What worktech tools can boost your productivity in the next year? Check these recommendations for better time management and collaboration in 2023!

WorkTech Tools: Your Quick Guide to Productivity in the New Year

When the pandemic suddenly forced millions of people to work remotely, employers weren’t sure what to do next. Because the transition was nearly instantaneous, this shift wasn’t easy. But eventually, many people adapted to remote work and learned how to operate effectively in virtual team settings.

Indeed, only 9 months after the Covid lockdown began, Upwork estimated that 42% of U.S. employees were still working from home, and nearly 70% of managers said work was progressing much more smoothly.

What helped individuals and organizations move forward efficiently through tough times? In part, successful teams turned to best-of-breed productivity tools.

Great WorkTech Tools Make a Difference

Now, nearly 3 years later, great worktech tools matter more than ever, as employers strive to offer people continued flexibility in how they get work done.

Effective managers have learned that some applications are especially useful at helping individuals and teams prioritize tasks, manage their time, collaborate, and explain important work concepts with job aids.

That’s why we’ve compiled a list of 5 worktech tools to help optimize individual and team performance and productivity, going forward.

5 Applications Worth Considering:

 

1. Slack: Communication and Collaboration

What worktech tools can help your teams improve productivity in 2023? Learn about Slack and more in this article

Source: Slack

Slack facilitates communication and collaboration among teams by consolidating messages, file sharing and chat activity in a central digital workspace. This lets people organize conversations by topic so they can avoid repetition and confusion while simultaneously conveying information to other group members. It also supports direct conversations with individuals and subsets within a group.

Because these conversations happen asynchronously, everyone can check updates and move discussions forward when it’s convenient for them. And with all related communication available in one place, individuals can easily revisit and refresh their understanding of tasks and stay up-to-date with the latest status. This leads to better team results.

Some of Slack’s IRC-style features include:

  • Personalized chat rooms (channels), for topics, private groups and direct messaging
  • Searchable content, including conversations, people, files and more
  • Emoji buttons to add flair and personality

Also, this tool is compatible with most applications that enable file and document sharing, which makes project workflow management and version control highly efficient.

Slack’s free plan lets users view and search their most recent 10,000 messages. Graduated paid plans give users the opportunity to add more functionality as their reach and requirements grow. 

2. Hubstaff: Time Tracking

What worktech tools should you consider for workforce productivity in 2023? Learn about Hubstaff

Source: Hubstaff

Hubstaff has operated as a virtual team for nearly 20 years. The company uses its own experience to design and deliver a workforce management software suite that helps businesses spend less time tracking workgroup activity and more time focusing on company growth and success.

This platform bundles time-tracking and proof-of-work functionality with project management, automated payroll management and more – all designed to streamline remote work management.

With its time-tracking software, Hubstaff can help dozens of team members work remotely. Despite being in different locations, employees can collaborate and coordinate effectively by leveraging these features:

  • Online timesheets
  • Time reporting
  • Randomized screenshots 
  • Mouse movement tracking to supervise team activity and engagement

Hubstaff is highly effective at helping remote leaders analyze team efficiency and encourage accountability. If you want to try before you buy, a 14-day free trial is available with limited features.

3. Trello: Project Management

What worktech tools can improve your productivity in 2023? Learn about Trello and other applications

Source: Trello

Next on our list of top productivity tools is Trello. This online list-making application is built on the Japanese-inspired Kanban (visual signal) model. Developed by a subsidiary of Atlassian, Trello is a highly adaptable project management tool.

Trello helps track project progress across multiple stages. It is useful in multiple contexts, from lesson planning, school bulletin boards and gaming to web design, real estate management and law office case administration.

With Tello, users can:

  • Create customized task boards featuring columns with various task status options (such as To Do, In Progress, Pending Approval, Done)
  • Set deadlines for each task
  • Move tasks between columns as they progress
  • Add multiple people to cards and use the message feature to communicate with the group simultaneously

Trello offers three business plans – standard, premium, and enterprise – as well as a free plan for individuals and small teams.

4. Evernote: Note-Taking

What worktech tools can improve your productivity in 2023? Learn about Evernote and other applications

Source: Evernote

Evernote is a popular note-taking application that helps team members easily organize and share notes. It lets users create, save and archive ideas and resources in a variety of formats, including audio, video and saved web content and reference links. Notes are archived as virtual notebooks that users can label, annotate, search, edit and export.

With Evernote, people can also:

  • Sync notes across various devices so they’re available to multiple team members, simultaneously
  • Read digital media in a way that looks and feels just like physical documents
  • Integrate group note management with workflows in email and team productivity apps such as Slack, Salesforce and Microsoft Teams

Evernote offers free usage with limited monthly features, and paid plans with expanded storage capacity and enhanced features.

5. RescueTime: Reduce Work Distractions

What worktech tools can improve your productivity in 2023? Learn about RescueTime and other applications

Source: RescueTime

Last but not least is RescueTime, an application built by remote workers for remote workers. RescueTime is designed to help minimize distractions so people can focus on work and improve individual and team productivity. It does this by recording your digital device usage and time spent engaging with various applications and websites.

The company’s mission is to support better work-life balance by helping people:

  • Continuously track their time on websites and apps, so they’re more aware of how they use their time and can adjust their habits for greater efficiency
  • Minimize wasted time by encouraging successful productivity strategies

This app lets users manually modify its default settings to fit individual goals and preferences. A free 30-day trial is available, while the paid version helps users:

  • Set goals 
  • Activate “Focus Time” (block distracting alerts, applications and websites)
  • Record offline events

Which WorkTech Tools are Right for Your Team?

The number of productivity tools has exploded in recent years. Certainly, they can help team members work more effectively together. But too many tools – or the wrong ones – can be counterproductive. Pointless or unpopular tools can actually discourage people, disrupt workflows and decrease output.

So, before adding to your worktech stack, always research and test your selections. Start by asking your team for recommendations. They’re close to the action, so they’re likely to have good ideas. Plus, if you implement solutions recommended by team members, they’re more likely to adopt them and encourage others to do so.

Also, be sure to think about the best way to roll out new tools. Avoid overwhelming people with too many options all at once. Instead, prioritize and introduce tools over time, so everyone can learn about them and integrate them into their workflow. This also gives you time to determine the impact of each incremental step forward.

No matter what, keep driving toward improvement. Eventually, you’ll see more people working more collaboratively and effectively while meeting more deadlines. And ideally, wherever your people are located, they will feel more engaged, efficient and comfortable contributing to your organization’s success.

Workforce Engagement is Sinking - How Can You Turn the TIde? Good advice for modern leaders from a veteran HR executive

Workforce Engagement is Sinking. How Can You Turn the Tide?

Have you noticed that workforce engagement and motivation are slipping? You’re not the only one. In April, Gallup confirmed that U.S. workforce engagement declined from a high of 36% in 2020 to 34% in 2021.

2022 hasn’t been any better. This year, only 32% of full-time and part-time employees told Gallup they’re engaged, while 17% say they are actively disengaged.

What’s happening here? Why is work engagement declining? And what can you do to prevent burnout and unnecessary resignations on your team?

Why Is Engagement In a Slump?

Every business is different. However, there are some common trends we can point to as we search for underlying reasons for decreased engagement.

Burnout, high turnover, and poor communication are among the most prevalent causes. And these problems only get worse when good employees stop caring. That’s because new team members tend to look to high-achieving colleagues for advice, motivation, and guidance.

Let’s look closer at each of these factors:

1. Burnout

While burnout can be linked to chronic hustle culture, return-to-office concerns also are playing a role. After many people were forced to work from home in 2020, they’ve grown accustomed to choosing where and when they work. Now, when called back to the office, many want to hold on to remote or hybrid work models and flexible schedules. Who can blame them?

When employees feel they’re losing a sense of choice over their work, or they recognize an imbalance in work/life responsibilities, they’re more likely to disengage or “quiet quit.” No wonder this phenomenon has been gaining traction during the past year.

2. Turnover

All this dissatisfaction naturally leads to higher employee turnover, which (no surprise) also influences engagement.

On one hand, welcoming a new coworker or manager can be exciting. However, the learning curve that comes with getting a new team member up to speed can create a work imbalance for veteran employees, even if it’s just for a short time.

This imbalance can create feelings of resentment, especially when engagement is already suffering for other reasons. As a result, more people could decide to leave. And if you don’t pay close attention, this can spiral into a very costly vicious cycle.

3. Poor Communication

When organizations try to accommodate hybrid, remote, or flexible work, it can be hard to communicate effectively. Virtual meetings provide more flexibility and enable a sense of work-life balance that many employees now prefer.

But if instant messaging or online video calls are your team’s only form of communication, this isn’t a sustainable way to work. If you don’t use these tools wisely, it puts effective collaboration and productivity at risk. For strong results, you need a plan.

How to Lift Workforce Engagement

Current engagement numbers don’t look good, but that doesn’t mean HR and business managers are powerless. Some U.S. companies have been able to increase workforce engagement despite difficult circumstances. Here are four solutions that can help you improve:

1. Create a Game Plan for Remote or Hybrid Work

Not all companies are able to offer remote, hybrid, or flexible scheduling opportunities. If yours does, then make sure you develop and execute a supportive strategy, so everyone in these roles can succeed.

As previously mentioned, flexible work opportunities are likely to create confusion among employees if work processes and expectations aren’t communicated clearly or executed thoughtfully. Core workplace principles like accessibility, transparency, and inclusion are especially important.

Talk with your managers and colleagues to get their input about remote work practices they recommend for your organization. For example, you may find that using apps like Slack, Teams, or Monday to conduct brief daily online meetings will add a layer of accountability.

2. Encourage Employees to Take Time Off

42% of U.S. employees say they haven’t taken a vacation in the past year. That’s a huge percentage. Working too long without a break will only make stress and burnout worse.

Encourage your staff to take their allotted PTO by creating a culture that supports taking time to rest and recharge. If you are on the leadership team, set an example. Take your time off and try not to respond to work messages outside of working hours.

3. Invest in the Right Tools

Another important way to prevent burnout is by investing in the right tools for your staff. Note that this isn’t just about technology. It may mean you’ll need to purchase new software or update existing technology. But it can also mean outsourcing specific activities to a specialized services provider.

Start by identifying the bottlenecks in your team’s workflows. Then consider any solutions that can reduce or remove redundant or unnecessary tasks. Think in terms of cost-effective ways to automate and streamline work activities.

4. Strive to be Approachable and Transparent

In a healthy workplace culture, communication moves freely to and from all corners of the organization. It’s not just about a top-down flow, but bottom-up, and side-to-side as well.

If employees aren’t comfortable voicing their opinions, feelings, and suggestions, they’re more likely to burn out. To lift engagement, commit to creating an open work environment that welcomes feedback and ideas at all levels.

This is less about formal initiatives and more about consistent behavior among leaders and managers. It’s about showing up every day, listening, and being responsive.

Final Thoughts

Many factors are contributing to the recent decline in workforce engagement. Although the solution may seem complex and out of reach, try some of these recommendations. I think you’ll be surprised at the difference it makes in the way employees view your company and their work.

More often than not, people want to do their jobs. But when little things like lack of information, inefficient technology, mundane tasks, lack of support, and strict schedules pile up, it’s only a matter of time before people start to disengage.

Be the boss that steps in and reignites the passion that got your employees to apply in the first place. If you keep at it, engagement is sure to follow.

Remote work leadership - What Matters Now? See what our Founder, Meghan M. Biro says as she reflects on how far we've come since the 2020 Covid quarantine

Photo: Kevin Bhagat

Remote Work Leadership: What Matters Now

In 2020, our most popular blog post discussed how leaders could move forward when Covid abruptly forced many of us to work from home. I remember writing that piece, wondering which remote work leadership practices would make the biggest impact during those uncertain, turbulent, anxiety-filled days.

At that time, it was impossible to fathom what was happening, let alone how to respond. There were no experts, benchmarks, or guidebooks to point the way forward. I couldn’t predict the future any better than anyone else. Still, my message seemed to strike a chord with our community.

Fortunately, necessity is the mother of invention. And resourceful leaders persevered, relying on trial and error to navigate through those early quarantine days.

Covid CliffsNotes

Nearly three years later, we’ve all learned more about remote work than anyone could have imagined. In fact, we’ve adapted so well that many people want to keep working remotelyat least partially.

With this in mind, I decided to revisit my “early Covid” advice to see how much of it still holds true. So here’s a fresh look at 4 key points that seem just as relevant today as we continue to define new ways of working:

Remote Work Leadership Lessons From Covid

1. Be Tactful (Always a Wise Choice)

Exceptional times call for exceptional tact. I noted it then and it’s still unequivocally true. Times may not be as exceptional as they were in March 2020, but we now know that what we once considered “normal” will never return. In fact, the sudden and scary pivot to remote work turned out to be much more effective than we thought.

What changed for the worse? Among other things, stress continues to rise, inflation has risen to record levels, the economy has suffered, and employees have been resigning in droves. In this unstable environment, everyone benefits from tactful, considerate guidance.

In 2020, I encouraged leaders to give people a break when minor mishaps occur, like being late to a meeting. It seems people are now better at coping with small annoyances. (How often have you said in online meetings, “You’re on mute…” without reaching a breaking point?)

However, stress is real. It continues to mount, as mental health issues increasingly challenge many members of the workforce. My advice going forward? Remember to pair diplomacy with a healthy dose of empathy.

2. Provide Plenty of Training (But Wait, There’s More)

Training is critical. The more training we provide, the more confident and capable remote and hybrid work teams will be. Strong leaders are strong learners. And they believe in coaching and developing others. Remote work leaders that invested to help their teams learn, adjust, and grow are now operating at an advantage.

We didn’t know how well people would embrace distributed work practices and tools. But leaders with faith in their team’s ability to adapt now have another advantage: optimism and support that spread throughout their organizations. It’s easy now to see the value of doubling down on learning. But in those bleak early days, this kind of commitment was truly visionary.

The lesson here? Whatever challenges you face, make sure your people have the knowledge and skills they need to come up to speed with a minimum of friction. The sooner they can work effectively, the sooner they’ll become engaged.

But this isn’t just about ensuring that people complete a course. Smart remote work leadership combines skill development training with nudges, status checks, resources, roadmaps, measurable goals, social performance support, and open recognition.

That’s the win. Why? Because no one learns well in a vacuum.

3. Seek Frequent Feedback (Never Enough)

No doubt about it, regular input and reality checks are vital. In 2020, I was concerned that distance could widen the gap between a leader’s view of work culture and an employee’s reality. Physical proximity makes it relatively easy to close that gap, but remote work requires intentional communication.

I suggested reaching out formally to ask employees about their experience and learn what kind of resources they need to feel comfortable, supported, and productive.

Did leaders actually send feedback requests and surveys to their remote teams? Perhaps some did. But then, we became obsessed with isolation and disconnection. Soon, employee engagement took a hit and leaders started watching some of their best employees walk out the virtual door as The Great Resignation gained steam.  

What went wrong? Perhaps remote work leadership didn’t act fast enough. More likely, these managers have become just as exhausted as employees — but they’ve been overlooked. The truth is, no one is immune. In fact, recent U.S. and U.K. research found that 98% of HR practitioners and leaders are burnt out! 

