During the pandemic the home office became a standard in almost every company. People discovered that when they worked from home, their efficiency in doing their jobs improved. They liked the flexibility which they did not have before, and many came to enjoy their jobs a lot more. Holding video conferences became a regular part of work life. Geographic locations no longer interfered with meetings, although the meeting time has to be compatible for meeting attendees in different time zones.
In addition, being able to work virtually means you no longer have to be at only one place to work. You can create a workspace in other types of environments and not just in an office. As long as the space allows people to virtually meet and collaborate, it can work.
A home office that allows you to collaborate with colleagues virtually can be suitable for day-to-day regular tasks that you otherwise would do in the office. However, for special projects and innovations, not being able to directly exchange ideas with colleagues can be a disadvantage. A creative space that is equipped with advanced videoconferencing equipment can fill the gap. The office team of creators can congregate in the creative space while connecting with their colleague virtually by videoconferencing. This interaction can happen on a daily basis. The frequency of these exchanges can keep the interpersonal connection strong.
Linked meeting rooms are also growing in popularity. The rooms have large screens and strong video connections that link different teams at offsite locations. The rooms have whiteboards that attendees can write or draw on, and the writing is visible in all rooms. Although this technology is not brand new, this approach of connecting is gaining steam in 2022. Team members working from home offices can be integrated into these meetings. There are multiple microphones in the meeting rooms so team members working remotely can participate.
This approach to collaboration supports agility at work. Small teams can get things done more quickly, so work can be broken down into small work groups. With the advancements in collaboration tools, these small teams can easily be brought together virtually to exchange information and results.
The ability of having a truly global workforce does bring challenges. One of them is potential language barriers and differences in business culture in other countries. Sometimes what was said can be misunderstood, and how one thinks in one country is not necessarily how people think in other countries.
Working virtually has fundamentally changed the way employees communicate and collaborate. Even if people cannot physically meet in one room, meetings and workshops are successfully conducted with effectiveness and efficiency. Some people never thought that going virtual would ever be possible. However, with tools like whiteboard apps, it can change the way people think about working virtually. It can put them into a digital mindset. Digital working has become the new norm and it is not just a workaround any more, even though it might have started that way.
This digital mindset has changed the job and the way in which employees work together. Team activities are converted to virtual alternatives. You can fix yourself a coffee and enjoy them in your garden while you type away on your laptop. You can get together with your colleagues virtually for a yoga session on Zoom before you “go to work.” These routines have become normal. So even when colleagues are far away, you can still connect and bring them to your virtual workspace. This is one way for remote employees to sustain corporate culture and bring it in to their home office.
The new digital generation will have no lack of tech and will continue to work in this digital culture more and more. This digital mindset also impacts older generations that did not grow up with a lot of advanced technology. Older employees are embracing the digital mindset more and more. It is the company responsibility to make sure that every employee can reap the benefits of these technology changes.
There is also the challenge of getting employees ready for new technology. This can only be done through digital training. This training should be relevant for everyone, not just for the older employees. Even if tech advancements are in place, it will not deliver any benefits if no one is trained on it.
Ideally, there should be a consolidation of the various tools used over the years. Seamless collaboration is possible if common tools are used among the different groups in a company and apps are interoperable. Flexible technology tools that enable you to use different devices to deliver a solution, like an app that can convert your television into a whiteboard, will lead the way in this digital revolution.
As virtual collaboration increases, there is no better time to reinforce what the company objectives are. When people still went to their offices every day, the boss was always around to make sure everyone stays on track working toward the target. However, with virtual offices, there is more risk for some employees going off in an incorrect direction if they are not reminded of what the business goals are.
A lot of companies have simplified their company goals without changing the core message of them so employees working from home has guidelines that are easier to understand and implement. So, companies started to consolidate their most important corporate goals. Instead of having a dozen guidelines, they are consolidated into three with laser focus on the customer. This will help the home office employee connect better with customers day-to-day even though there is no personal contact. This will help them not stray from focusing on the customer. This customer-centric focus will move all companies toward putting their clients first before themselves.
When you work in your home office, you have less direct interaction with your manager in the traditional sense. Hierarchies flatten out. Managers cannot monitor their employees’ work as closely and have to trust that their employees are doing what they are supposed to do. They have to allow their employees to make decisions and trust that they make smart decisions.
While that is happening, the work-at-home employees now must accept a higher level of responsibility. The employee has the authority to make more decisions without needing approval for every decision he makes. So, on both sides, the manager and employees must adjust the way they used to work with each other and trust each other more. Managers let go of more control. Employees accept more accountability.
It is expected that this higher level of responsibility and decision-making authority will be welcomed by the employees. However, it can still be challenging to some. New employees generally like these ideas more because they have no preconceived notions on how the company used to work. They learn the corporate culture the right way from the start. Employees who have been around longer and who are stuck doing things a certain for many years may have more difficulties changing to new ways.
Holding employees personally accountable might not be directly impactful on productivity improvement. However, it does foster better motivation and more creativity, which will also make the company better.
With virtual meetings come a new set of video-chat etiquettes. Similar to how meeting attendees would mingle and make small talk before the meeting officially starts, employees sometimes arrive early to their video chat meetings so they can catch up on the personal sides of their colleagues. “How was your trip to London?” “How’s the new baby?” Employees can engage in small talk virtually as the meeting’s host wait for the rest of the attendees to arrive.
In the old days when only conferences via telephone were possible, this virtual chit-chat is less obvious. Now, with video capabilities, the communication dynamics improve. Employees can stay focused because their eyes will be on the camera and not on their phones.
A successful home office arrangement also depends on setting clear expectations on both sides. Open communication is essential. Both sides must agree to the arrangement, and expectations must be clearly defined. Otherwise, it will lead to many misunderstandings that can jeopardize the work-at-home opportunity. More frequent check-ins between employee and manager or more virtual department meetings encourage the continued sharing of information. It is a good way for the manager to monitor employee performance without being overbearing.
Even with a whole set of video-chat etiquettes laid out and accepted, it still does not replace in-person meetings completely. Many work-at-home employees report feeling isolated and lonely at times because interaction with colleagues is limited at home. Therefore, whenever practical, the work-at-home employee should choose days when he will go to the physical office to conduct business. Dividing the week into working from home for part of the week and in the office the rest of the week can provide the employee the balance of the best of both worlds.
Lastly, the technical capabilities at home plays a major role in a successful home office arrangement. Sadly, even in 2022, not all homes have a fast and stable connection to the internet. This is essential in every home office. Companies recognize the need and are allocating budgets that were once meant for the office IT infrastructure to improving networks in the employees’ home offices instead. Companies must provide this basic necessity for the work-at-home arrangement to be successful.
As for hardware, companies are providing employees with laptops, large monitors, and other peripherals for their virtual office at home. Another important issue is around data security and protection. This becomes more important than ever because a home environment may not have as many technology safeguards as IT security in the office. Tools that provide encryption end-to-end can address some of these issues. Still, sometimes security breaches at home are not caused by intentional cyberattacks, but by inadvertent mistakes like your child mixing up your work USB stick with his homework USB stick, then uploading your sensitive work files instead of his homework to the school server. Therefore, it is vital that employees who work at home get training on how to secure and protect work data in the home setting.