All organizations have been impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in some way, shape, or form. The pandemic has forced millions of employees around the world out of their offices and into their homes. What used to be a sought after benefit for employees, remote working is now necessary for businesses to continue to operate, as health experts and government officials have mandated stay-at-home orders and community quarantine protocols.
According to the messaging platform company Slack, approximately 16 million workers in the United States have shifted to telecommuting as of March 27, about two weeks after the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic. This number could be significantly higher today as even more businesses have likely transitioned to a remote work structure to help flatten the curve.
According to a Gartner survey,
74% of businesses will have at least 5% of their workforce remain permanently remote even after the COVID-19 outbreak.
The report stipulates that this could be part of the cost-cutting initiatives CFOs and finance leaders will take as they realize the cost benefits of having a remote workforce.
As with any other changes in structure and workflow, the sudden switch to a remote setup poses a few challenges to business, especially if this is the first time team members are working from home at this scale. Businesses must, therefore, adopt new methods of working and see this as an opportunity to advance their collaboration and communication protocols.
Having colocated teams permanently switch to a work from home setting is one of the lasting impacts the current pandemic will have on the way companies do business (Image Source).
Communication & Collaboration: Twin Challenges for Newly Transitioned Remote Teams
Communication is one of the first things to break down when transitioning from a colocated office environment to a more distributed remote work setup. As Kirstine Stewart and Anil Menon of the World Economic Forum wrote,
“As work-life boundaries blur, open and frequent communication is key for setting expectations on how groups will collaborate and come together.”
Without good communication, collaboration is almost impossible and employee motivation can quickly dwindle. This makes communication and collaboration a twin issue that companies need to address during this pandemic.
The Business Case for Bolstering Remote Communication and Collaboration
Communication and collaboration are important aspects of day-to-day business operations that not only affect employee morale and productivity, but also affect profitability. According to a Deloitte survey,
Businesses that include collaboration in their core business practice are 4 times more likely to see growth in their bottom line. Not to mention the cost-saving benefits of good communication and collaboration.
According to the same survey, time savings associated with better communication and collaboration are worth around $1,660 per employee and manager annually. Additionally, the increased quality in work output driven by efficient collaboration amounts to $2,517 per employee and manager per year.
No Office, No Problem: Companies Can Thrive with Remote Teams
With so much at stake, it’s important for companies to quickly adapt to remote work as the new normal. These 3 companies hailing from different sectors are some of the best examples of organizations that are embracing and thriving in these extraordinary times:
The multinational IT consulting firm was quick to act to enable 93% of its global workforce to work from home. In a statement, Infosys shared the following:
“Early on, to enable its employees to work from home, Infosys rapidly mobilized laptops and desktops, with access to secure virtual work environments wherever necessary. The company has provided high-speed broadband connectivity for remote workers and expanded its own virtual private network bandwidth by 10X.”
The company also uses a proprietary app called InfyMe for its head office to stay connected with its global workforce and provide its employees with the latest updates from advisories to company policies, and other available benefits.
The social media giant’s CEO Jack Dorsey announced, even before the COVID-19 outbreak, to start allowing employees to work from home permanently. In a statement released to USA Today, Twitter said,
"The past few months have proven we can make that work. So if our employees are in a role and situation that enables them to work from home and they want to continue to do so forever, we will make that happen. If not, our offices will be their warm and welcoming selves, with some additional precautions, when we feel it’s safe to return."
Twitter does not expect to reopen most of its offices or approve business travel until September. When the offices do open, the decision to come back to the workplace will be made by employees
This Vancouver-based insurance company has reported increased productivity since transitioning to a remote work structure. CEO Alberto Schiavon announced,
“Thanks to the planning across all departments, we were able to move over 650 employees to working from home. The teams are working so well that we have decided to extend the option to the end of the year. We feel this offers everyone the opportunity to be safer at home without affecting our service standards.”
Albert attributed the company’s resiliency to prior investments in technology as well as their workforce readiness. During the coming months, the Elephant office will also go through modifications to allow for the eventual safe return of its workforce.
5 Tips to Maintain Team Communication and Collaboration in Times of Crisis
So, how can your company emulate the likes of Infosys, Twitter, and Elephant Insurance and thrive in this new normal? Here are 5 tips that will give you quick wins in improving communication and collaboration in your organization.