4. Stay Connected (More Than Ever)

This leads to a final lesson — remote work leadership means staying connected with managers, employees, and teams. Full disclosure:  The TalentCulture crew has worked remotely since Day One. Our vision is a virtual “super team,” leveraging digital tools and processes to manage business functions and grow a thriving digital community.

I’ve always admired other leaders who take it upon themselves to reach out and be present via multiple channels. And the power of that approach became apparent throughout the worst of the pandemic.

We saw remote work leaders who stayed involved, engaged, and accessible, giving their teams a sense of alignment and empowerment. I’ve taken notes and found that their toolkits include quick video chats, daily messages, virtual town halls, and short/sweet messages.

Leaders who adhere to an open-door policy — even in virtual settings — are even more important now. Why? This behavior fosters a culture of inclusion and belonging. If you want to bring your workforce together (and trust me, you do), you’ll focus on this lesson. The more digital touchpoints you develop, the more likely you’ll reach everyone in a way that resonates, and the more “present” you’ll be for them.

Leadership Takes Heart (and Strong Nerves)

A final note:  We’re not yet on the other side of the pandemic, but we’ve learned a lot. And we know the world of work will never be the same.

I’m reminded of how far we’ve come when I recall my 2020 comment:

Peace of mind is as hard to come by as n95 masks.”

Thank goodness we aren’t dealing with a mask shortage anymore! Nevertheless, we still see high levels of stress, anxiety, and disengagement at work. And this is likely to continue for a long time to come.

Here’s where great management qualities count. Empathetic, engaged, resourceful, in-touch remote work leadership makes all the difference. It says your organization truly cares about supporting employees while getting the job done. And that’s essential, because the buck always stops at the corner office — whether it’s at corporate headquarters or at your dining room table.

Childcare Benefits: A Reckoning for Working Families

Childcare Benefits: A Reckoning for Working Families

It’s not a stretch to say COVID changed everything—including the way working families think about childcare benefits. Before the pandemic, parents struggled with childcare challenges, of course. But the day-to-day realities grew much worse when the pandemic struck.

After the initial shock of schools and childcare centers shutting down, families were left to figure out how to work from home while parenting. Instead of being at school or daycare, children spent the day side-by-side with their parents. In fact, from February 2020-February 2021, the lack of childcare pushed 2.3 million women out of the labor force. And a very long time passed before these women could return to work (if they have returned at all).

While people in some jobs continued to work on-site throughout the pandemic, many workers had to adapt to the new remote work world. This is where many employees still find themselves today, either working remotely or in some form of hybrid schedule—splitting time between home and office.

Today, childcare conditions have improved slightly, but still are far from ideal. Fortunately for some working families, employers are sponsoring more childcare benefits for those who need this kind of support.

Remote and Hybrid Employees Still Need Childcare Assistance

The benefits of remote work are well documented. However, one drawback is often overlooked. I’m talking about the misconception that people don’t need childcare assistance when they’re working remotely. This notion became prevalent early in the pandemic, and unfortunately, employers still haven’t moved on from this line of thinking.

Picture a typical working mother in a remote or hybrid management role.

Compared to her in-office peers, she doesn’t have fewer deadlines, less ambitious KPIs, or a smaller staff to manage. Nor does she have extra hands to hold her baby while attending Zoom meetings or responding to email messages. There are no extra hours in the day when she can feed or play with a toddler.

The workday is still the workday—even when people perform those tasks at home, surrounded by family distractions and obligations, rather than in an office cubicle.

Families With School-Aged Kids Face Unique Challenges

Contrary to what some believe, childcare needs do not stop once kids start kindergarten. I’m a mother, myself, so take it from me! Parents of 5-year-olds are still in the thick of their childcare journey.

Historically, preschool programs (as well as before-school and after-school care) served as a safety net to support a large, productive workforce. But COVID, chronic underfunding, and budget cuts have left these programs with limited capacity, fewer teachers, and reduced hours. The safety net is frayed, at best.

And now, working parents have the added burden of anxiety about COVID risks.

Previously, when children were mildly ill, they still attended school. These days, we know better. Emergency and backup care are must-haves for working parents who are unable to stay home with a sick child.

Even when parents take precautions, they still face the risk of a COVID outbreak at school that can suddenly change the course of a day, a week, or a month—depending on mandated quarantine periods. This is a lot for working families to handle, which is why employee childcare benefits matter so much.

Throughout the pandemic, working parents have been balancing the risks of depriving their children of social interaction or exposing them to a potentially deadly disease. Some families decide to choose individual or small-group professional care, such as a nanny or nanny-sharing arrangement. But this increases overall childcare costs and isn’t affordable enough for some.

The Trouble With Workplace Childcare Centers

Some employers have tried to help working families fill this gap by investing in on-site childcare centers. While an admirable idea and a substantial financial commitment, these large centers fall short for many employees.

These facilities no longer meet many childcare needs, and simply do not work for remote and hybrid workers. For example, how many working parents would want to commute to headquarters for their kids when they may otherwise be working from home? Working families prefer caregivers who are located close to home—which should be good news for employers who don’t want to dedicate massive budgets to build and maintain large childcare centers.

Childcare Benefits Are Key to Employee Retention

No matter which childcare option families choose, it comes at a price. And it’s hard for people to keep in perspective just how unaffordable it has become.

The national average childcare cost has risen to more than $10,000 per year, per child. That’s incredibly steep. How many working families do you know with two or three kids who also have an extra $20,000-$30,000 lying around?

The increasing cost of childcare forces parents (and mothers, in particular) to make a very difficult choice: Stay employed or quit to care full-time for their children. This has pushed record numbers of women out of the workforce.

The reality facing families is stark and alarming:

Current and prospective employees value family care benefits more than ever. This means employer-sponsored childcare benefits should play a key role in retention and recruitment strategies.

Final Thoughts

COVID drastically changed employment and childcare. The status quo is no longer sufficient, for both employees and employers. Forward-thinking business and HR leaders are rising to the challenge and supporting working families with employee childcare benefits that make a significant difference in people’s lives. This is a step in the right direction.

How can organizations measure the digital employee experience? Find out on this #WorkTrends podcast episode

How Do You Measure the Digital Employee Experience?

Sponsored by:  Ivanti

We don’t need a crystal ball to see that the future of work will be more connected, more digital and more flexible. The pandemic brought us a preview of this more adaptable world of work—and many of us want more. But what’s the next step? How can organizations make “anywhere” work a sustainable daily reality?

Smart employers are already digging deep to pave the way forward. But how will they know when their transformation process is working? How will they see results? This is why it’s vital to measure the digital employee experience, early and often.

Organizations that get this right will attract and retain the best talent. So I invite you to learn more about it with me on this #WorkTrends podcast episode.

Meet Our Guest:  Dennis Kozak

Today, I’m speaking with Dennis Kozak, COO of Ivanti, a leading information technology software provider that is on a mission to make the everywhere workplace possible for all of us. Because Dennis has a front-row seat at the table where key digital work decisions are made every day, he is an excellent source of insight for HR and business leaders.

Why Measure the Digital Employee Experience?

Welcome, Dennis! Tell us, why should we connect the dots between employee satisfaction and digital experience?

Typically, HR is very focused on measuring employee engagement, while IT is very focused on providing infrastructure and security. But very seldom do we actually marry those to focus on how IT improves or hinders an employee’s experience.

Timing Is Everything

Tell us about how to measure the digital employee experience. What does this look like?

Well, this is something people don’t think about much until they have a problem.

Your team’s digital environment may work well—until an employee gets a new laptop or a new mobile device and they try to reconnect to the company ecosystem. They’re either successful or they’re not.

So through automation you can always be checking all of the measurement points to ensure that you’re providing a consistent level of service.

Always Be Measuring

Why is it so important to continuously measure the employee digital experience?

IT is continuously changing. There are always new applications, new tools, new devices, new forms of data in an organization. So the environment is never static. And because it’s always changing, you have to continually measure.

If people don’t feel productive and IT becomes a barrier, then clearly job satisfaction will suffer and people will be more likely to leave. Turnover is difficult, not only for an employee, but for an employer, as well. We can help avoid that.

Where IT Can Add Value

How can the IT team work with HR to ensure everyone has access to the tools they need to do their jobs, no matter where they are?

Our research says 26% of employees have considered quitting their jobs because they lack suitable technology. And 42% of employees have spent their own personal money to buy technology so they can work more effectively.

In other words, people don’t necessarily want to wait for their company to help. But these statistics indicate where both functions can improve.

Start by including IT at the table when designing your employee engagement survey. IT and HR rarely work together beyond onboarding and de-provisioning. But IT can show that the innovation and intuitiveness they bring in enabling digital work can be a deciding factor in employee productivity, satisfaction and retention.

 


For more insights from Dennis, listen to this full episode. Also, read the article he recently contributed to our blog: “Digital Employee Experience: Do You Measure What Matters?

In addition, be sure to subscribe to the #WorkTrends Podcast on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. And to continue this conversation on social media, follow our #WorkTrends hashtag on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

How can employers foster friendships in new remote workplace?

Fostering Friendships In the New Remote Workplace

Friendships are an essential aspect of work life. But friendships among remote employees aren’t the same as relationships among people who spend time together in an office.

In office environments, extroverts usually do the heavy lifting needed to encourage social bonding. But now, team members often work from different locations. Getting remote team members to feel comfortable just talking with one another is hard enough—let alone convincing them to interact socially the way friends do. Nevertheless, the effort can pay off in multiple ways.

What can employers do? One of the best ways to strengthen relationships in the new hybrid work environment is to plan regular opportunities for informal interaction during the business day. Any company can benefit from encouraging stronger relationships among employees, whether people are located onsite, offsite, or both.

Building Remote Social Ties: My Story

As the Founder and CEO of a high-growth company, I’ve experienced the benefits of making space for social events, first-hand. During the pandemic, I started hosting virtual office hours as a forum for anyone to drop by and ask questions about business goals or discuss ideas. Initially, most of the folks who participated were managers with whom I worked directly.

Then I hosted a team escape room game and a margarita mixology class. That changed everything. I saw an increase in the number of new employees who felt comfortable attending. As particiption surged, I could tell this was a good move. Now, people from all over the organization join our group conversations and bring valuable insights to my attention. 

But of course, all relationship-building opportunities are not equal. Some simple guidelines help. For example, at Elevent, we’ve found that participation is highest when a social event has a specific start and end time during the work day. This means employees aren’t forced to sacrifice family time so they can bond with co-workers.

Also, you’ll want to identify these events clearly as social. Don’t just vaguely schedule a “hang-out” session or a happy hour. Instead, plan a specific activity. Invite people to build a desktop garden or sample some unique ice cream flavors. Create interest with a focal point that brings people together around a shared common experience.

Why Work Relationships Matter

Gallup research says work friendships are a key employee engagement indicator. But this metric is sometimes overlooked when measuring productivity because it is often accompanied by hard-to-quantify levels of employee happiness and work satisfaction.

Stronger friendships can also lead to better communication, which improves business effectiveness and innovation. This helps organizations identify and resolve issues that could otherwise erode employee trust and retention.

Surveys continue to indicate that positive social environments help anchor individuals during times of internal or external stress. Friendships help provide paths for ongoing growth, even during difficult challenges. They also offer the support people need to come forward when they experience problems, so they can resolve issues and learn to perform more efficiently and effectively.

Friendship as a Productivity Metric

After an extensive multi-factor analysis, Gallup has developed a tool that diagnoses workplace health based on employee responses to 12 simple statements. Statement 10 is: “I have a best friend at work.” That’s because strong friendships are associated with a deeper work effort. So, how does Gallup interpret these results?

Specifically, when 20% or more of an organization’s employees agree with this statement, workplace engagement is considered “good.” That’s the current level of U.S. engagement. But Gallup estimates that when employers move this ratio to 60%, they can significantly improve results across several business parameters:

  • 36% fewer safety incidents
  • 7% more engaged customers
  • 12% higher profit

Furthermore, when friendships are strong, employees are less likely to seek other job opportunities and more likely to feel comfortable taking innovative risks.

So essentially, friendships help people enjoy working, which means they dedicate more creative time and energy to their work. They also mention problems when they happen so employers can resolve issues quickly, rather than waiting to react to unwanted resignations.

Bottom line: an open-door policy makes sense. You’ll find plenty of advice telling leaders to seek input from employees and reward people who speak up. But communication won’t improve if your policy isn’t backed by a culture of trust.

On the other hand, if you encourage stronger social connections across your teams, you can create the kind of “speaking up and speaking out” environment that is likely to make a real business impact.

Real-World Views: Workplace Social Bonds

With scheduled meetings centered almost entirely on work, organic interactions usually suffer. And with online meetings, screen fatigue is always a factor. So it’s important to treat employee attention as a finite resource. Start by assuring employees that both are important, and provide a framework for people to engage in both. Here’s how several companies view this need:

Ally Financial

One notable example is Ally Financial. Shortly after COVID-19 changed the way many of us work, Ally changed its employee support model to a remote-first approach. This meant Ally had to consider multiple employee needs that didn’t exist before March 2020.

The company made a commitment to demonstrate care for employees holistically. To increase wellbeing and social connection, Ally launched new services, experiential modules and group challenges geared toward physical, mental and financial fitness.

Virtual fitness and meditation classes can easily become group activities that prioritize social fun. This means simple events like comedy shows, group trivia games, and “Family Feud”-style team battles can become useful tools to improve workforce friendships and happiness.

Deloitte

Another well-known company focused on the communal aspects of the employee experience is Deloitte.

The company’s analysts looked deeply at how the pandemic tested the limits of employer-employee relationships, concluding that the future of work is likely to feel more like a team than a family. However, Deloitte cautions that if organizations move dramatically toward impersonal work models, employees may feel replaceable. If they sense this kind of threat, they could react by competing with colleagues, rather than working together toward common goals.

This is why Deloitte underscores the need for sustainable strategies. For example, one way to demonstrate this kind of commitment is to host ongoing virtual events. By dedicating time to a bi-weekly or monthly cadence, employers can ensure that employees have the time and support they need to cultivate stronger relationships.

Final Thoughts

Companies that treat virtual social events as an integral aspect of workforce engagement and retention are fostering essential social bonds—regardless of where employees are located. When people feel welcomed, comfortable and supported while spending time together in casual activities, they can develop friendships that ultimately improve individual productivity and happiness, as well as organizational profit.

How can global distributed teams wok together more effectively? Tips from business leaders

7 Ways to Support Distributed Teams in the Future of Work

Early in 2020, without warning, the pandemic made distributed teams a standard way of working for organizations all over the globe. Now, many employees have grown to prefer working remotely for at least part of every week. But despite the popularity of virtual workgroupsand evidence that they can be effectiveemployers are still trying to address related issues.

