In the post-COVID workplace, many organizations chose to keep their work teams remote. Leaders must embrace a cultural shift and adopt new systems and tools to support their teams, explains Robert Glazer, CEO of Acceleration Partners marketing agency. Writing in collaboration with author Mick Sloan, Glazer details how to maximize employee effectiveness, protect workers’ personal happiness and combat isolation when shifting to a virtual workplace. Companies that thrive in the “remote work revolution” will be those with the self-awareness to choose the approach that best serves their needs.
- Organizations have a responsibility to create healthy remote work cultures.
- To transition to remote work, you must upgrade to state-of-the-art technology.
- As an employee, find the approach to remote work that best suits your personality and lifestyle needs.
- As a leader, inspire and align remote teams with your vision, values and goals. Be consistent and clear with your expectations.
- Carefully screen job applicants, and recruit those best suited to the virtual workplace.
- Ensure remote teams can succeed by creating lean, effective workflows.
- Avoid isolating remote workers by creating opportunities for team connection.
- Remote work is birthing new management norms and transforming the workplace.
Organizations have a responsibility to create healthy remote work cultures.
Misconceptions surrounding remote work abound. Many employers fear that their workers are less productive when they work from home, or that remote employees allow their home life to leak into their work time. In fact, several studies during COVID-19 found that remote workers tend to work harder than on-site workers, and remote employees often struggle to erect boundaries, which means their work bleeds into their leisure time. To help remote workers create healthy boundaries and thrive, organizations can foster healthy cultures that support remote employees.
“The formula for successful remote work is simple: Take workers who are dedicated, disciplined and accountable, and put them in a trusting environment with well-established processes and good cultural principles.”
Remote workers’ fulfillment and happiness hinge upon the culture surrounding remote work at their organizations. If you hire workers who approach their roles with discipline and dedication, they excel when you provide them with effective processes and support. Organizations must create healthy work-life boundaries and stress the importance of maintaining specific schedules and setting up home workstations that support individual worker needs. Adapting to the realities of the home office requires a period of transition. Organizations that successfully navigate this change accept that working remotely requires technology investments and new approaches to supporting employees.
To transition to remote work, you must upgrade to state-of-the-art technology.
Remote workers need reliable technology, particularly if they are expected to have video calls with clients or to share large files online. A remote worker needs several tech essentials:
- High-speed internet – Make sure you have wireless standard internet – 802.11x, ideally n/ac – with an upload and download speed of 25 Mbps or higher.
- A laptop – Companies ought to specify the minimum requirements employees’ laptops must meet. For example, cite the operating systems they need and how much memory and disk space they ought to have.
- A headset – Don’t rely on built-in speakers; get a headset or use earbuds to ensure sound quality.
Some nice-to-have gadgets that can make a home office more conducive to productive work:
- A second monitor – A second screen allows you to run more programs at once and eschews bad posture, as you needn’t hunch over your laptop.
- Mouse, keyboard and laptop stand – Add a wireless ergonomic mouse and keyboard to reduce strain on your hands and wrists and to improve your posture as you work.
- A webcam – If your laptop doesn’t have a built-in webcam, invest in an HD webcam.
- Blue light–filtering glasses – These glasses protect against eyestrain.
“If you step into remote work by digging up the laptop you used in college and with the mind-set of working from the couch all day, you’ll quickly find yourself frustrated.”
For the remote executive, buy a green screen to improve the professional appearance of your on-camera backdrops. Consider buying a ring light or light box, or incorporate natural lighting into your workstation. Add a standing desk and ergonomic desk chair to ensure your comfort on long work days.
As an employee, find a structured approach to remote work that best suits your personality and lifestyle needs.
In a post-COVID world, many employees choose to remain remote workers. No one-size-fits-all model exists for working from home. While introverts may prefer the calm of working remotely, they may need to push themselves to share their ideas in virtual meetings and be heard. Extroverts, on the other hand, may miss the energy of being around their co-workers. Extroverts can deal with feelings of social isolation by scheduling lunch with friends, keeping a full social calendar in the evenings or working from a busy café.
Set expectations with your manager. Are there certain core hours when you should be at your laptop? Your higher-ups’ trust in you may wane if they can’t reach you during office hours. While a flexible work schedule is one of the benefits of working from home, you shouldn’t exploit that freedom. So don’t, say, try to look after your kids and work at the same time. If you’re struggling with child care, be upfront with your boss.