1. Invest in Remote Work-Enabling Technologies
Remote work isn’t new. There are a number of successful companies that have been operating with a mix of office-based and remote employees for years, and big brands such as Buffer are thriving with fully distributed teams.
A key to any successful business continuity plan is having technologies in place that make work location-agnostic. If you’re currently experiencing issues with communication and collaboration in the face of this pandemic, look at the current technologies your team is using and ask yourself whether these technologies are providing long term solutions or just a bandaid to tide you over.
Having a high-performing remote team depends largely on your willingness to invest in best-in-class technology that is reliable, flexible, and scalable. Start with the basic tools. For instance, make sure you have the right productivity tracking technology to enable your remote employees to record and track their work progress.
Remember, best-in-class doesn’t necessarily mean the most advanced or sophisticated option, but the one that meets your needs and requirements without compromise.
2. Communication Should Start from the Top
Now more than ever, business leaders need to be ever-present. Communicative leaders provide assurance while silent leaders create more confusion, stress, and anxiety.
Ideally, on the first day your organization realized the possible effects that the pandemic could have on your business’s operations, your CEO should have released a statement to clarify the next steps and expectations. Regular updates and announcements are key to assure employees that everything is under control. Daisy Jing, CEO and Founder of Banish says,
Every time there's progress, I as a CEO update my team of what I did and on what stage I am at the moment. So in terms of the company's progress, we definitely are transparent. We have regular training monthly and our team usually initiates to learn on their own. When there's a new trend, product etc, I highly recommend for my team to spend time in studying about it. We have Asana and daily meetings to make sure everyone's in sync.
Remember, silent management breeds silent employees. If you want to keep communication lines open, this is the time to lead by example! As more changes and adjustments to working remotely are made, make sure the C-level execs and management keep the employees briefed and up-to-date on the company's situation.
3. Develop an Inclusive Culture
Developing an inclusive culture in times of crisis means taking into account the individual needs of your employees. Next, develop processes and systems that cater to unique requirements while being cognizant of the overall needs of the organization.
As explained by Sodexo D&I initiative director Jodi Davidson,
“It’s about creating an inclusive culture where each individual’s needs are being met along the way, so long as the work gets done.”
Before setting anything in stone, it is essential that senior leaders actively listen to the needs of each employee and strategize the most flexible and efficient way to accommodate as many of these needs as possible, while meeting business targets.
4. Focus on Employee Engagement
In a normal business environment, “how are you doing?” may be a question that managers nonchalantly ask their team. However, extraordinary times such as the current pandemic threw employees out of a colocated setting and into the isolation of their homes. Anxiety and stress are high. Now more than ever, it’s important to engage with employees to maintain a high level of connection.
This is exactly what machine learning company Appen was able to achieve. Upon realizing that employee isolation is one of the problems that their remote team is experiencing, Appen invested in collaborative tools such as video conferencing, document collaboration solutions, and even an internal forum where employees can get answers to their work-related questions, or just get to know each other.
5. Continue Crisis Best Practices Even After the Crisis
Work from home and other flexible work arrangements are likely going to stay long after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. In your own organization, you are no doubt learning key takeaways for modifying your processes and workflows while discovering ways to advance your human capital management and core business KPIs.
Don’t let these learnings go to waste. Continue implementing what you can. Additionally, for the practices that you will shelve after the pandemic, make sure to document them so you have a push-button contingency manual when the next crisis hits.
Shaping the Future of Communication and Collaboration
The lessons that organizations are learning from working remotely during this crisis can shape the future of business communication and collaboration for the better if you let them. Right now, it’s about taking swift action to boost communication and collaboration in your team. Hopefully, the tips above will get you started.
Dean Mathews is the founder and CEO of OnTheClock, an employee time tracking app that helps over 9,000 companies all around the world track time.
Dean has over 20 years of experience designing and developing business apps. He views software development as a form of art. If the artist creates a masterpiece, many people’s lives are touched and changed for the better.
When he is not perfecting time tracking, Dean enjoys expanding his faith, spending time with family, friends, and finding ways to make the world just a little better.