Are you among the employers looking for better ways to support distributed teams on an ongoing basis? What challenges are you facing, and how are you resolving them? Recently, when we asked business leaders these questions, they focused on seven key problems and ideas to resolve them:

  1. Coordinate Asynchronous Schedules
  2. Develop a Consistent Employee Experience
  3. Deal With Cultural Distinctions
  4. Address Issues Before They Become Systemic
  5. Offer Viable Child Care Options
  6. Avoid Information Silos
  7. Build Deep Connections and Loyalty

For details, check their answers below…

1. Coordinate Asynchronous Schedules

Distributed teams often operate hand in hand with flexible hours and asynchronous schedules. Even if you mandate specific working hours, different time zones can make it difficult for coworkers to connect at the same time. As a result, scheduling meetings and coordinating real-time collaboration can be frustrating and time-consuming.

One solution is to establish standard “overlap hours” when teammates are expected to be available online. This way, teams can easily plan to meet within established blocks of time without delays or unnecessary back-and-forth email activity. The rest of each day’s calendar is open, so individuals can structure their schedules independently.

Tasia Duske, CEO, MuseumHack

2. Develop a Consistent Employee Experience

When employees aren’t based in the same location, engagement and interaction can differ dramatically. With members of distributed teams operating in different locations and time zones, delivering a cohesive, consistent employee experience will no doubt continue to be a major challenge.

There is no easy fix for this. All the more reason why it’s worthwhile to create robust internal communications designed to connect and inform remote employees throughout your organization. It pays to invest in a mechanism that helps everyone in the company participate in intentional check-ins and feedback. And be sure to equip and encourage managers, so they will continuously evangelize your culture and norms.

Sentari Minor, Head of Strategy, evolvedMD

3. Deal With Cultural Distinctions

In a global workforce, employees may come from vastly different cultural backgrounds. This means you should anticipate that distributed team members will bring different communication styles, behavioral patterns, work ethics and ideals to the table. This naturally will influence how well team members understand each other and collaborate to reach a specific goal.

Leaders in global organizations must transcend these cultural barriers to manage distributed teams effectively. Start by encouraging multicultural understanding by delivering awareness training for management and employees. For example, focus on empowering people to identify preconceptions and handle unconscious bias. Also, help them learn how cultural differences can actually foster meaningful communication, collaboration, and creative problem-solving.

David Bitton, Co-Founder, DoorLoop

4. Address Issues Before They Become Systemic

Leaders will have to grapple with identifying and correcting issues before they become norms. With distributed teams, leaders will have a tougher time assessing employee sentiment towards one other, the company, and their roles. If any sources of friction or conflict are left unchecked, they can eventually take root, resulting in lower employee satisfaction and higher turnover.

One solution is for leaders to create a culture where everyone feels empowered to speak up about any problems or concerns that may arise with coworkers or managers. This can help prevent problems by giving people the freedom to come together quickly and solve problems before they get out of hand.

Lisa Richards, CEO, The Candida Diet

5. Offer Viable Child Care Options

Whether parents work in-office or from home, child care can be a continuous work-life struggle. Employee attention and productivity are easily compromised when quality care isn’t available or children are underfoot in a home office environment.

In the past, on-site child care or partnerships with daycare facilities made sense when employees worked at central office locations. But those solutions won’t work for distributed teams or employees with non-standard schedules. The best solution is to provide benefits from a company that provides child care on-demand. This gives parents options that fit their specific needs, no matter where they live or work. It’s one benefit that clearly benefits everyone—children, parents, and employers.

Kevin Ehlinger, VP Product Marketing, Tootris

6. Avoid Information Silos

Information silos are prevalent in distributed workplaces. They inhibit the free flow of data, communication, and essential insights. Silos may arise from proximity, reduced permissions, or even a lack of knowledge about where specific data is stored. Regardless, the presence of silos is a productivity nightmare.

Lost or mishandled data can pose a considerable threat to distributed teams. Therefore, leaders must take the proper steps to promote transparency, accessibility, and collaboration between departments. The solution is to invest in your organization’s file infrastructure. This can be achieved through the use of cloud data solutions that back up and store data remotely in the cloud.

This, in turn, makes data available on-demand wherever workers may be, so they can retrieve what they need from whatever device they may be using. This streamlines data access and improves productivity while keeping confidential information as safe and secure as possible.

Max Wesman, Founder, GoodHire

7. Build Deep Connections and Loyalty

Distributed work has one downside that can undermine team cohesion and organizational loyalty. Human beings build emotional bonds largely through social interaction. In-person, those connections easily develop because the environment lends itself to unexpected interactions and casual conversations. We “meet” briefly at the Keurig machine or in an elevator, while also making small talk.

In the absence of that unplanned, low-stakes social activity, emotional bonds don’t grow as deep. So, employee connections tend to be more transactional and less emotional—with colleagues, managers and the organization overall.

Without strong emotional bonds, distributed teams can suffer from low cohesion and loyalty. Virtual team members may be less likely to notice a colleague in need. It may also be easier to lure them away. To combat this, create as many opportunities as possible for employees to meet informally and get to know each other—even if it’s online. Encourage small talk before meetings. Support random, agenda-free phone meetings. Nurture friendships!

Amie Devero, President, Beyond Better Strategy and Coaching

 

 


EDITOR’S NOTE: These ideas on how distributed teams can work together more effectively were submitted via Terkel. Terkel is a knowledge platform that shares community-driven content based on expert insights. To see questions and get published, sign up at terkel.io.

How can employers help remote teams connect through new "watercooler" activities? Get ideas on our blog

How Can Remote Teams Build “Watercooler” Connections?

impact awardThere’s no doubt about it anymore—the workplace has shifted fundamentally. Now, according to Pew Research, almost 60% of employees are working from home at least most of the time. That compares with only 23% before the Covid pandemic struck. And although this shift to remote teams has translated into mostly happier, more productive employees, it has taken a toll on healthy, connected work cultures.

The same Pew survey says 60% of employees feel less connected with their coworkers while working at home. That’s not great news for a number of reasons, notably, for workplace culture and its impact on team collaboration, retention and recruiting. To put a finer point on it, over the last two years, the workplace watercooler has vanished.

For sure, making a “best friend at work” has become difficult in a remote-first workplace. Forging informal bonds that lead to creating those “best friends at work” is increasingly tough when we’re stuck on Zoom calls all day and lack the human connection that was so familiar to anyone who worked in offices or other central locations prior to 2020.

HR leaders are acutely aware of this situation. They know they need to find creative ways to bring employees together in simple yet meaningful experiences. But that’s very hard to do when nearly everyone seems to be online. We’re seeing the same challenges among our clients. So today, I want to talk about a few ideas for how you could potentially use wellness programming to replace the physical watercooler and start to build a remote-forward culture that will help attract and retain top talent.

3 Ideas to Help Remote Teams Feel Connected

1. Create wellness challenges and friendly competitions

One way to break down the virtual barriers among employees is to get them excited about competing in friendly ways. There are endless possibilities, but here’s one that works for our clients.

You could offer relatively easy-to-host fitness challenges like Spring Madness, where employees form teams and earn points for completing group challenges with activities that support brain health, nutrition, and physical fitness. This can get the blood pumping, while also drawing employees closer so they can create and reinforce those connections many are craving.

How can something this simple enhance employee wellbeing? Consider the feedback we’ve received from Eddie, an employee at one of our client companies. Eddie has come to really value the fitness challenges he participates in. They’ve given him a chance to network with people across his geographically distributed company.

“I’ve made tons of friends at work through these fitness challenges,” Eddie says. In fact, he’s been on fitness challenge teams with his manager and several other coworkers. Many colleagues he’s met through these challenges have provided him with career advice, as well.

“The amount of networking I’ve been able to do has been truly remarkable. It’s amazing how many people you can meet while sharing the goal of creating a healthier lifestyle.”

2. Facilitate virtual wellness coffee talks and meet-ups

I think one of the biggest benefits of the watercooler we all miss most is just the opportunity to chat briefly about little things that aren’t work-related. Taking a few moments to exchange thoughts about what’s going on in the world or in our daily lives helps us feel connected with other people.

That just doesn’t happen anymore. But we’ve found that hosting virtual wellness coffee talks and meet-ups gives employees an opportunity to get together casually and talk about something other than work.

These meet-ups are facilitated by one of our program managers in a way that makes them very conversational and non-threatening. Some topics we’ve focused on include mindfulness, sleep, social wellbeing, and more. This is a lightweight, low-risk, low-resource way to get employees more actively engaged with one another.

3. Encourage employees to join recreation leagues and clubs

Just because people may not be interested in commuting to a central location for a full day of work doesn’t mean they don’t want to get together. A local softball or kickball league organized by your organization could get employees coming together to move, catch up and have some fun as a group.

Also, don’t underestimate the power these kinds of recreation leagues can have on overall team building and work culture. Playing a sport together can have an incredibly powerful effect on your employees’ motivation, as well as their ability to bond as a team and work as a cohesive unit.

These team-building experiences can translate directly into happier, more productive employees pretty quickly. Ultimately, it can improve their sense of wellbeing and overall appreciation of their employee experience—no matter where they may be working from day to day.

Final Thoughts

Don’t these ideas sound relatively simple and doable? None of them require a huge resource lift. And they all have the potential to help you start creating that remote-friendly culture so many companies are trying to build right now.

It’s not just a fun way to take a break and replace classic watercooler conversations. It’s actually a way to develop trust, communication, and human connection that we all find indispensable in our work lives. Who knows? It may also become a differentiator that plays a key role in the future of your organization’s talent attraction and retention strategy.

Remote

7 Tips For A Successful Remote Hiring Process

Gone are those days when people used to travel to their workplaces. According to a Pew Research report, about one-fifth of workers having the flexibility to work from home are doing so. 

With the onset of the pandemic, global employment methods and the work culture changed forever. By December 2020, 71% of the working population were working remotely. Yet, even as the pandemic threat subsided, many professionals chose to work from home. In November 2021, a report by Gallup showed that 45% of full-timers were still working remotely, either part-time or full-time. 

This sudden paradigm shift to remote work has affected the work culture of almost all organizations worldwide. Today, recruits and even legacy employees demand a flexible hybrid working model. This pushes companies to rethink their business model to incorporate the shifting dynamics of a remote workforce. Companies must design a cohesive culture in a digital environment, and the change should begin right from the recruitment process. 

This article will address the importance of remote hiring in the modern industry and offer actionable solutions to its complexities. 

Why is Remote Hiring Important?

We’ve just emerged from a global pandemic that forced people everywhere to stay confined within the four walls of their homes. In 2020, as governments imposed lockdowns across countries, most organizations chose to operate remotely – this sudden transition was anything but smooth. Although challenging, corporations could stay afloat by adopting radical remote hiring and working strategies. This is when the reliance on digital collaboration tools like Zoom, Google Meet, Slack, etc., skyrocketed massively. 

Soon, companies realized that remote hiring offers numerous advantages, especially for global employment. With the possibility of remote work on cards, most corporations can now hire international employees. 

As the modern workspace is no longer limited by geographical location and borders, organizations can tap into a broader global talent pool. This is a win-win situation for businesses and job seekers. Since companies can source talent from anywhere globally, they can save money on employee relocation costs and forego the hassle of arranging for work permits and visas. On the other hand, skilled and qualified people can apply for their desired roles in top companies without being restricted by geographical boundaries. 

As remote work became the norm, many corporations realized that retaining talent is now relatively easier. With employees working from the comfort of their homes, they can maintain a better work-life balance and be more agile and productive. Remote or hybrid working has had a direct impact on the well-being of employees, with a recent Forbes report claiming that it boosts employee happiness by as much as 20%. 

Thus remote hiring is pivotal for international hiring since it helps build a diverse team comprising skilled and qualified people who are satisfied with their job. 

Guidelines for a Remote Hiring Process

Although companies can source talent internationally now, there remains a shortage of skilled workers, particularly in specialized areas. In addition, upwork reports that around 78% of HR managers consider that skills will become more niche in the ensuing decade. Consequently, about 91% of managers have already resorted to more agile hiring strategies. 

Cultivating a work culture that is both diverse and inclusive starts with remote recruiting. Businesses must adopt an open mindset and implement innovative hiring approaches to build a competent remote team. 

While there’s no shortcut to hiring best-suited candidates virtually, employers can follow these guidelines while remotely hiring employees. 

1. Invest in Remote Hiring Pre-Work

In collaboration with the Harvard Business School, a recent study by Accenture revealed that a significant portion of qualified employees is deterred by online job portfolios put up by employers. 

Hence, employers must switch up their job promotion tactics. For instance, they can create attractive job descriptions highlighting a specific role’s key skills and responsibilities. Hiring managers can also accurately describe their company’s remote policy to maintain transparency across job platforms. They should also include any logistical requirements, such as expected timezones or the frequency of monthly office visits. 

It’s crucial to create tailormade job ads for different platforms. Pasting the same hiring advertisement for all job profiles will mean you risk the chance of losing out on a potential talented applicant.

2. Importance of Video Interviewing 

Today, freelancers and full-time employees feel more comfortable with remote employment. Hence, employers can no longer ignore the importance of video interviewing for remote hiring. Usually, employers/recruiters cannot meet the remote applicants face-to-face, and thus, they have to evaluate a candidate’s skills through video interviews. 

However, video conferencing comes with its challenges. For instance, there can be audio-video glitches or internet disturbance during the interview. Employers can easily overcome these issues by creating a solid interview setup for remote hiring, including a reliable internet connection, double-checking the tech before logging in, etc. Also, it helps to have a Plan B ready if there’s any glitch during a video interview. 

Tip: Be punctual and present in the chatroom when the applicant enters. Slowly ease into the interview process through casual chatting. 

3. Be Transparent 

Recruiting international talent can be a tricky process. However, being transparent about your company’s mission and your expectations from the employees is a commendable start to the employer-employee relationship. This will help you lead by example and gain your employees’ trust. 

4. Prioritize Collaborative Hiring

Fostering teamwork is a pivotal addition to your company’s work culture. Ensure to involve all the relevant teams while hiring employees remotely. It allows your employees to get involved in the core operations and makes them feel valued. 

Collaborative hiring also allows you to acquire valuable input from different team members, making the whole hiring process more comprehensive. Ensure that your Applicant Tracking System (ATS) can facilitate team collaboration and accommodate multiple users. 

5. Integrate Technical Skills Assessment 

All employers must evaluate applicants’ hard skills, especially for highly competitive niche roles. For instance, recruiters may assign projects or coding problems to assess a candidate’s real-world skills for tech roles like data scientist or web developer. 

Project-based assessments are a foolproof way to test a candidate’s competency and skills. For example, a 2021 HackerEarth developer survey states that nearly 40% of working developers prefer to sit for video interviews that provide remote editing tools. 

6. Provide Details Pre-Interview

When recruiters fail to offer detailed information about a role, most candidates are unprepared for the interviews. This makes the entire interviewing process futile. 

You can avoid this by providing applicants with all relevant details related to the job during the pre-interview stage. Also, putting up details online will ensure a level playing field for all candidates. Another great idea is to conduct career fairs before the scheduled interview to help candidates comprehend what you expect from them. 

7. Hire People with Remote Work Experience

This might sound odd, but remote working isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. With minimal to no supervision, remote workers are autonomous – they are their own boss. Unfortunately, this may lead to sluggish outputs and missed deadlines. Founder of Baremetrics, Josh Pigford, explains it aptly, “….. It’s a skill set. You have to know how to work remotely.” 

