Recently, the folks at Google published their findings from a two-year study they conducted on remote work. The company is certainly in a good position to study this, as a full 30% of the meetings held there involve at least two time zones. The report published, “Working Together When We’re Not Together,” had some interesting insights that both remote workers and employers considering a remote arrangement for their teams should know about.
For example, the company found that effectiveness and productivity as a whole were not affected by remote/distributed work, just as another independent study also proved. However, that doesn’t mean that making a distributed work environment isn’t without its challenges. In addition to this, Google likely has resources that a less-mature tech startup, for example, may not have. Still, the study’s insights are worth a second look.
Below is a quick summary of the key findings and a discussion of how they might apply to the average business.
1. It’s important to help remote team members feel connected with one another
When teams work together in a single location, they have the opportunity to connect with one another through daily interactions and microinteractions. They stop by one another’s desks to chat. They may even socialize outside work. These connections can act as a buffer when more difficult conversations must occur. For example, it’s easier to point out a mistake or critique an idea when all parties involved have a history of goodwill.
For remote teams, these interactions may not happen unless an effort is made to make them happen. Team members should be encouraged to reach out to remote staff to make personal connections. Team leaders should also take action to ensure they are in the loop. This can include sending out company news, forwarding articles of interest, or just checking in a few times per week. Even something as simple as acknowledging holidays can make a difference.
2. Acknowledgement is important in remote meetings
Video conferencing is a great tool for distributed teams. However, it isn’t precisely the same as meetings held in person. In fact, individuals who video or teleconference into a meeting may feel disconnected in comparison with attendees who are able to attend in person. Hence, it’s important that remote staff is actively involved in these meetings. Extra effort should be made to ask them questions and acknowledge their contributions.
3. Encourage team members to find a good work/life balance
When teams live and work in different time zones, they often have to compromise so that everyone is available at the same time. Team members in one locale may need to stay up quite late, others may need to wake up early to make themselves available. This can lead to some additional stress, even burnout.
“It’s imperative for team members to get enough downtime,” said Yassin Aberra, CEO of Social Market Way. “Companies that encourages their remote workers to take adequate time off to take care of their personal needs and ensure their ongoing wellbeing are overall more productive and happy. Managers everywhere should adopt this approach to help their team members enjoy better work/life balance.”
4. Encourage teams and sub-teams to create their own norms for communicating
One thing that is very clear in Google’s report is that teams must be given freedom to create their own norms. They decide when to communicate and how. This allows each project team to find what works for them. Using this philosophy, these decisions are made based on project and team needs, not an overarching corporate policy that may not be effective.
5. Acknowledge and work on team- and project-specific barriers
If a team or organization is new to remote work, there may be hesitance to acknowledge any problems. After all, nobody wants to be part of the team that caused management to reconsider allowing employees to work remotely. However, it’s imperative that teams do just that. Just as each team must be free to establish their own communications methods, tools and standards, they must also feel comfortable acknowledging any roadblocks they face.
Here, management can help by offering support and resources for teams who are working out any kinks. This will encourage people to be open about their challenges and find ways to solve any issues that arise.
Google’s study along with their accompanying recommendations proves that companies that allow, even encourage, remote work can thrive. At the same time, getting the positive outcomes they enjoy does take a dedicated effort. With the right strategies in place, a distributed work environment can allow staff to enjoy flexibility while also helping the organization meet its goals.