One benefit of working from the office is that it offers a clear distinction between work and leisure time. That delineation can crumble when working from home. To protect your leisure time, erect clear boundaries. If possible, establish a dedicated work space within your home. When you leave that space, you can physically and mentally check out of work. When you occupy that space, roommates and family members know you must not be disturbed.
“Remote organizations must instill in all their employees…the importance of setting a solid foundation for remote work, maintaining a schedule, creating the right physical workspace, and setting professional and personal boundaries.”
Structure is important for getting into the right frame of mind while working remotely, so try to follow the same schedule every day. Numerous distractions, such as housework, vie for remote workers’ attention, so block time in your day for these tasks. Or set a timer and engage in intense work for, say, 15 to 20 minutes. Then take a break. Regular breaks heighten your energy throughout the day. Expect to receive more emails when you work remotely. To avoid overwhelm, set aside a dedicated time each day to respond to emails. Engage in a buffer activity, such as reading or taking a jog or a brisk walk, before and after work so you mentally detach from work. Reject the temptation to check your work emails out of hours, a habit that can trigger burnout. Identify your purpose to spark your motivation. Prioritize your health and well-being. Regular exercise, a balanced diet and good sleep hygiene will optimize your productivity and reduce stress.
Video calls can build rapport with clients and allow managers to see whether employees are focusing. Alas, video calls trigger fatigue, so reserve them for all-company meetings, internal calls that address sensitive topics, feedback sessions, external meetings and brainstorming sessions. Prefer phone calls for more informal meetings. Leaders can use asynchronous (one-way) videos, which employees can view in their own time, to communicate across time zones and share messages with their teams or the whole company.
As a leader, inspire and align remote teams with your vision, values and goals. Be consistent and clear with your expectations.
Your company’s culture must transcend the office and reach remote workers. Your culture boils down to two factors: “your organization’s operating system” and “how people make decisions when you’re not in the room.” Build a thriving remote work culture by embracing the following principles:
- Vision – Employees need a clear understanding of the firm’s direction. Articulate this vision to excite internal and external stakeholders.
- Values – Your values are “nonnegotiable principles” that steer how your organization and employees operate. Your core values should guide your employees’ behavior, work ethic and dedication.
- Goals – Your goals consist of objectives that connect to your corporate vision and crucial metrics that create accountability for leaders and teams.
- Consistency – Employees shouldn’t worry that your company will suddenly change its principles and goals; embrace, enforce and celebrate them unwaveringly.
- Clarity – Every employee should understand your organization’s values and goals. Ensure employees understand what you expect of them, and avoid vague language in job descriptions.
Carefully screen job applicants, and recruit those best suited to the virtual workplace.
Figuring out whether potential new employees will fit your culture can be difficult in a remote work environment. Take time to ensure you hire the best candidates for the job, your culture and remote work in general. Seek out workers who demonstrate self-motivation, self-direction, effective communication skills, accountability and self-confidence. The latter proves especially important for employees working without oversight. Look for employees with prior success working from home. Ask behavioral interview questions to determine whether candidates would fit your remote team culture. For example, “Can you share an example of how you communicated effectively with colleagues without the opportunity to speak to them in person?” and “What did you do to avoid feeling cooped up, or isolated, while working from home?”
“Hiring disasters happen all too frequently, and these mistakes are perhaps more damaging in remote organizations where there is more autonomy and less supervision.”
Conduct virtual interviews via video to discover how comfortable and adept potential employees are with virtual communication. For example, an interviewee who takes your call in a messy or noisy environment might not be the most professional addition to your team. Moreover, beware of hiring bias. While your gut feeling is helpful when deciding not to hire someone, you may end up with a team of people who resemble yourself if you rely on your intuition for recruiting. Ask all interviewees values-based questions, and conduct aptitude testing. Consider using an applicant tracking system, such as Greenhouse, or, to standardize your hiring process, list all the criteria for the role, and give each candidate marks for each metric.
Ensure remote teams can succeed by creating lean, effective workflows.
Organizations create seamless, productive remote work environments when they adopt remote-centered tools, systems and techniques:
- Thorough onboarding – Share an onboarding schedule of events with new recruits, and select team members to welcome them. Otherwise, a remote employee might be unsure of how to begin.
- Effective meeting strategy – Encourage team members to reserve blocks of time for their individual work and to post these do-not-disturb blocks in shared calendars.
- Executive off-site meetings – Senior leaders and executive teams should meet between one and four times per year to engage in strategic planning and team building. If in-person meetings are not feasible, host these off-sites virtually, with virtual happy hours or interactive games to facilitate connection.