Thus, hiring people with some remote work experience might make an employer’s responsibility of supervising and managing employees easier in the long run. 

To Conclude

Employers must meticulously plan their remote hiring process to fit the needs of the modern remote workforce that operates across borders. From advertising job vacancies to onboarding remote employees – every step of the hiring process must be well-thought-out. 

We hope these tips help align your remote hiring strategies with your company goals.

The Everywhere Workplace

The Everywhere Workplace – Prioritizing Employee Experience

Working remotely is something that many of us have experienced during the pandemic. If you look at your social media feeds, you will notice multiple surveys asking people what types of work arrangements they prefer. COVID-19 has changed the way we view work and the workplace. Now with so many people working remotely, we’re taking a closer look at the benefits and the challenges of The Everywhere Workplace.

Our Guest: Melissa Puls

On our latest #WorkTrends podcast, I spoke with Melissa Puls, Senior Vice President, and CMO at Ivanti. She brings decades of experience with a strong track record of fueling growth through customer-centric approaches and integrated marketing strategies.  

Ivanti’s Everywhere Workplace survey reveals insights into the remote workforce. The Report was written using Ivanti expertise, independent third-party research, and global future of work experts to showcase the workplace evolution and how the pandemic has shaped the way organizations need to think about their workforce.

More than half of employees surveyed report working more hours outside of the office since going remote. Despite working more, they’re actually happier. Melissa states:

“The data says that only 13% of employees would like to permanently get back to an office. This was from the report we did around the Everywhere Workplace. We did just a survey with our own employees and found 1% of Ivanti’s employees say they want to go back to the office full time and 71% of employees would choose to work from anywhere over being promoted.”

The Power of Choice

Flexible work arrangements offer numerous benefits to both employers and employees including boosted productivity, improved morale, and competitive talent acquisition and retention strategies. Melissa:

“Employees are in control of their work environment, which I think is a really positive thing for us, as a community globally. The option of flexibility in the workforce has become an influential factor when employees are making a decision whether to stay with a company or not.”

 Melissa also states:

“The remote work has improved employees’ sentiments and increased productivity, but there were some concerns. We heard that 51% said the lack of interaction with their colleagues and in-person connections was a concern. Additionally, 28% said they’re not able to collaborate and communicate as effectively.”

The Future of Work

What will the Future of Work look like? This is a question we ask ourselves all the time. It’s hard to predict based on the massive amounts of change that have happened just in the last 24 months. Melissa confirms:

“I think companies have to change their fundamental mindset and methodology on talent. That includes not only the flexibility of the environment that they work in but also the technologies that we use to enable employee experience. Having technology that supports and secures all the environments an employee wants to work in will no longer be a differentiating factor, but the norm.”

I hope you found this recent episode of #WorkTrends informative and inspiring. To learn more about The Future of Work and the 2022 Everywhere Workplace Survey, download the report.

Subscribe to the #WorkTrends podcast on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. Be sure to follow our #WorkTrends hashtag on LinkedIn and Facebook, too, for more great conversations!

Coaching Young Talent Through Remote Work Challenges

We all know that hiring young talent can bring a lot of positives to any organization. Younger workers are digital natives, they tend to have a great deal of energy, and their perspectives frequently provide a thoughtful counterpoint to “the way we’ve always done things.”

However, the cliche of younger workers being perfectly OK with staying glued to a screen all day long is unhelpful. This stereotype can unconsciously lull HR professionals into neglecting to address the downsides of too much time spent online. And this problem has become increasingly prominent in our new all-remote or hybrid workforce setting. After all, how are we supposed to interact with remote workers if they’re not connected to a screen of some sort?

The long-term effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on mental health will doubtless fill research papers for decades to come. We know for sure that the pandemic was particularly difficult to handle for college students who had only begun to move out into the world. Many were sent off-campus, often back to their childhood homes. Countless international students were suddenly sent back to their country of origin. The net effect was a deep sense of disorientation.

Pandemic restrictions are lifting worldwide. HR professionals need to remain sensitive to the more pronounced feelings of fear, isolation, and confusion that young talent are bringing to the workforce. When hiring recent grads for remote positions, the burden rests solidly with employers to ensure these younger workers do not get lost in the shuffle.

The Ups and Downs

The benefits of remote work scarcely need to be enumerated. During the pandemic, many of us found it beneficial to stay at home. The environment was relaxing, both physically and mentally. Stress levels went down. Knocking out projects while wearing sweats served as a calming influence.

However, remote work has some downsides. The single biggest loss, of course, is that of community and real-life relationships.

Offices are and perhaps always will be where professional types meet, greet, and bond. Good things happen when colleagues bump into each other in the hallways and breakroom. Things that don’t happen on a video conference call.

WFH status can leave young talent with a nagging “last to know” sensation.

This sense of isolation can be especially pronounced for workers attached to companies where most colleagues are working in-office. As a result, remote workers are often left off essential communications. Unfortunately, though unintentional, this is an all-too-common reality. Every remote employee has at least one story of logging into a video conference only to learn it was canceled, but nobody bothered to tell them.

Long-Term Effects of Remote Work on Young Talent

HR professionals must recognize that those who choose to work remotely may be at a significant disadvantage. For example, a remote worker might push themself to the breaking point to meet an important deadline, but would anyone notice? This is a serious downside that could carry with it implications for future raises, promotions, and perceived value.

The other obvious issue for remote young talent is the lack of easy access to more seasoned employees. Remote work lessen’s any ability to lean over to ask a quick question. When the remote worker isn’t well connected, simple questions may go unasked. As a result, coworkers can categorize employees as “a face on my laptop.” 

Turning the Tables

Like every other challenge, the key to young talent overcoming the downsides of remote work is to adopt simple counter-strategies and stick with them. Here are two to consider.

1. Push your remote workers and yourself outside comfort zones

Not everyone is an extrovert. Research from The Myers-Briggs Company reveals that nearly six out of every ten people prefer introversion to extroversion. Despite this, introverts owe it to themselves to adopt an “I’m getting out of my comfort zone” attitude when working remotely. Accept that everyone will need to push through initial reluctance. 

Katelyn Watson is the chief marketing officer at Nurx, a remote-first company that provides consumers with healthcare options delivered virtually. To ensure that no one gets “lost in the mix” at Nurx, Watson pays attention to everyone’s contributions during meetings and gatherings.

“As a leader of a global, 100% remote workforce, I want everyone to feel comfortable joining into discussions,” Watson explains. “ I empower team members to speak their thoughts when collaborating and always invite them for feedback, even when there is an awkward silence. No one should feel they have to be quiet or can’t veer from popular opinion. I stress that the more ideas we gather, the stronger our marketing will be. At Nurx, all marketing team members get an equal platform regardless of title or tenure.”

2. Embrace mentorship on both sides of the videoconference screen

Mentorship is a great way for HR professionals and remote workers to sharpen their relationship skills. Having one trustworthy person to talk to when a question arises can smooth out the bumps we invariably experience whenever we try something new. In many office settings, remote or hybrid work is new, so both parties should expect to not manage it well at first.

Do mentorships make that much of an impact? Serenity Gibbons, unit lead for the NAACP in Northern California, says they do. “A good mentor can help you achieve more in less time,” she notes. “ Plus, your mentor can serve as your cheerleader and maybe even advocate. For example, when a job is about to open, your mentor may recommend you or smooth the way for a different interoffice transition.”

Set up regular mentorship meetings. Have an agenda for each meeting to stay on track. Your agenda might include talking through some concerns you’re having. Or reviewing how you’ve applied your mentor’s suggestions since your last conversation. In time, you’ll have forged a solid bond with your mentor, even if you’ve never met face to face.

The Great Resignation

The Great Resignation – When Employees Woke Up

2021 turned out to be a year that introduced many new terms into the common vocabulary. One of the most popular terms – The Great Resignation.

  • Pandemic
  • Hybrid Work
  • Non-Fungible Token – and many more 

For the human resource professional, none turned out to be as life-changing as “The Great Resignation”, at least, on the professional front. 

Sure, for HR teams, the pandemic caused a lot of strife. Re-engineering of processes that support the hire to retire Lifecycle of employees, was the need of the hour. Supporting colleagues as the threatening environment led to mental health issues, was equally, if not more, important. Amidst all of this, however, what ended up taking precedence was hiring. Fueled by the aforementioned wave of resignations that corporates witnessed. But, why did The Great Resignation happen? 

Let’s try and understand this by recounting the sequence of events that occurred starting in early 2021.

The Great Resignation – Why?

When the pandemic initially started digging in deeply across the world leading to lockdowns (or curfews or variations, thereof), the expectation was that hiring would stall. That companies facing a business impact would control operational costs by laying off or redeploying their staff. Unsure about the way the economy would play out, most organizations tended to err on the side of caution. Consumers were, after all, expected to become conservative and cautious in their approach.

What happened, however, was quite unexpected. For the most part, consumers changed their behavior while making their purchases. The growing e-commerce world became the gateway to personal happiness in a much bigger way. Unable to visit farmer’s markets and malls, shoppers filled up their e-carts. Clicking away on their screens, keeping the economy going. Restricted from dining at their favorite hangouts, people ordered in, making full use of services like UberEats.

Unexpected Revenue Shifts

Other than in industries like travel and hospitality, executives in most other sectors were pleasantly surprised to see that the dive in revenues and profits was not as sharp as expected. In many cases including technology and healthcare, there was a rise! 

As swiftly as the revenue graphs had sloped downwards, they turned upwards and started reaching new highs! Further waves of the pandemic led to additional learning over the course of the following months. This experiential learning enabled policymakers to change their approach when it came to managing their economies.

At the start of the pandemic, many governments across the world had locked down their entire nations. In more recent times, the preferred approach has been to try and create containment zones whenever there seems to be a fresh outbreak of the virus. This new mechanism of fighting the spread of this disease is extremely beneficial for the world of business. It prevents a complete stop of the production cycle.

So, what has been the benefit of this new reality for our workforce?

The Destruction of Boundaries

For the first time ever in many industries, “human capital” is truly free from the shackles of the physical office space. The past twenty-odd months have shown us that work can continue seamlessly even when carried out remotely. All it needs to keep these running smoothly is an evolution in work practices.

Even in organizations that are in the manufacturing or product space, there are enough roles that can be played off-premises. An additional benefit is the “remote interview”. Candidates can be interviewed virtually (literally and figuratively) at the drop of a hat. No more juggling personal schedules or taking a leave of absence from the current job. Just thirty minutes sculpted out during the day.

The Rise of Digital

A huge reason for the world being able to come out largely unscathed (relative to what was anticipated at the start) is the fact that technology has advanced to a level where the element of distance has been negated. Exploding technologies have been brought into mainstream facilities like video conferencing, showcasing tech-enabled shifts in the way business work is now conducted.

The digital landscape also propelled learning across walls. Aspirational professionals, ranging from fresh graduates to experienced C-suite executives, used this opportunity to pick up new skills and dig deeper into chosen fields of work.

The Availability of Choice

One of the major (positive) side-effects of the pandemic has been the self-awareness that many have gained. This self-realization has encouraged many to decide the operating rules for themselves. From flexibility in terms of work location to flexibility in terms of work hours, workers are looking at customizing the kind of work commitments they make, much like the way they choose to personalize their Subway® sandwich. The talent-hungry corporate world had chosen to play ball – creating work models that suit varied types of individuals. With a shift from ‘pay-for-time’ to ‘pay-for-output’, employees balance their work and personal life, in a more controlled way, putting themselves in the driver’s seat.

Conclusion

In essence, 2021 can be clearly proclaimed to be the year when workers woke up and The Great Resignation started. Truth is that not all may have awakened out of choice. Some amongst us might have been jolted awake by the rude interruption of the dreaded virus, as they found themselves retrenched or having had to leave their work to take care of an ailing family member. But, the end result is the same. It seems, as we get further into 2022, that professionals are indeed awake and about enjoying their days in the sun! What a time to be working!

 

On-Camera Performances

Lights, Cameras, Action: The Tragedy of Meeting Drama

Think like a scientist: Do a test. Record your next video meeting of three or more people. Afterward, transcribe the recording. Then, with a printed copy of the transcript in hand, watch the recording. As you do, add notes to the transcript of who said each line. And—this is essential—note the non-verbal cues you observe. You will then have something very much like a screenplay.

Review that screenplay. See how each person (including you) assumes their roles and acts them out. Observe how people strive to comply with the social rules and rituals of in-person meetings plastered onto virtual work. Detect their attempts to adhere to scripts assigned long ago by those who write the rules:  leaders. Perceive how they strive to appear credible, confident, capable, reliable, trustworthy, engaged. Note how the outcome of their efforts falls short because they are visually boxed into tiny video frames and mostly on mute. You will begin to feel a little sad because what you observe is a tragedy unfolding.

Non-Credible On-Camera Performances

Inarguably, video meetings can be exhausting, as demonstrated by a Stanford labs study. Cognitive overload, eye fatigue, and lack of physical mobility erode workers’ energies. The good news: Employers can address these ubiquitous strains through adjustments in technology and scheduling. 

However, there is a far more challenging issue for Human Resources professionals. How do you ensure that organizational norms for virtual meetings promote employees’ abilities to perform credibly, confidently, capably, and reliably? Participants in my 2021 study poignantly raised this issue. They expressed how, despite tremendous investments of personal energy, their on-camera performances fail to meet expectations.

Consider this example:

“As an executive and salesperson, I am often ‘On Stage’ presenting some idea or explaining a product. That takes more energy via Zoom because the audience is not as engaged or interactive. In person, there is more give-and-take, even from a large audience. With Zoom, the interactions decrease in logarithmic proportion to the size of the audience. After four or five people get in a Zoom room, it gets really QUIET…. exactly the opposite of an in-person meeting. That silence is hard for me, and I feel I have to make up for it by ‘performing’ or ‘wearing a mask.’” 

Performing in such a way is risky business because people are highly sensitive to others’ facial expressions. Audiences easily perceive inauthentic on-camera performances. In turn, such inauthenticity erodes the psychological safety necessary for high performance virtual and hybrid work.

Uncertainty, Dread, and Drama

As actors on-screen, virtual workers are today’s improvisational actors. Such is congruent with Goffman’s 1959 theory of dramaturgy. Before the pandemic, workers came together in a well-known playscript entitled The Team Meeting. There, they knew how others expected the action would take place. They were familiar with expectations of their roles and the scripts they were to follow to create a pleasing performance. 

Now, they perform amid high uncertainty for far longer hours, in a far greater number of meetings, without the benefit of appropriate norms. As demonstrated in my study, they hunger for interaction with their fellow performers to co-create a compelling on-camera performance. However, their co-actors often feel “dread being on ‘display’ and looking and reacting perfect” and compelled to “act interested and focused the entire time.” Their interaction “doesn’t mimic in-person interactions, in which people look away from time to time.” And “the expectation of focusing on the screen 100 percent, which is not normal in regular human interaction” is untenable.

