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Opinions expressed by contributors are their own. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, more of us are working remotely than ever before. According to a recent Gallup survey, less than 40 percent of workers say that all or nearly all employees have returned to their workplace. What’s more, employers expect to have three times as many remote workers after the pandemic as they had before.
The good news is that employees seem to like working remotely. Fifty-nine percent say they would like to continue working from home as much as possible. They don’t have to suffer through long commutes, remote work allows for greater flexibility and many employees feel more disciplined or creative at home.
Despite the benefits, remote work can be a challenge — and switching quickly to remote work during the pandemic proved even more difficult. About half of new remote workers reported technology issues, with communication problems and virtual meeting snafus trailing close behind as the most common frustrations.
Collaboration is one of the most challenging aspects of remote work, but your team can still be effective while social distancing. Here are five tips for working better together while apart.
Related: 17 Things You Need to Know About Remote Work
An unwieldy project-management software was okay when your entire team was under one roof. You could deal with the awkward interface, repeated or missing tasks and the way it never seemed to be in sync with what you were trying to accomplish. But now that you’re collaborating on projects remotely, you need a platform that better fits your needs.
Look for something that allows you to see your entire team’s workload at a glance. Teamwork is one project-management software that allows you to manage your employees’ capacity and projects and reshuffle tasks with the drag of a mouse. It has a time-tracking tool, task lists, plus billing and invoicing capabilities built right in so your team can seamlessly complete projects no matter how far away you may be.
Collaborating doesn’t mean you’re always working together. Sometimes employees need quiet time to get in — and stay in — the zone.
In an office setting, employees can pick up on those subtle social cues of “headphones in, head down,” but these cues aren’t present in a remote-work environment. This problem is exacerbated by frequent virtual check-ins and real-time chat tools like Slack.
If the pop-up notifications weren’t distracting enough, your employees also have to deal with barking dogs, hungry kids, and cats that love to crawl across keyboards. You can’t fix your employees’ home environment, but you can help them distraction-proof their workday.
Try establishing team “quiet hours” when no one uses team chat channels and encourage employees to utilize the “Do Not Disturb” feature. You can also try Clockwise for batching meetings to free up more uninterrupted work time.
Related: Popular Time-Blocking or Time-Management Techniques You Can Use While Working Remotely
Nobody likes meetings — even the pre-coronavirus kind. But being trapped on a Zoom call where people keep talking over one another amid rustling chip bags and screaming kids is next-level hell.
A few simple ground rules can go a long way to making virtual meetings more productive. Rule No. 1? Every meeting that involves three or more people should have a clearly defined purpose. Set an agenda beforehand — even if it’s just a few bullet points. You might also ask your team members to mute themselves if they’re not speaking and to avoid unnecessary crosstalk. If interruptions from family members are an issue, consider moving meetings to a time that works better for everyone.
When the majority of communication happens via email or Slack, it’s easy for struggling team members to skate by unnoticed. It’s a good idea to prioritize one-on-one check-ins between employees and their immediate supervisors via phone or video.
These chats can be a good way for team members to discuss challenges they might be facing and address issues head-on. They’re also a good opportunity to check in on employees’ mental health and strengthen the camaraderie on your team.
Working from home can be isolating and stressful. Your team is probably already grappling with upheavals to their family brought about by the pandemic. When you’re on edge, you’re more likely to take a curt email personally or lash out at your team. It’s sometimes easy to forget that you’re working with other humans who are biologically wired to socialize.
Zoom happy hours, snapshots of delicious lunches and sharing funny videos are just a few ways teams are staying connected. Other companies have been bridging the digital divide by doing yoga together online or having baking sessions with their kids via Zoom.
Related: How to Create Office Unity and Community When You’re Remote
The pandemic has thrown nearly every workplace into upheaval. Most are desperate to return to business as usual, but as the virus rages on, many companies are finding a “new normal” that includes some form of remote work. Whether your team plans to return to the office slowly or go all-in with a remote workforce, learning how to collaborate better from a distance will only help you in the long run.