19, the United States' workforce has leaped into the remote work mindset, with nearly two-thirds of working-age people hunkering down behind their screens in their respective homes. With modern tech and infrastructure, companies have primarily been able to keep their teams working and maintain near to normal levels of operation. However, this sudden shift from physically localized to 'floating' without a central location hasn’t been introduced without challenges and has appeared to widen the gap between teams and management, as well as driving a wedge between individual employees.
Hybrid office spaces will be the buzzword on everyone's lips for the next five years. This evolution of the typical office dynamic has provided staff and businesses with more opportunities than anyone could have dreamed imaginable. Still, it comes with a new challenge: the communication gap.
This ever-growing void in employers' and employees' lives can seem brutal. Clocking out of an eight-hour workday to be filled with dread as the realization of not properly seeing or speaking to another person the entire day sets in.
Connection is vital for productivity. People aren't machines - if employees feel lonely as workers, they can't do their best work; psychologically, their needs are unmet. This makes people feel lost and unengaged with the tasks at hand and their fellow employees, reducing collaboration and general job satisfaction.
So how can managers ensure that their teams remain connected, both when working in the office and remotely?
Face-to-face communication is a must
The physical environment dramatically impacts productivity. The level of focus you can achieve depends on what other demands are simultaneously occurring - either due to external stimuli, physical comfort or how many tasks you're trying to tackle in a given time frame.
Maintaining stable teams and organization-wide communication is critically important at any time. It's especially true amidst global or company-wide changes and when employees are spread out between different work locations.
Face-to-face communication is still notably the most preferred communication method among employees, and for those working from home, video conferencing tools can help bridge this gap and provide the benefits of in-person interactions from any location.
Make room for casual conversations
With the annihilation of casual conversation comes the fracturing of work culture. Coffee machine chats are all but nonexistent, to the detriment of all involved.
Business planning aside, humans are immensely social creatures and crave active conversations. Sharing a cup of coffee or interacting during lunchtime can go a long way in building enduring relationships.
This kind of communication can still happen when you're working remotely through the use of video conferencing. Hosting casual conversations online with employees can have a range of benefits, not just for the wellbeing of your employees but also their productivity.
A face-to-face chat can often be more clarifying than phone calls - it’s a widely held belief that communication is only a minor 7% verbal and a massive 93% non-verbal. The non-verbal component consists of body language and tone of voice. Without this, communication becomes nothing more than a chore or another task on the list, which is damaging for everyone involved.
Give staff a call, not an email
Emails can feel impersonal and vacant of personality and are easily misinterpreted, so give your inbox a break and up your face-to-face time with colleagues, either in person or online. Doing meetings and calls programs such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams will allow colleagues to feel more connected and reduce isolation. This can enable in-office teams and remote teams to interact seamlessly and should be a regular occurrence.
Stay on call outside of scheduled meetings
You can further reduce the isolation felt in a segmented office space or remote location by encouraging staying on a call with a team member for several hours at a time in the background while they work. This simulates the feel of a traditional office, with the opportunity to ask quick questions and brainstorm ideas without having to schedule appointments or send a single line email. Encouraging this can help employees feel connected to the office and can make their interactions with the person they chat with go much smoother further down the line.
As a remote worker, it’s easy to feel as if questions disrupt managers' flows, and it's hard to read a room you aren't in. Employees should have scheduled one-on-one time with their managers and leaders at least once a week. This gives them time to ask questions that they wouldn't otherwise have time to ask. Opening the door for two-way communication stops the 'out of sight out of mind' narrative companies have fallen into regarding their remote workers.
Create a neutral time zone
Time schedules are also vital to provide a sense of community. If a portion of your workers function in a different time zone to the others, a rift can form between them. If their communication with those colleagues always consists of missed emails and out-of-office notifications, they won’t develop meaningful business relationships. Creating a neutral time zone or aligning colleagues' schedules as much as possible is essential to align office workers with their remote counterparts and overall increase productivity.
Utilizing technology to your company's advantage is vital to building strong communication networks between employees and managers. Without a robust IT infrastructure, these interactions will be stunted through poor networks and crackling audio. To provide the most authentic connection, platforms must be seamless and trouble-free. This can only be achieved through well-funded investment, research into the media that best suit your company and frequent maintenance. Don't fall behind and suffer with poor communication between teams - invest sufficiently into your IT infrastructure, and the rest will follow.