On-Camera Performances Must Be Heard and Believed

Like professional improv artists, those who perform in video meetings also need audience feedback. Verbal cues and body language indicate the effectiveness of their performance and can encourage them to believe that, yes, you are credible. But those giving on-camera performances in work video meetings don’t get enough feedback indicating that they are heard and believed due to thumbnail images, muted microphones, and some cameras being off altogether. According to my research, at best, they may get, “blink, blink, stare.”

Because they cannot hear listening noises or see heads nodding, they cannot discern whether what they say is received as intended or what the audience is thinking or feeling in response. As a study participant says, “Videos make it hard to read energy, and that is frustrating for me. I also feel drained because I can’t read body language or tell who is really engaged.” Uncertainty about their impression on their audience, whether they are giving a successful on-camera performance, presents a challenge to their context-specific identity. Am I credible? Am I valued? Do I belong here

Old Norms, New Culture, and Belonging

On the pre-COVID in-person meeting stage, there were (often) unwritten directions. These included tacit understandings about how to facilitate a meeting, what was permissible to say, when and how to speak up, and when to remain quiet. These directions were formed by what the dominant members of the group believed. Adhering to these prevailing group norms could help people create an impression consistent with their goals. They value me. I told them what they wanted to hear. That impression could help solidify their belonging as a competent social actor in those settings. But when someone in a nondominant subgroup spoke up, those in the dominant group were likely to give overly critical feedback based on stereotyped categorizations. The dominant group thereby thwarted the nondominant contributor’s goal of making an impression as a competent performer.

Now, Covid-19, massive global social unrest, and growing intolerance of racism in the U.S. workplace upend dominant group norms. The roles and scripts for leaders and other attendees in video meetings are less clear. Cultural uncertainty abounds. Workers are less willing to painstakingly comply with social norms to fulfill their role requirements and meet their context’s shifting political and social expectations. They now choose whether to sustain or challenge power relations.

As they make these choices, norms continue to evolve. How are leaders and other attendees to perform their roles together, collectively? Workers’ sense of belonging is at stake, as are their energies. As some feel that the power and control status they previously enjoyed in meetings is threatened, they may feel ungrounded. As others with less power (i.e., representatives of nondominant groups) attempt to contribute, they must typically work harder

Belonging and Inclusive Virtual Practices

Virtual workers who contributed to my 2021 research suggested practices human resources staff members and other leaders should adopt. These simple practices help promote greater inclusion and help relieve the unsustainable social-performance anxiety workers across the organizational hierarchy experience. They make video meetings more beneficial for the casts of millions who show up daily to do their best. They, thereby, enable organizations to reap greater rewards from diverse knowledge and talent. Here is what virtual workers say their leaders should do.

1. Invite those who are off camera to speak.

My research shows leaders make many negative assumptions about workers who are off camera: They are hiding, overly multi-tasking, not listening, disengaged. However, off-camera attendees say, “Some people seem to assume that if your camera is not on, you don’t care. It’s actually physically exhausting to stare at the screen meeting after meeting.” They say, “Visuals distract me from meaning/content, so having to look at the camera and people means I’m not getting as much content/meaning, so I turn my camera off.” They are “waiting to be called on.” So, ask them to chime in instead of assuming they are disengaged. I regularly do this and have not once found an attendee unresponsive. Indeed, the contributions they make are well-considered and solution-focused, perhaps because they are spending their energies thinking rather than acting. 

2. Tie the camera-use rule to the meeting purpose.

If camera use is necessary to achieve the intended meeting outcome, say so. If you can achieve the outcome without seeing faces, make on-camera performances optional. That way, those who enjoy seeing faces can see others who wish to display themselves, and those who find videos to be cognitively exhausting can be off camera. For this to work, you must adopt practice number one. Otherwise, you will thwart inclusion: Employees who have cameras on will become the de facto “in” group, and those who are off camera will be the “out” group.

3. Be a good “director.”

When filming, directors famously say “action,” “cut,” and “retake.” But before filming starts, rehearsals happen during which directors give guidance. They convey how the story is to unfold and how the actors must support one another when performing. A good meeting director gives that sort of guidance upfront, in an agenda. A good agenda provides the actors with the storyline:  Who will speak about what, when, and why. Provide an agenda in advance so that your actors can prepare. Include the names of those who will lead each “act” by discussing their topic. Give the estimated time they’ll do that so that they can prepare their lines. Above all, tell everyone the purpose of the meeting in advance, so they’ll know why the meeting and their performance in it matters.

Hyrbid Work Success

Setting Your Team Up for Hybrid Work Success

Today’s employees have strong feelings about hybrid work–positive ones that is. According to Microsoft’s 2021 work trend index, 73% of respondents across over 30,000 people in 31 countries desire more remote work options. 

But managers aren’t so rosy on the subject. Why are today’s leaders having such a hard time adapting? Lack of planning might be the culprit. According to McKinsey, 68% of Oregon organizations have no detailed plan in place for hybrid work.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The point of the hybrid work model is to satisfy employee’s desires for flexibility, manager’s desires for streamlined office management, and everyone’s desire to stay safe. Managers must meet these new challenges head on by crafting a detailed hybrid work plan that reduces their stress while setting their employees up for success.

Our Guest: Reid Hiatt, Tactic

On our latest #WorkTrends podcast, I spoke with Reid Hiatt, CEO of Tactic, an innovative hybrid workplace solution bridging the gap between remote and office work. Reid has worked closely with a number of proactive companies ranging from small startups to global enterprises. Therefore, Reid has a unique perspective on how companies can create meaningful and effective workplaces in a hybrid work environment.

When asked how to keep teams productive in a new hybrid model, Ried had this to say:

“The key to making (them) productive is providing transparency into what’s going on at the office,” Reid says. “So that before making that commute…they understand what type of experience they’re going to get when they go there.”

Managing Employee Schedules Effectively in a Hybrid Work Model

For managers, the hybrid work model introduces new challenges, such as handling their employee’s in-office schedules. Reid stresses the importance of creating processes to address these challenges, and says there are new tools to help them do it:

It’s been really interesting over the past several months just to see how much innovation has happened in this area…making hybrid work not just possible, but the best way to work for most companies long term. This is a huge reason why we built Tactic.”

Reid explains that tools like Tactic take the guesswork out of the process. Ultimately, it gives people complete control over their hybrid office space experience. It also empowers companies to set capacity limits at the office and manage collaborative projects.

“I think there’s going to be continued innovation in this area, and it’s going to make the transition even more seamless in connecting people in a remote friendly work environment,” Reid says.

Bringing Employees Back Safely into the Hybrid Workplace

The pandemic is far from over, and as a result, companies are now tasked with balancing their need for occasional in-office collaboration with the burden of keeping their employees safe while doing it.

“Most of the companies that we work with typically will rely on local or federal governments to define what safe looks like,” Reid says. “OSHA is a huge resource for a lot of the companies that we work with in trying to identify how we can get people back into the office safely.”

Reid adds that a company must first understand the local or federal guidelines. Then, they can use any number of tools to outline what safety looks like for their organization.

The Future of the Workplace

Technology has always led the charge in the evolution of the workplace. Reid believes that we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg:

“We’re already seeing it now with all of the video conferencing technology that’s continuing to be improved. I think that’s going to evolve very rapidly into virtual reality. I’ve had the opportunity to kind of play around a little bit with some of these virtual workplaces. And it’s honestly—really cool.”

I hope you enjoyed this episode of #WorkTrends, sponsored by Tactic. To learn more about creating a successful hybrid work environment, contact Reid Hiatt on LinkedIn

Immersive Remote Work

How to Make Virtual Meetings Immersive Without Video

For many of us, virtual meetings have become the lifeblood of remote working communication. COVID-19 has made face-to-face meetings the exception rather than the rule. But the recent surge of digital collaboration tools has made remote teamwork much easier to manage. 

However, the global switch from physical to digital has pushed us into new networking territory– complete with its own footprint of pros and cons. 

Virtual meetings make us more productive and efficient employees. But too much time on a shared screen can also contribute to anxiety, emotional exhaustion, and fatigue. 

In fact, 49% of employees report feeling a high degree of exhaustion after video calls. This state of exhaustion is dubbed “Zoom Fatigue,” and it’s affecting a large percentage of the working population. 

So, how can remote teams continue to collaborate productively without causing a backlog of exhaustion? 

Well, we can start by conducting virtual meetings without video. It might not work for every team, but trying new methods of virtual collaboration is key to finding one that works for yours. 

Video Versus Audio-Based Virtual Meetings

For most people, virtual meetings are somewhat synonymous with a video presence. And there’s a good reason why—video calls are the closest we can get to person-to-person communication. Seeing the faces and expressions of colleagues helps us to understand them better. And this contributes to more effective communication. 

However, at a time where stress and anxiety levels are reaching an all-time peak, shifting how we communicate is essential to resisting burnout. If switching the camera off allows us to feel more at ease, it may be in our best interest to do so.

That being said, both video and audio-based virtual meetings arrive with their own list of pros and cons. 

So, what are they? Let’s look at video first. 

Pros And Cons of Video-Based Virtual Meetings 

Video-based meetings are the standard expectation for digital collaboration in 2022. They enable us to view the expressions and mannerisms of colleagues, promoting trust and empathy. 90% of employees feel they can get their point across more clearly via video, and 35% say it makes them feel more included. 

The caveat with video-based virtual meetings is the toll it takes on mental and emotional health. Being on call throughout the day is exhausting, and it has a negative impact on productivity. 63% of employees say that they now attend more meetings over webcam than they did pre-pandemic. 

Self-identified introverts in particular struggle with this. 2-3 hours of their day is now funneled into forced social interaction. Even for extroverts, the pressure to perform socially can become immensely taxing over time. This, in turn, can contribute to burnout, which is not healthy for personal or professional growth. 

Pros And Cons of Audio-Based Virtual Meetings

In 2021, only a handful of virtual meetings were being conducted on an audio-only basis. This is partially due to the wide availability of high-functioning video collaboration tools. Notably, it’s buffered by the impressive productivity statistics that video boasts. 

However, audio-based virtual meetings could be the (not so) silent hero of remote working communication. Not only are the apps cheaper and more accessible for those without high-quality webcams, but they also liberate workers from the anxiety of social interaction. 

Reduced eye contact, decreased cognitive load, and lack of viewing one’s own face makes audio-based collaboration much easier to process. Cutting down on the visual sensory element can allow us to focus better and preserve more energy for productivity. 

Bearing all that in mind, the reality is that audio-based virtual meetings are less familiar to us than their video alternative. For that reason, knowing how to conduct one in a way that is still immersive and productive can be a challenge. 

How To Conduct Productive and Effective Audio Meetings

Despite the benefits that come with audio meetings, conducting them in an efficient way requires a different set of tactics than their video counterpart. Because there are no visual aids, whoever is conducting the audio meeting needs to put emphasis on vocal communication. 

Being clear, concise, and continuously open about meeting progression is paramount to running a successful audio-based virtual meeting. Here are some more helpful tips:

1. Eliminate distractions. 

Because there will be no visual element for team members to focus on, all other distractions must be eliminated. If you’re trying to conduct an audio meeting in a loud or chaotic environment, extracting information from it will be very difficult for listeners. 

Aim to conduct your meeting from a quiet and undisturbed room, and encourage your team members to do the same. 

2. Have an agenda. 

It can be easy to lose track of where you’re going in a meeting without a proper agenda. Creating a list of key points to focus on will help both you and your listeners concentrate better. Make sure to have a clear objective for the meeting so that others can follow you towards it. 

Adding this type of structure to your audio-based virtual meeting will encourage focus and motivation from beginning to end. 

3. Track and summarize progress. 

If you’re tackling a particularly complex topic, regularly reflecting on what’s said is crucial. It will help attendees to better grasp what you are saying. Breaking down the meeting into distinct sections will encourage comprehension and provide others with an easy way to track the flow of conversation.

You want those partaking in the meeting to maintain a constant grasp of what you are saying, and tracking progress is one way to do that. 

4. Set a time limit (and stick to it). 

Nobody likes a never-ending virtual meeting. In fact, sessions that last longer than the stipulated time frame are considered by many to be the worst quality a meeting can have. Let’s avoid that. 

Holding attendees captive for longer than they bargained for will only cause them to lose interest. Setting a time limit beforehand and sticking to it displays respect for the attendee’s time. Additionally, it makes the whole process less stressful for everyone. 

5. Don’t stray off topic.

While we’re discussing respect for attendee’s time, remember not to waste theirs by talking about unrelated topics. The energetic bandwidth for virtual meetings is strained enough. But rambling on about irrelevant matters will only make it worse. 

When conducting a meeting without video, staying on topic will allow attendees to remain immersed in what you are saying. 

6. Invest in a quality microphone. 

Because your voice will be the sole form of communication, it needs to be heard loud and clear. Think of it like a branded logo. It needs to make an impact and people need to immediately take note of your message. Investing in a good quality microphone will allow others to understand what you are saying without question. Plus, it will help to avoid miscommunications. 

There are plenty of affordable microphones designed for this exact purpose. Owning one will only add value to your future meetings—both audio-based or otherwise. 

7. Allow time for questions.   

It’s always a good idea to leave space towards the end of a virtual meeting for questions. It prevents misunderstandings and provides attendees with the space to voice their queries one at a time. Without a designated time for questions, a meeting can quickly turn chaotic. 

Chaos is the last thing you want for an audio-based virtual meeting. Structure and orderliness are where purely vocal meetings thrive. 

8. Stay professional. 

Casual meetings have their time and place, but professionalism is important when it comes to mandatory group meetings. Chances are the people attending your meeting are already battling fatigue. So, keeping things straightforward is in everyone’s best interest. 

Staying professional, calm, and to the point is the best way to conduct an immersive and engaging audio-based virtual meeting. 

Is Audio Conferencing the Way Forward? 

The answer to this question greatly depends on the nature of your team. Clearly, there are pros and cons to both video and audio-based virtual meetings. The best one for your team is largely dependent on their personal and professional needs. 

For example, the success rates of joint video conferences are much higher for large teams of people. Audio, on the other hand, has proven very effective for small groups. This is due to the fact that audio-only meetings can become chaotic when too many people (and voices) are present. 

Furthermore, audio-based virtual meetings have proven to be less exhaustive for remote employees. And they can contribute to better mental health. Having the option to unplug from video communication helps us feel less anxious and more in control of our workdays. 

Ultimately, it is important to remember that each remote team comprises unique individuals that require different things for productivity. 

Summary

Since 2020, virtual meeting platforms and workplace collaboration tools have received a huge increase in attention. They’ve changed the way we work and the way we communicate in so many ways. Right now, many research projects are being conducted on the nature of their effects on our mental, emotional, social, and motivational health. 

Remote working culture is here to stay. The platforms that sustain it must adapt to meet our personal and professional needs. 

Nobody should have to commit to a culture that depletes their energetic resources—even for the sake of productivity. Burnout is a real threat to the working population of today, and any methods for lightening the load should not be taken lightly.

telecommuting policy

Creating a Successful Telecommuting Policy Post-Pandemic

A survey from Pew Research Center found that the vast majority of remote staffers think working from home is somewhat or very easy. In that study, four out of five respondents said they have no problem fulfilling their job requirements from home, and nearly as many said they feel comfortable with their workspaces. In short, they don’t mind working away from the office—at least part of the time.

