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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 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.

Photo: Christina Morillo

Keep Your Workforce Informed With Electronic Solutions

In any workplace, health and safety has to be top of mind. Complying with workplace laws takes a lot more effort when your workers are remote and are teams dispersed — as is happening in so many organizations. And right now, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, employee safety in any working environment is an ongoing concern for leaders and managers — and employers need to not only navigate new laws, but inform their people as well.

The key lies in electronic solutions that provide clear guidelines and information to every employee, no matter where they are. Managing compliance means being clear on your own responsibilities as an employer, and being able to get the answers you need about what’s happening right now — so you’re up to date, and there are no surprises.

To get clear on the best practices for keeping your workforce informed, I spoke to Ashley Kaplan, Esq., Senior Employment Law Attorney for ComplyRight, a leading provider of human resource solutions and employment compliance products. Here are the highlights of our conversation:

  1. Ashley, what brought you to ComplyRight, and can you talk about what you handle?

I joined ComplyRight in 2000, after practicing labor and employment law for several years with a national law firm. My experience includes representing businesses of all sizes and industries, in matters ranging from general HR counseling and risk management, to defending discrimination lawsuits and class-action FLSA litigation. At ComplyRight, my responsibilities have evolved quite a bit, but I am primarily responsible for managing employment law compliance and overseeing the teams responsible for researching and developing HR compliance solutions and labor law posting services for U.S. businesses.   

  1. Let’s talk about electronic posting. What is mandatory for employers to post, no matter where their employees are working? So many employers are dealing with remote workforces now: are remote workplaces exempt from any mandatory postings?

Depending on your state, employers are required to post up to 22 postings for federal and state compliance. Additional postings may be required depending on city and county employment laws, which has been a growing trend over the past few years. Plus, there are specific posting requirements for government contractors and employers in certain industries, so it can be a lot to manage. 

As far as remote employees go, there is no exemption from these requirements. The Department of Labor provides guidance on this, and recommends that employers provide posters in an “alternative format” for any employee who does not regularly visit a business location where posters are displayed. According to the DOL, “visiting regularly” means at least three to four times a month and electronic postings are an acceptable alternative format.

With so many employees working remotely at the moment, and given that employment laws are changing rapidly during this emergency, employers really need to consider providing electronic postings in addition to maintaining physical postings at business locations that are still operational.

  1. What’s the biggest question you get asked about maintaining compliance right now?

When it comes to posting compliance, a lot of employers want to know if they can simply provide all of the postings electronically instead of displaying physical posters in the workplace.

The general rule is that the posters still have to be posted in all physical facilities where employees report to work. Electronic postings are a solution for remote workers who do not have regular access to the postings at your physical facilities, but not a substitute for the physical posters for onsite workers.   

  1. Can you explain the Families First Coronavirus Response Act? Are smaller companies exempt from mandatory posting requirements?

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) is a temporary federal law that is effective from April 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020.  This law is very broad and encompasses many aspects of the federal response to COVID-19.

The biggest impact on small businesses is the requirement to provide paid leave to employees who cannot work due to various reasons related to the pandemic. Generally speaking, this paid leave requirement applies to all private employers with fewer than 500 employees, and most public employers. These employers will receive tax credits to offset the cost of the mandatory paid leave.

The law also includes a new mandatory posting requirement for all affected employers.

The qualifying reasons for paid leave cover many different scenarios, and the mandatory pay rates vary depending on the circumstances.

In some cases, affected employees qualify for up to two weeks (or 80 hours) of leave at their regular pay rate. That’s if they cannot work because they are under mandatory quarantine based on a government order (federal, state or local) or quarantined on the advice of a healthcare provider. The full pay rate also applies to employees who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and are seeking a medical diagnosis.

In other cases, affected employees qualify for up to two weeks (or 80 hours) of leave at two-thirds of their regular pay rate. This rate applies to employees who cannot work because they must care for another individual who is under mandatory quarantine based on a government order, or on the advice of a healthcare provider. It also applies in cases where the individual is experiencing any other substantially similar condition as specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

The third category of affected employees includes those who are having to care for a child, or children, due to school closings or because their usual caretakers are unavailable due to COVID-19. All employees affected in this way are entitled to the same two weeks, or 80 hours, of paid leave at two-thirds of their regular rate. In addition, those who have been employed for at least 30 calendar days prior to requesting leave are eligible for another ten weeks of paid leave. Again, this would be at two-thirds of their regular pay rate.

Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees may qualify for an exemption from the requirement to provide leave due to school closings or childcare unavailability — if the leave requirements would jeopardize the viability of the business. However, they are not exempt from the new mandatory FFCRA posting requirement.

The posting requirement can be satisfied in this case by mailing or emailing the FFCRA poster to employees, or posting it on an employee website. The notice also must be distributed to all new hires.  