Many employers see the advantages of telecommuting, like saving on office space and seeing an increase in worker satisfaction. Despite this awareness, many struggle to put a telecommuting policy into action. According to CNBC, companies with teleworkers are scrambling to build their cultures in this new way of working while figuring out how to keep people engaged when they’re not physically around each other.

One thing is clear: Telework isn’t going anywhere. It has increased by 173 percent since 2005, and it has exploded because of the pandemic. As a result, employers must craft new (or update previous) telecommuting policies.

Designing a Telecommuting Plan

Telecommuting can’t successfully exist without a clearly defined policy in place. This is true whether you’re allowing employees to work from home, work remotely, or embrace a hybrid work model that merges the two.

What’s the difference? Working from home means working from a residence, whereas remote work happens wherever a worker might be—in a car, a coffee shop, or the reception room of a doctor’s office.

Unless you specifically expect employees to only work out of their homes, you’ll want your telecommuting policy to cover all the bases. It should take into account every possible working scenario.

For example, you may have some remote or work-from-home employees who occasionally come into the office. When they do, they’ll need a place to work and maybe even permission to be on-site for the day. Therefore, it’s key to take a holistic approach to your telecommuting policy.

Here are a few other guidelines to follow when crafting your telecommuting plan:

1. Be specific about things you’d take for granted with office workers.

There’s a big difference between managing someone who clocks in at the office five days a week and someone who logs on from somewhere else. You can see the former; you have to trust that the latter is doing what they say they are.

However, you can still effectively oversee your reports by mapping out expectations. Are telecommuters free to make their own schedules? Or do you expect them to be available during specific business hours? Figure out how to monitor this process in a way that doesn’t seem heavy-handed without leaving you short-staffed.

You should also explain the protocol for telecommuting employees to “leave” their desks for extended periods. Should they block off their “unavailable” times on their calendars? Check in with supervisors? Talk with current teleworkers to see what would feel normal for them while eliminating any confusion for the team. Providing detailed and comprehensive expectations will ensure everyone knows how to operate under the hybrid work model.

2. Ensure employees have the proper equipment.

Never assume that your telecommuters have the necessary equipment at home. Talk to them about what technology they have and what they still need. Some organizations allow employees to buy devices or furnishings; other companies purchase the same setup for everyone who will be working from home or remotely.

You can’t expect employees to use their personal laptops or printers for work assignments, either. This would put your company’s data at risk. Talk with your IT manager about the safest ways to enable telecommuting while still protecting your company information. Relay any liability information to telecommuters to make sure they understand their responsibilities in being smart stewards of company information.

3. Construct a communication plan.

Employees working outside the office can find themselves out of the loop, which can lead to bad feelings, miscommunication, and customer problems. Your role is to foster transparency across your organization—regardless of where your workers might be.

One method of communicating with everyone is through a centralized platform, such as Slack. Just note that it shouldn’t be your only way to keep people apprised of what’s happening.

Add communication workflows and suggestions into your telecommuting policy. This step will give team leaders examples to follow so they don’t inadvertently alienate remote employees.

4. Set up a system to gather continuous feedback.

Your telecommuting policy should include ways for employees to talk about their experiences. Don’t wait to send out a survey once a year. Offer workers a feedback system so they can voice any telecommuting concerns—or brilliant solutions.

As you receive incoming suggestions and notifications, take them seriously. Listen to what’s happening on the ground and remain flexible. Your company’s willingness to make changes will show employees that you value their opinions and understand that this is a process rather than a destination.

Stay alert for any signs that your telecommuters might be struggling with their physical or mental health. It’s tough to notice that someone is having trouble dealing with change when they aren’t in the office.

How people work has changed tremendously over the past two years. If your internal policies haven’t caught up, it’s time that they evolve. Open a document and start planning. It’s never too late to create a streamlined and successful telecommuting policy.

hybrid work

Hybrid Work: Transform Your Workplace with Security and Collaboration

The future of work is hybrid–with over 50 percent of people saying they’d prefer to work from home at least three days per week. But many workplaces don’t have the tools in place to make the transition to this new working style.

To implement hybrid work successfully, organizations need streamlined communication and security for safe collaboration and inclusive communication. By selecting the right tech tools and organizational strategies, hybrid work can be a boon for productivity, employee engagement, and even DEI.

Our Guest: Jeetu Patel, Cisco’s Executive VP and General Manager of Security and Collaboration

On the latest #WorkTrends podcast, I spoke with Jeetu Patel, Executive VP and General Manager of Security and Collaboration at Cisco. He leads business strategy and development and also owns P&L responsibility for this multibillion-dollar portfolio. Utilizing his product design and development expertise and innate market understanding, he creates high-growth Software as a Service (SaaS) businesses. His team creates and designs meaningfully differentiated products that diverge in the way they’re conceived, built, priced, packaged, and sold.

To successfully achieve these things, Jeetu stays open-minded and flexible, especially when it comes to hybrid work. In order to ensure that experiences are great for employees, he says organizations need to understand that people typically work better in a “mixed-mode.”

“The future of work will be hybrid. Sometimes people will work from the office, other times, from home. In this ‘mixed-mode’ reality, it is going to be harder than when everyone worked in the office. And the reason for that is there’s more of an opportunity for people to feel left out,” Jeetu says.

To prevent feelings of exclusion, organizations must implement tech solutions for collaboration. At Cisco, they provide various options for remote workers to participate in company goings-on. For instance, they allow people to engage in asynchronous communication, sending stand-alone video messages to contribute ideas. They also use things like Webex and Thrive to make sure everyone is up to date on what’s happening.

“You’ve gotta have the right tools and technology to collaborate in a frictionless manner,” Jeetu says. “You need world-class connectivity and delightful software experiences that can allow you to collaborate, be secure, and not have to worry about someone hacking into your system.”

How Hybrid Work Can Strengthen DEI Efforts

Part of creating a frictionless hybrid work system is focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Jeetu explains that DEI should be prioritized in hybrid work scenarios because it’s the right thing to do.

“No one should feel left out because of their race, gender, ethnicity, geography, language preference, or personality type,” Jeetu says. “Those things shouldn’t make people feel like they don’t have the opportunity to participate.” 

Hybrid work empowers organizations to focus on DEI because it gives global access to talent. Opportunity is unevenly distributed all over the planet, explains Jeetu, while human potential is not. So hybrid work can help make positive changes in the workforce regarding issues of equality.

“Hybrid work allows people of all types to feel that they have a level playing field,” Jeetu says. “People shouldn’t have to feel like they have to choose between where they want to live and having access to a career opportunity. They should be able to do both.” 

I hope you enjoy this episode of #WorkTrends, sponsored by Cisco. You can learn more about integrating hybrid work into your organization by connecting with Jeetu Patel on LinkedIn.

Also, on Wednesday, October 20, 2021, from 1:30-2:00 pm ET, don’t miss our #WorkTrends Twitter chat with Cisco (@Cisco).

During this live chat, our global “world of work” community will discuss how companies can develop an intelligent workplace, how collaboration tools empower the hybrid work model, and more. Be sure to follow @TalentCulture on Twitter for all the questions and add #WorkTrends to your tweets so others can see your opinions and ideas!

coworking spaces

How Coworking Spaces Are Changing The Future Of Work

There is a lot of buzz in the business world about coworking spaces because of their quick rise to fame. The first official coworking space was opened in 2005, and now an estimated 35.000 are spread worldwide. These spaces are widely popular for their unique designs that usually consist of wide-open office plans accompanied by various other rooms where people from different work fields can work and relax.

With COVID infection rates getting lower as vaccination rates get higher, people are gathering and working together again freely. Statistics show that in 2021 the number of people occupying coworking spaces in the United States is close to a million.

The future of work seems uncertain because of the many changes brought into the workplace due to the pandemic. However, one thing we can predict is that coworking spaces will play a big part in the future of work, as these spaces can offer a lot of benefits to employees everywhere.

The Opportunity to Connect With Others

There’s a saying: “Experience is the best teacher.” While this can be true, learning from the experience of others can be equally fruitful. Our ability as humans to connect with others and collaborate with them is a big reason for our success as a species.

According to a study, for workers to bond, they must interact in a place that offers them the opportunity to be in close proximity to each other regardless of the differences in career fields. Coworking spaces provide their members with such proximity through areas specifically designed for socializing. Imagine a lounge area where professionals from different fields can sit, drink coffee, and discuss their latest projects with one another. The atmosphere enables members to connect with each other without having to organize special events for networking.

Therefore, coworking spaces represent the future of work because, in addition to the basic business infrastructure, they offer their members the opportunity for social interaction, work collaboration, and networking. Workers in coworking spaces can connect with other professionals, businesses, freelancers, and entrepreneurs. Through this connection, they trade information with each other, as well as create relationships with mutual benefits where everyone learns from the mistakes and successes of others.

Productivity

Another reason why coworking spaces are shaping the future of work is their effect on the workers’ productivity. According to research by the companies Deskmag and Deskwanted, 74 percent of their employees were more productive in coworking spaces.

Office employees spend a lot of time inside the building they work in, and numerous studies have demonstrated that environment plays a big role in determining work performance and productivity.

The average coworking space is designed with the members’ comfort in mind. The organizers of the space pay close attention to the seating, lighting, temperature, air quality, and noise conditions. This ensures that their members have what they need to feel motivated and work.

Creativity

Creativity in the workplace is essential for problem-solving, being more open-minded, and adding unique perspectives. Coworking spaces offer these things and boost workers’ creativity.

For one thing, coworking spaces provide a stimulating atmosphere through unique room designs, colors, and natural light. Inside some of these rooms, there are whiteboards and markers, which make them perfect spots for brainstorming. The diverse community that can frequent these spaces also contributes to creativity through sharing different ideas and knowledge.

Greater Flexibility

Coworking spaces offer their members great flexibility in regards to place and time. According to a study, the flexibility given to workers in regards to the choice of workspace and schedule is very important for well-being.

To begin, employees are offered flexibility through the design of the space. Workers have access to different working stations depending on what they need. They can work by themselves in private areas with other people around in the open offices. They can hold meetings in their designated rooms, as well as relax and socialize in the special lounges.

Also, these spaces offer flexibility for people’s schedules. Generally, workers can set their own hours and work when they feel most motivated.

Success

Last but not least, coworking spaces help individuals and businesses succeed. From the beginning, they ensure that workers have everything they need—including office supplies, space, and flexibility. When members join coworking spaces, they do not need to worry about creating a proper physical working environment. They can focus all their energy on doing their jobs, as the rest is provided to them.

Coworking spaces have a lot of potential to be part of the future of work. Through these spaces, freelancers, employees, and business owners are promoting collaboration by working together, sharing knowledge, and supporting one another. The many benefits coworking spaces provide have rightfully earned them a place in the future of work.

pay remote workers

Is It Fair that Corporations Pay Remote Workers Less?

I recently read a story that gave me pause. And then I looked around and unearthed more. Remote employees may have their salaries cut simply because of where they work. Hmmm.

After all we have learned about remote working from the pandemic, I hope that organizations are inspired by the findings. Many leaders who have trust issues and fear around a remote workforce were forced to try something new. And, overall, remote working took off!

However, a new trend may be arising with corporate giants like Google, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn that seems ridiculous. They are finding ways to pay remote workers LESS than those who come into the office.

Thought leader Jill Christensen states: “Every organization must decide how they will manage post-pandemic salaries. Will you pay the same regardless of where employees live or cut pay based on the employee’s geographic location? Only you know what’s right for your firm, but I advise that you think long and hard about the true cost of slashing pay. You may end up losing much more than what you save in payroll dollars. Employees may disengage, costing you productivity, retention, quality defects, creativity, sick days, and customer satisfaction. Is it really worth it?”

According to The Remote Work Pay Cut Class War, “Reuters reported that one employee, working from a county outside of Seattle, would see a 10% pay cut if they chose to work remotely, and someone would get a cut as high as 25% if they lived in Lake Tahoe. Specifically, those who choose to work remotely but live near the office wouldn’t see a pay cut, despite not going into the office.”

Is it fair?

With the excuse of “cost of living,” this decision will be justifiable to many. However, is this truly fair to pay remote workers less? The article explains: “This may make sense for a local business selling to locals, but it doesn’t make sense if someone is doing work on the computer – and it doesn’t make sense when you’re deciding to pay someone less money to do exactly the same work.”

Is this move all part of a bigger picture about deeming some employees worth more than others arbitrarily? We all know that it’s more expensive in San Francisco than in Houston. But when it’s the SAME job, does it matter?

“If you pay people working remotely the same amount of money as they’d make in the Bay, you likely can’t justify the lower salaries you likely pay in Detroit, or Chapel Hill, or Pittsburgh,” added Zitron.

In the world of work, we have taken giant strides toward fairness, flexibility, and freedom. This seems like a giant step backward. Do you deserve more pay just for parking in the lot at the expensive headquarters? (It’s argued in the comments of Zitron’s article that companies like Google have sunk so much money into their campuses that they are seeking justification for filling them up again.)

The new class

It’s also being defined as creating a new class system–defining team members as “in the office” or “remote.”

“They are deliberately creating a class system within their companies, both in the division of who is and who is not in the office and who makes the most money and one has to wonder if elder Googler Urs Hölzle will take a 25%+ pay cut now that he lives in New Zealand,” adds author Ed Zitron.

The back-and-forth rationale of this topic can be quite thought-provoking. However, it still just doesn’t seem fair to me. And what about the sustainable nature of non-commuting? Saving gas, energy, and precious time are often hailed as “wins.”

Suddenly those are forgotten benefits because someone decided they want bodies in seats again. Hmmm.

We are not past pay inequality.

Pay inequality has long been a hot topic. Very recent research indicates that it still needs to be top of mind. I obviously can’t address pay inequality all in one go, but it’s important to look at the big picture.

According to the Pew Research Center, “In 2020, women earned 84% of what men earned, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of median hourly earnings of both full- and part-time workers. Based on this estimate, it would take an extra 42 days of work for women to earn what men did in 2020.”

An article posted by SHRM states, “PayScale analyzed differences in earnings between white men and men of color using data from a sample of 1.8 million employees surveyed between January 2017 and February 2019.”

“On average, black men earned 87 cents for every dollar a white man earned. Hispanic workers had the next largest gap, earning 91 cents for every dollar earned by white men. On the other side of the earnings spectrum, Asian men typically earned $1.15 for every dollar earned by a white male worker.”

“Cost of living”

I found a very informational piece by NoHQ on how to pay remote workers, which explained some critical economic factors that play a role in remote workers being paid less. One was Compensating Differentials.

“’Compensating differentials’ is a term in labor economics that refers to the relation of wage rates and the tolerance of undesirable conditions of a job. For example, some countries or cities are naturally more desirable (or undesirable) than others–due to weather conditions, real estate prices, local culture and diversity, and infrastructure.

“The likeability of an area will impact a worker’s pay tolerance to live there. When it comes to remote working, compensating differentials may have less influence on wage rates, as remote workers can move wherever they like. Exceptions apply when remote workers can only move within a certain geographical zone in order to work remotely.”

They also pointed out that while it may be cost-effective to adjust salaries, it could appear discriminatory and unjust. This can result in poor employee morale and weaker loyalty–something to watch out for!

Key takeaways

It’s a significant challenge to measure the “cost of living.” Yes, there are governmental and research resources, but it’s very personal and ever-changing. Have you seen the real estate spikes in places like the Denver metro and Miami? I wonder if everyone there is getting a pay raise. Hmmm.

I genuinely hope enormous, powerful companies set the right precedent. They should pay remote workers equally because other companies will use them as an example. It is inevitable.

 

hybrid workforce variations

3 Hybrid Workforce Variations: Choosing the One That’s Right for You

Many use hybrid as an umbrella term to indicate a mix of remote and in-office employees. They also use the term blended employees. These are employees who work in-office some of the time and remotely the rest of the time. This group of employees is distinct from those who work full-time in the office and those who are full-time remote. (Note: Full-time remote employees sometimes meet with other employees for team retreats or other special events during the year. But they do not go into the office to do their usual work for any meaningful amount of time.)

There are three hybrid workforce variations to consider as an employer. Each variation has advantages and challenges.

General Challenges with Blended or Remote Employees

There are two general challenges with any of the hybrid workforce variations that are important to address, including:

  • Biases | Remote employees are likely to be disadvantaged by being “out of sight” more frequently. It requires more work to create trust and belonging with and among remote workers. Leaders who are in-person may inadvertently give more attention and perks to employees they see in person. Meanwhile, remote employees may be less likely to speak up or question decisions.
  • Equity | Employees who work remotely more of the time may be in less equitable work situations than their in-office counterparts. Their Internet service may be relatively slow and their workstations may cause pain or discomfort. Additionally, their immediate working environments may be more distracting (e.g., noise, light, temperature), and they probably won’t have access to free office supplies (e.g., printers, a dedicated work phone, etc.).

Here are examples of three hybrid workforce variations.

Hybrid 1: Full-Time Mix

One of the hybrid workforce variations is a mix of employees being either full-time in-office or full-time remote. This variation requires enough office space for all full-time employees.

  • Advantages:
    • It’s easy to know where each employee is on a given day or week.
    • Working groups/teams can develop communication and collaboration patterns for this stable configuration.
    • You need less office space when some employees are remote.
  • Challenges:
    • Communication | To the extent that working groups contain both types of employees—or remote only employees—clear and concise communication is critical. You want attendees to be able to pull out the important points of communication quickly and easily. Social time and hard conversations should definitely happen over video.
    • Collaboration | If everyone who is collaborating on a given project is in the office, there aren’t any special hybrid challenges. However, when collaboration happens among individuals who are not co-located, care should be taken to implement best practices for that situation: Use the appropriate communication channels or apps (e.g., collaborative real-time whiteboards that live in the cloud, Slack channels, polls for voting). Trust among team members is important and needs to be built and maintained. Respectful behavior is even more critical.
    • Biases | All of the general challenges above are true with this variation. In-office employees may develop deeper bonds. Thus, they may unintentionally marginalize remote employees.

Hybrid 2: Come Together

Another hybrid variation is when employees spend some time in-office and sometimes remotely. Also, they do so in a concerted way at regular intervals, so that every working group is in-office together and remote together. Everyone in the group is a blended employee. For instance, a given working group may be in the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays and work remotely the other days of the week. (Or one week in the office each month, etc.)

  • Advantages:
    • Organizations require less office space when different working groups use the office on different days.
    • All working group members experience similar working conditions at the same time. So the problem of remote workers becoming disadvantaged isn’t an issue.
    • In-office time can focus on collaboration, team-building, trust-building and engagement. Remote time can be for focused individual work.
  • Challenges:
    • Communication | Best practices for communication hold. When working group members are remote, it’s particularly important.
    • Collaboration | Time in office should be for work best done collaboratively or using resources that are in office.
    • Bias | In-office time helps create and deepen belonging and trust (when the culture and the leaders promote those qualities). In turn when employees are remote they are more likely to give colleagues the benefit of the doubt. Because all working group members have the same in-person/remote schedule, differential treatment based on in-office status is non-existent.

Hybrid 3: Employee Flex Plan

Finally, sometimes employees are blended, full-time in an office, and/or full-time remote. For some hybrid workforce variations such as this one, you can set times when everyone—or most everyone—is expected to be in office, such as collaborating on projects.

  • Advantages
    • This variation provides more flexibility to employees, hopefully minimizing attrition and making hiring easier.
    • The schedule provides working groups and organizations predictability. It also gives them the ability to make maximal use of their in-office space. There may be some opportunities to take advantage of co-location, but the people who need to collaborate on a given day may not necessarily be in the office at the same time.
    • To the extent that all or most employees come into the office at least some of the time, a sense of culture, trust, and engagement can develop. However, this doesn’t necessarily include teammates who may be on a different in-person schedule.
    • Blended employees may welcome more flexibility and control over their commuting schedules.
  • Challenges
    • Communication | Although there is a predictable pattern to who is in the office on a given day, the pattern differs for each employee. Therefore, it can be hard to track in-office employees day-to-day. In turn, this doesn’t capitalize on many of the return-to-office advantages. Because working groups may not be co-located together, communicate clearly and concisely. Best practices for communication hold.
    • Collaboration | This variation does not help in-office collaboration unless relevant employees are co-located at the same time. Thus, best practices for collaborating with mixed co-located/remote groups hold.
    • Biases | Those who spend more time in-office develop deeper connections and trust and may be more likely to receive high-status assignments compared to remote workers.
WFH burnout

Image by Fizkes

WFH Burnout and Zoom Fatigue: Much More Complex Than We Think

Have you or your employees been feeling WFH burnout and Zoom fatigue these past months? It’s too common, despite the supposed convenience of working from home and using videoconferences to meet.

Due to the computer-based nature of their work, the large majority of HR professionals have been in the privileged position of working from home throughout the pandemic. Yet, despite the safety benefits of doing so, burnout has been an increasingly problematic issue — the result: lower retention rates, morale, engagement, and a decrease in quality decision-making.

Still, most appreciate the benefits of working from home. Most employees, in fact, have stated a preference to work remotely more than half the time or even permanently even after the pandemic. And most employers support their employees’ desire and have integrated remote working at some level into their post-pandemic operations. They find that employees working from home improves productivity and also allows companies to downsize office space, saving serious money. Yet to do so requires addressing work-from-home burnout.

Fix the Problem (Don’t Treat the Symptoms)

Unfortunately, the vast majority of efforts to address WFH burnout try to treat the symptoms without addressing the root causes. The problem stems from companies failing to adapt internally to the impact of COVID and the post-COVID recovery.

The vast majority had to make an abrupt shift to their employees working remotely. Everyone was in emergency mode and adapted their existing ways of interacting in “office culture” to remote work. That’s fine for an emergency, perhaps a month or two. But COVID is not a short-term emergency. Instead, it is a major, long-term disruptor.

Companies need to recognize that the fundamental root cause of WFH burnout stems from organizations adapting their existing ways of interacting in “office culture” to remote work. To address this problem requires a strategic re-evaluation of their internal structure, culture, and norms. They must plan for a much more virtual environment for the foreseeable future.

Using office-style culture to conduct virtual work is simply forcing a square peg into a round hole. You can do it if you push hard enough, but you’ll break off the corners. In this case, those “corners” are the social and emotional glue that bonds your employees to company culture. As was proven over the last several months, that peg will do in an emergency. But in the long run, those misused pegs will eventually start to crumble – just like your company culture.

So the first step toward fixing WFH burnout and Zoom Fatigue is to deal with the real problems. Twelve problems, to be exact.

The 12 Problems Leading to Work-From-Home Burnout and Zoom Fatigue

Combining expertise in emotional and social intelligence with research on the specific problems of working from home during COVID, I’ve untangled these two concepts into a series of factors:

1. Lack of meaning and purpose.

The vast majority of us don’t realize we aren’t simply experiencing work-from-home burnout. Instead, we’re deprived of the basic human needs of fulfillment, meaning and purpose that we get from work and our colleagues. After all, we tie much of our sense of self and identity, narratives, and sense of meaning-making to our work. That’s all severely disrupted by shifting to remote work.

2. A failure to meet our need for connection.

Our work community offers a key source of connection for many of us. Work-from-home cuts us off from much of our ability to connect effectively to our colleagues as human beings, rather than little squares on a screen. This lack of connection leaves many feeling out of touch, perhaps even isolated.

3. Little opportunity to build trust.

In an office setting, there is ample opportunity to build trust through informal interactions. This building of trust doesn’t happen naturally in virtual environments. Data shows teams that start off virtual work together substantially better after meeting in person. By contrast, teams that shift from in-person settings to virtual ones gradually lose that sense of shared humanity and trust.

4. Absence of mentorship and informal professional development.

A critical part of on-the-job learning stems from informal mentoring by senior colleagues. It also comes from the observational professional development you get from seeing how your colleagues do their jobs. Losing these opportunities for mentorship and moments of observation has proven incredibly challenging, especially for less-experienced employees.

5. Confusing “Zoom fatigue” with more significant human issues.

The “fatigue” people feel is a real experience, but it’s not about Zoom itself — or any other video conferencing software. The big challenge stems from our intuitive expectations about virtual meetings bringing us energy through connecting to people. However, those meetings fail to meet our basic need for connection; our emotions just don’t process videoconference meetings as truly connecting us on a human-to-human gut level.

6. Mis-managed “live” replacement therapies.

Getting back to our “square-peg-round-hole” analogy, many companies try to replace the social and emotional connection with Zoom happy hours and similar activities. While well-intended, these attempts to transpose in-person bonding events into virtual formats largely fail. Humans intuitively have elevated expectations about the quality of the interaction during meetings, so we end up disappointed and frustrated when our emotional (not to mention physical) needs haven’t been met.

7. Shortage of experience with virtual technology tools.

Many members of our workforce, especially in older generations – the non-digital natives, were never trained to best use virtual collaboration tools. Slack, Asana, and Zoom were new experiences for them. In addition to lowered productivity, this challenge results in frustrating experiences for those asked to communicate and collaborate virtually — many for the first time in their careers.

8. Shortage of skills in effective virtual communication.

Within many companies, especially where four generations are present in the workforce, it’s notoriously hard to communicate effectively even in person. Effective communication becomes much more difficult when in-office teams become virtual teams. A primary challenge in this area: Reliance on the written word, which makes it difficult to assess tone, intent, and even meaning.

9. Scarcity of clues provided by non-verbal communication.

Working virtually, we too often miss the casual interactions so vital to effective collaboration and teamwork. Specifically, body language and voice tone are essential to noticing brewing people and team problems. Unfortunately, virtual communication tools provide us fewer opportunities to detect such issues. Making it even worse for many teams: The growing trend to turn cameras off during virtual meetings.

10. Lowered standards of accountability.

In in-office environments, leaders and peers can easily walk around the office, visually observing what’s going on and checking in with their direct reports and colleagues on their projects. When working virtually,  ignoring an email is much easier than someone stopping you in the hallway or standing in the doorway to your office. Many leaders and organizations have not yet found a way to replace real-time accountability with a version effective in remote work situations.

11. Poor work-from-home environments.

Some employees have access to quiet spaces and stable internet connections; they are quite proud of their home-office sanctuary, devices, bandwidth, etc.  Others, though, struggle with this critical aspect of virtual work. For them, the changes brought about by the pandemic — including overhauling workspaces at home — have taken significant time and resources. Some are still not 100 percent ready.

12. Poor work/life boundaries.

Ineffective separation of work and life stems from both employer and employee actions. In a recent survey at TalentCulture, almost half of respondents said their boss expects them to be available “at any time.” For their part, employees have shown a lack of willingness to set mutually acceptable boundaries.  In the long term, these failures cause lowered productivity, increased errors, and eventual WFH burnout.

WFH Burnout and Zoom Fatigue: A Solvable Problem

Work-from-home burnout and Zoom fatigue are much more complex than we think. As business leaders and employers needing to take on this challenge, we must reframe our company cultures and implement a wholesale strategic shift in operations. We must deliberately move from the “work from home emergency mode” to accepting remote work as the new long-term normal.

And we must provide our employees all the resources, training, and reskilling necessary for people — and our companies — to thrive within that new normal.

 

keep remote teams connected

Image by 8nero

Pandemic Phase II: How to Keep Remote Teams Connected and Focused

About one year ago, organizations learned they could no longer work from a single physical location due to logistical or health restrictions caused by COVID-19. So, like your company, they started using technology to keep remote teams connected.

According to a FlexJobs survey, 95% of respondents reported they feel more productive while working from home. Many have discovered that remote work provides increased job satisfaction, flexibility, and enhanced productivity. However, it also brings challenges that can jeopardize company objectives, team performance, and employee relationships.

As we approach the second phase of the pandemic, let’s discuss why we should continue to adopt remote working. Let’s also talk about the challenges of managing a remote team and the solutions to those challenges.

Reasons to Continue to Embrace Remote Working

Even as the impact of the COVID-19 crisis appears to be waning, there are three clear reasons to embrace remote working in Phase II of the pandemic:

Increased Health and Safety

Even as vaccination roll-outs continue, remote working allows your employees to maintain social distance, keeping everyone safer. According to MMC, 90% of employees still worry about how the virus can affect them and their families financially and, of course, from a health perspective.

Higher Productivity and Efficiency

According to Owllabs, 91% of remote workers reported they’d experienced a better work-life balance which increased their focus and productivity levels.

Reduced Costs on Resources and Infrastructure

Virtual work saves resources because the rental and utility costs are close to non-existent. You can attract freelancers from a global talent pool without hiring locally and paying higher rates for the same skill sets.

On average, remote workers save $11,000 annually to a company with more than 500 employees.

Keeping Remote Work Teams Connected: The Challenges

At face value, remote work sounds great. But how do you keep your remote teams engaged, connected, and focused while working from different time zones and physical locations? Here are a few challenges — and solutions — that will help you keep your remote teams connected and productive.

Challenge No. 1: Keeping the Team Connected

A team that isn’t connected faces a lack of socialization, conversation, and discussion. That long-term lack of employee interaction leads to a decline in team spirit and a disruption of productivity and effectiveness.

Promoting informal socializing and interactions addresses the challenge of keeping the team connected. Even as you consider moving employees back to the office, organize regular team meetings through platforms such as Zoom or Google Meet to keep your team updated and on the same page. Create an informal social media group or channel for general conversations. For instance, you may create a Whatsapp group where team members can share their daily activities or hobbies to get to know each other on a deeper level.

Encourage your team to discuss their hobbies and engage in informal conversations. Organize quiz nights or happy hour sessions to get relaxed and interact through engaging activities. After all, even as lockdowns are relaxed, it’s important not to lose the balance between formal and non-work-related meetings.

Challenge No. 2: Poor Communication

Remote work features communication through online platforms. As we learned during Phase I of the pandemic, poor communication leads to employee dissatisfaction, poor project delivery, and internal conflicts. The leading causes of poor communication among global remote teams are cultural and time zone differences.