  1. So many companies have had to quickly redistribute their teams and shift employees to working from home — and have had very little time to prepare. How can employees ensure their electronic and posted information is consistent and up to date in all locations?

Given all the time and know-how required to stay on top of posting requirements and updates, coupled with the potential fines and penalties for non-compliance, I think it makes sense for a business of any size to outsource this aspect of compliance.

Choose a reputable partner that offers sound electronic solutions for your remote workers, such as an intranet link you can post on your employee website, or a service that pushes out all required postings and updates directly to your employees via email. It’s important to choose a partner backed by a seasoned legal team that researches and updates all of the posting images in real time as the laws change, and that covers all city/county requirements, industry variations, and foreign language postings.  That’s especially true now, as employee leave laws are getting more complex and are an area of high litigation.

  1. I think a lot of employers are asking very basic questions about paid leave — particularly in terms of sick leave and family leave during COVID-19. I’m thinking of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, but what other pieces of new legislation do companies need to be aware of?

In addition to the federal FFCRA, other legislation is being passed by state and local governments to protect employees during this crisis. Many states, cities and counties have passed new laws (and many more are pending) expanding paid sick leave rights, caregiver leave, unemployment insurance benefits, and other provisions to provide relief to workers and their families.

Though not on the topic of paid leave, there is also the newly enacted CARES Act, a federal law that provides financial incentives to businesses who retain their employees, and boosts unemployment insurance significantly for employees who are laid off or furloughed as a result of the pandemic. The goal of this law is to incent employers to retain their employees during the crisis, and also provide a safety net for workers who do lose significant income.

  1. Can you clarify the mandatory employee information employers need to add to their postings according to the most recent legislation? For instance, are employers responsible for requiring their employees to observe social distancing?

There are some new posting requirements on the state and local level addressing social distancing, including a new poster for Arkansas employers and businesses in San Jose County, California. We are expecting more of these in the coming days. We have also seen new state and local postings informing employees of their expanded sick leave rights, emergency paid leave provisions, and unemployment insurance benefits.  

  1. How can employers ensure compliance with labor law posting requirements in general during the COVID-19 epidemic, as more and more employees are working from home? What about for new hires?

Ideally, you should look for a service that provides all of the required federal, state, city and county posters for all of your physical locations where employees report to work. Posting laws apply even if you only have one or two employees at a worksite. Choose a service that includes automatic poster updates whenever the laws change, since these posters change frequently throughout the year. (Last year our legal team tracked almost 200 mandatory changes nationwide.)

Supplement your physical postings with an electronic solution for your remote workers. Posting obligations are the same for new hires as all your other employees, but there are additional federal, state and local requirements for prospective employees during the application process. Ask your poster provider for information about posting services for online applicants where you can simply place a link to the current posters on your applicant web page or in online job postings.        

  1. What if an employee appears to be ill? What are the obligations and responsibilities of employers with regards to requiring disclosure or exiting the workplace?  

You can, and should, ask the employee to leave your premises and seek medical attention, including getting tested for COVID-19. The CDC states that employees who exhibit symptoms of influenza-like illness at work during a pandemic should leave the workplace. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has confirmed that it is permissible to send an employee home if the symptoms are akin to the COVID-19 coronavirus or the flu.

Without revealing the employee’s name, communicate to other employees who have worked closely with the employee that a coworker exhibited symptoms that led you to believe a positive diagnosis is possible. And if the employee does test positive for the virus, you should notify and send home any others who may be affected, as well as close off the affected areas for proper cleaning and disinfection.  

  1. What best practices do you recommend for companies who now have temporarily remote workers? Should they create a remote workplace practices policy?

Absolutely. It is important to set out the expectations, rules and responsibilities in a written policy. Whether you are creating a temporary, emergency remote work policy or a more general telecommuting policy for a longer term, your policy should address: expected work hours and availability, equipment and security issues, safety, timekeeping practices for nonexempt employees, PTO and absences, and any adjustments to performance goals and expectations. Your policy should also address how employees are selected for work-at-home arrangements, and should indicate that management reserves the right to change or end the arrangement at any time based on business needs. 

Take the Mystery Out of Compliance

To effectively meet year-round compliance needs, the best strategy is to rely on experts. This is certainly not an arena for speculation, especially now. As Ashley Kaplan points out, with so many ongoing and new federal, state and regional requirements, employers need clear guidance that keeps them up to date — as well as all the postings they need. Two recommendations: consult the Poster Guard® Electronic Service for Remote Workers for the latest posting requirements and tools for electronic postings. And the Intranet Licensing Service enables companies to add a custom link to their own corporate intranet or employee portal. The key for employees is simple navigation and ease of use. The key for employers: knowing that your postings are up to date, whether they’re physical postings or electronic, and are completely accessible to your employees.  

To learn more about how to maintain workplace compliance with online and on-site posters and compliance, visit PosterGuard.com.  

This post is sponsored by Poster Guard from HRdirect.