Remote work lacks the aspects achievable with in-person work communication settings, so it’s essential to:

  • Set virtual communication guidelines: To enhance communication efficiency, establish virtual communication guidelines for formal meetings. Follow a specific meeting agenda, and delegate a meeting host who organizes the meeting and keeps the flow uninterrupted.
  • Create specific working hours: Specify a block of time when everyone should be online despite their geographical locations. These group working hours allow employees to collaborate, plan and execute work no matter their time zone differences.
  • Set a time limit for response: Determine the time it will take for a remote employee to respond to an email, telephone call, or text message. It ensures that no request remains unattended for long, making processes go smoothly — project management platforms such as Asana or Trello support effective communication on projects involving different departments.
  • Desist from colloquialism: If remote team members live in distant geographical locations that feature different cultural qualities, avoid slang references and sensitive topics in official channels.
  • Instant messaging: Tools like Slack or Google Hangouts will keep communication uninterrupted and in a specific flow.
  • File-sharing: Enable the storing of team files on the cloud, which helps your employees collaborate better.

Challenge #3: Reduced Focus and Productivity

Also, as learned over the past year, distractions characterize remote working, which reduces a team’s focus and productivity. After all, even after almost 12 months, employees working from home may still feel they are not really at work due to their familiar — and familial — surroundings at home.

  • Set clear targets: Always start a new work week with specific targets and milestones. Discuss the established goals for the week with team members and ensure everyone understands their role. With precise goal setting, your team will have a higher chance of avoiding distractions and achieving their goals.
  • Conduct frequent reviews: Maintain frequent communication with your team and keep checking in on their progress. Find out which obstacles hinder your team’s performance. Such regular interaction will motivate your remote workers to engage with their tasks.
  • Provide productivity tools and technology: Productivity tools will help your virtual team focus on work and avoid distractions. Such tools include noise reduction software, website blockers, timers, and white noise generators.
  • Encourage dedicated workspace: Having a dedicated office increases productivity while decreasing the number of distractions. Suggest employees remove unnecessary items from the office space that might cause them to drift away from what should be their primary focus.

Challenge #4: Lack of Accountability

For most of 2020 and early in 2021, a lack of accountability (and self-discipline) has been a significant hindrance to managing a virtual team well. After all, despite what we’ve learned, when a team member works remotely, it can be difficult to tell if they are working or engaged in other interests or meeting other pandemic-related responsibilities like distance learning.

Encourage the Pomodoro technique to help employees focus on a single task for 25 minutes and take short breaks to handle other commitments afterward. For those still prone to digital distraction, monitoring and time tracking tools can bridge the accountability gaps for remote employees. A great way to decrease the number of distractions? Install an application blocker on company-provided assets that disable accessing specific apps or websites that distract from productive work.

Bonus tip: Introduce accountability partners that work together on the same tasks, and report to each other about the progress. Healthy competition can do wonders for productivity and self-discipline.

Communication Still Makes or Breaks a Remote Working Environment

Remote work enhances employees’ satisfaction, achieves higher productivity, reduces costs, and helps employers access the best talent. But remote work also comes with challenges. Knowing how to address them will enhance your ability to keep remote teams connected and improve your organization’s performance.

As we enter Phase II of the pandemic and start to move toward recovery, a focus on improving communication channels throughout the company is a must.

 

remote employee training

Photo by Fizkes

Remote Employee Training: 5 Steps to Creating Effective Microlearning Content

Keeping employees engaged in training is no easy task. This is especially true when asked to design remote employee training, where WFH distractions are almost unavoidable.

You can host day-long virtual meetings and give them PDFs to go through, but how much of that information will they actually retain? Chances are, hardly anything. That’s because this mode of training is not engaging enough. Employees start treating it as a check-the-box exercise, resulting in a waste of company time and money.

Microlearning can help you address those challenges.

This method involves delivering short and focused training content at regular intervals. It aims to train employees in short bursts, which retains their attention, guarantees more engagement, and increases learning ROI. The fact that microlearning makes the transfer of learning 17% more efficient and creates a 50% increase in engagement proves that microlearning is here to stay.

Let’s look at how you can create effective microlearning content for your remote employees in five simple steps.

Step 1: Determine the Learning Objective

Look at microlearning content as building blocks. While each block has its purpose, they all collectively point towards one single objective. Similarly, every microlearning content piece needs to be created with the training’s learning objective in mind.

Think about what you want your remote employees to achieve from the program. To help that thought process, consider using Bloom’s Taxonomy — a practical method of creating effective learning objectives that establishes six learning goals:

  • Remember | Recall facts and basic concepts
  • Understand | Explain ideas or concepts
  • Apply | Apply knowledge in new situations
  • Analyze | Compare ideas and draw connections
  • Evaluate | Form opinions and justify decisions
  • Create | Propose new thought processes and ideas

You can implement this while planning your employee training program in which each level delivers a specific learning outcome.

In short, start with knowing where you want to go and then work backward.

Step 2: Plan the Training Material

Now that you know what you want to achieve, the next step is to plan and organize your training content. In other words, so they meet the learning objectives, think about what information you need to provide to employees.

To start, create a course outline that details out the information you plan to include while ensuring it flows in a logical manner. Next, speak to subject matter experts and gather all the information you need to train your employees.

Step 3: Break Content into Smaller Chunks

At this stage, you’re sitting on truckloads of data, research, and information.

What’s important now is breaking down that information into action-based, smaller chunks. Not only does this prevent information overload, but it also helps learners consume information at their own pace and retain it for longer periods.

Make sure each of the bite-sized content pieces has a single takeaway focused on one learning objective. After all, you can always share links to additional articles and research for those who want to know more about any one concept.

Elearning Industry has a useful tip for creating microlearning content. It states, “Avoid throwing a whole novel at them. Ideally, each module should stick to around five to seven minutes, so being precise in what you want your employees to know is important.”

Step 4: Choose Your Formats Wisely

Microlearning is not only about creating bite-sized content, it’s also about diversifying your content delivery formats.

Review every granular piece of content and assess the most appropriate content format for delivery. For instance, if you want to explain a process, a process infographic might be the best choice. On the other hand, explainer videos might be a better choice for explaining a concept.

Here are the different types of microlearning formats you can include:

The idea is to use a mix of interesting formats that help you deliver the bite-sized training content in the best possible manner that retains your employees’ attention and keeps them engaged. For instance, here’s an example of an infographic that explains the different diversity and inclusion terms. As you’ll see, this learning format succinctly presents the essential information.

 

DEI infographic

Source: Venngage

Step 5: Create Context

The end goal of training programs is to get employees to implement what they learn in their day-to-day work. To achieve that and help employees transfer their learnings, it’s essential to create context in the content you create.

Employees need to know why the training material is relevant to them and how they can apply it in their work. Doing this also piques learner interest, helps them derive meaning from the training, and boosts performance.

You can create context by including the following tactics:

  • Create branching scenarios
  • Provide real-life examples
  • Use role-playing scenarios
  • Provide case studies

Incorporate Microlearning in Your Remote Employee Training

Declining attention spans is one of the biggest challenges learning and development professionals face.

The good news is that incorporating microlearning in remote employee training will help you overcome that and create a meaningful training experience that engages — and truly enriches — employees.

 

remote human resources

Remote Human Resources Strategies for 2021 (And Beyond)

2020 was a year of job losses and significant changes for human resources and hiring teams. While the pandemic will eventually come to an end, many of the changes we’ve seen will stick around — perhaps permanently. So maybe it is time to take a look at your remote human resources strategies?

One of the biggest changes was the swift and complete adoption of remote work. Many businesses that had been resistant to this growing trend faced no choice starting last March. This mandatory, multi-month pilot program has been eye-opening in many positive ways.

Because of this, we can expect remote work — and remote HR — to be a long-term shift. What are some strategies you can use to excel? Here are some ideas.

Excel at Remote Hiring

The first step is to become comfortable with the technology needed for remote hiring. This includes fine-tuning automated resume review software so that you get the applicants you really want. You can also take advantage of pre-interview questionnaires and email references to qualify your candidates further.

When you’re ready for an interview, it’s time for video! Because you can see the candidate and read their body language, video-based interviews are better than telephone options. This technology, which enables you to see how the candidate prepares and reacts in a higher-pressure situation, can help you ensure a better cultural fit along with hiring for the right skills.

As you incorporate video interviews in your hiring process, find ways to keep the process streamlined and give personal attention to top candidates to win them away from competitors. For example, keep the interview short, impactful, and positive.

Embrace the Positive Impact of Remote Work

Many companies have determined that remote work is more cost-effective and sustainable than they imagined. There are fewer late employees, more flexibility, and increased employee satisfaction.

There are also cost-savings for companies. Maintaining fewer desks can mean smaller office spaces and less overhead. Remote work can also lead to increased productivity and a focus on results over time-in-office.

Most of all, remote work allows for increased diversity. People who have health issues and struggle to commute to work daily no longer feel excluded from the talent pool. The fact that people are working from home means they can create the accommodations they need to be successful and overall have a better work environment.

Focus on Employee Engagement

One of the biggest challenges of remote work is keeping employees engaged. While many people enjoy not having to drive to work, others miss the camaraderie of being in an office. Regardless of which side of this fence your employees stand, HR and management must figure out how to actively engage staff.

Start by encouraging each manager to find out what their teams actually want and need. Too often, team-building goes wrong because managers base the effort on someone else’s idea about what matters. In every instance, the team should guide the engagement process.

Leaders should also meet regularly with individual employees. These one-on-one meetings often help minimize any concerns about being forgotten or overlooked for promotions.

There are also virtual team building games you can leverage if they are a fit for your teams and company culture. Many people enjoy the break provided by a virtual scavenger hunt or digital board game – or any chance to do something fun. Do you and your employees a favor, though: Make sure the activities chosen don’t come across as corny or forced.

Support Career Development

As your dispersed team continues to function off-site, be sure to emphasize career training and development to your employees.

The remote work era an excellent opportunity to take advantage of technology and computer-based training. Because companies can tailor these efforts to each individual’s pace and preferences, many companies were already using these methods before the pandemic. Many more companies now offer employees online access to personal and professional growth opportunities such as learning programs provided by LinkedIn or SkillSoft.

Of course, leaders need to be aware of — and support — their individual team members’ career goals. When people believe their career goals are understood and supported, they are far more likely to be engaged and productive.

Balance In-Office and Remote Teams

Many companies are already managing a combination of in-office and remote workers. One way to make sure this works well is to treat everyone – regardless of their work location – fairly. For example, decision-makers shouldn’t prefer in-office workers for promotions or projects. Similarly, remote employees shouldn’t be the only people given flexibility.

Your leadership team must decide how they will recognize and reward the efforts of all team members. And the leaders themselves must serve as advocates for those people doing good work from home.

Of course, companies can adapt recognition and rewards programs to serve blended workforces well. Moving toward a focus on results rather than time-at-desk, for example, can be a great way to make promotions and raises equitable. When you balance your teams, you give everyone an equal opportunity to excel.

Remote Human Resources: Are You Ready for 2021?

Many leaders and companies continue to struggle with the adjustment to a remote work or blended environment – so you are not alone. One at a time, leverage these remote human resources strategies — and make your adjustment to a long-term remote-based or blended workforce better for your company, and better for your employees.

Here’s to a successful 2021 — and beyond!

 

DEI Efforts

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How the Remote Work Era Impacts Your 2021 DEI Efforts

How will the remote work era impact your 2021 DEI efforts? How will you keep the promises made around diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Before remote work became so prevalent, it was possible to keep real-world events and conversations out of the workplace. Now that’s not only impossible; it’s also increasingly inadvisable. Events in your employees’ personal lives undoubtedly affect the workplace—not only on a personal performance level, but also on a company culture level. Add in ongoing issues of racial inequality and police brutality and the expectation is clear…

Companies must increase DEI efforts in 2021.

Whether employees are having discussions about racism or simply the challenges of living through the pandemic, personal conversations happen – and will continue to happen with increasing frequency. To make sure companies handle these conversations in a productive, positive manner, it’s essential to consider developing a DEI strategy alongside their corporate strategy. The inevitable result is culture-improving programs that promote and champion the business benefits and value of a diverse workforce.

The time is now to tangibly make good on the promises companies have made over the years to increase their focus on DEI.

Here are some actions I expect companies will begin to take in 2021 to fulfill these promises.

Revamp Hiring Practices

One of the first places companies will analyze to improve DEI in their workforce is their talent pool. But merely wanting to hire more diverse team members doesn’t mean you’ll receive diverse applicants.

To increase the diversity of their talent pools, companies will revisit their hiring practices. Providing training programs and resources for hiring teams and reviewing job descriptions to remove non-inclusive terminology and unnecessary requirements is a start. So is expanding from a primarily referral-based recruitment pipeline to a pipeline full of diverse recruiting events and job boards across the country. These are examples of the steps companies will take to be more accessible and welcoming to a diverse array of candidates.

After successful remote work experiments in 2020, I expect we’ll see many companies expand the number of remote roles available, enabling them to drastically expand their talent pool. Of course, the organizational culture will also need to evolve in order to retain a more diverse workforce.

Actively Provide Ongoing DEI Resources 

Instead of having one-off discussions on diversity, equity, and inclusion in response to separate incidences, workplaces will begin making DEI discussions a part of their regular culture. For some, this will mean creating support and learning groups that provide safe spaces to talk about issues. The support methods might include facilitated discussions, anti-racist books, podcasts, articles, videos, and other materials.

Companies will also begin to create dedicated DEI teams to lead the strategy and implementation of all DEI initiatives. These dedicated teams will focus on diversity training, affinity groups, recruitment, promotion, external partnerships, supplier diversity, and more.

Deliberately Become Anti-racist Organizations

Even with a diverse workforce, a company can still have a racist culture. To prevent this, companies must create and enforce actionable anti-racist policies and practices. To show this is a high priority, a temporary shift in focus away from short-term revenue goals may be necessary.

From required training and programs addressing implicit bias, microaggressions, and more to dedicated employee taskforces, this step will require strategic engagement from leadership to get it right – and enact change from the top-down. Companies should also consider implementing Crossroad Ministry’s diversity training. This program provides detailed steps to help your company move from a monocultural organization to an anti-racist, multicultural organization.

Address DEI in their Products and Services

No workplace can be anti-racist if it doesn’t also extend its DEI efforts to the products and services it provides. Companies truly committed to undertaking DEI strategy will thoroughly assess how they plan and craft their products and services. Along the way, they must note DEI-related gaps and oversights that could help their offerings appeal to their target markets.

I’m Chief Inclusion Officer of an education technology company that serves more than 10 million students and educators. In my role, this aspect of inclusion is especially important to me. One of my primary duties is to ensure our products foster an inclusive and supportive learning environment for students of all races and backgrounds. While it’s an ongoing process, I’m proud to say we’re making a difference in students’ lives. We’re also helping our educator partners create an equitable learning experience for all of their students.

2020 brought about many challenges – and we’re all happy it’s over. But it also helped usher in some positive changes. I expect 2021 will begin to see those transformations more fully realized in the area of DEI. And I look forward to seeing the long-lasting changes companies implement as they become more inclusive, equitable workplaces.