- Time zone protocol – If your team spans the globe, record your meetings, allowing participants to listen when convenient. Vary meeting times so the same workers don’t miss the live meeting each time.
- Technology tools – Consider using a single sign-on (SSO) program to eliminate the hassle of constantly logging into applications for team members. Set up a cloud-based file-sharing system to make remote collaboration and document sharing easier.
- Learning management system (LMS) – Choose an LMS platform on which team leaders can upload training content and videos for team members to review.
- HR systems – Leverage tech to help centralize critical tasks, like the handling of vacation requests, recruiting and performance evaluations.
- Team communications – An array of tools, including Slack, Zoom, Google Workspace and Microsoft Teams, can bolster communication and connection.
- Project management tools – Offer teams software such as Trello and Basecamp to further accountability and facilitate collaboration.
Leaders and managers must create an environment whereby employees feel unafraid to make mistakes or question authority. Don’t be tempted to use surveillance tech to monitor employees’ work. Such exhibits of mistrust destroy morale and fail to boost productivity. Evaluate employees according to their results, not the time they spend tethered to their desks. Give them clear targets and metrics, for which they are accountable, and check in to review those goals once per quarter.
Avoid isolating remote workers by creating opportunities for team connection.
Remote work can breed isolation, but it’s not a foregone conclusion. Leaders must nurture connectivity within remote workforces. Get team members together when possible by meeting at industry events or annual team retreats. Or consider creating “hubs”; that is, strategically hire clusters of employees who live in or near one of several geographic locations of your choosing. This enables localized employees to meet for in-person social events or co-working.
“A remote workplace doesn’t need to be any less connected or human than an in-person organization.”
As companies become increasingly virtual, they must reinvent their use of office space. Some organizations will trade permanent offices for short-term flex-workspaces or co-working spaces to support occasional in-person work sessions. Others will redesign permanent spaces to better facilitate occasional co-working. The tech company Dropbox, for example, planned to go fully remote after the pandemic. It optimized its existing workspace by removing workers’ individual desks and replacing them with spaces for collaboration and community-building. Create opportunities for team members to form deep connections with one another, and foster a trusting environment in which people feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas, remotely and in person.
Remote work is birthing new management norms and transforming the workplace.
Remote work brings a slew of benefits: Employees no longer must waste time commuting; organizations can save on office space, reallocating funds into supporting remote teams; and organizations can hire top global talent from anywhere on Earth. Managers had more opportunities to micromanage in physical offices; in the remote workplace, employees work with greater autonomy. Organizations that thrive remotely measure outcomes – rather than fixating on monitoring employee activity – and create clear standards and metrics that hold workers accountable.
“The organizations that lead the way, and attract the best talent, will be the ones that are willing to look honestly in the mirror and make the high-level changes needed to excel in an increasingly mobile and virtual world.”
Remote work isn’t right for every organization. If your organization requires much collaborative, creative or cross-departmental work, for example, team members may prefer to work together in the same physical spaces. Consider whether your business should invest in going fully remote, embrace a hybrid approach, or encourage employees to return to the office. Many employees find that remote work frees them to structure their time to serve their needs. Leaders who embrace the remote work revolution must create the cultural shifts that support thriving virtual teams.
About the Authors
Founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners Robert Glazer hosts the Elevate Podcast and is a columnist for Forbes, Business Insider, Inc, Entrepreneur and Fast Company. Mick Sloan is a writer and editor who focuses on creating content about career development and personal achievement.
“How to Thrive in the Virtual Workplace” by Robert Glazer and Mick Sloan is an insightful and practical guidebook that equips individuals with the necessary tools and strategies to excel in remote work environments. In today’s rapidly evolving professional landscape, where virtual work is becoming increasingly prevalent, this book offers valuable advice on adapting, succeeding, and thriving in a remote work setting. Glazer and Sloan combine their expertise and experiences to provide readers with actionable tips and techniques to enhance productivity, foster effective communication, maintain work-life balance, and cultivate a fulfilling remote work experience.
Key Themes and Concepts
- Remote Work Foundations: The authors lay a solid foundation by exploring the fundamental aspects of remote work, including the benefits and challenges it presents. They provide insights into common misconceptions and offer a compelling case for embracing the virtual workplace.
- Setting Up for Success: The book delves into the practical aspects of establishing an efficient remote work environment. It addresses essential topics such as optimizing one’s physical workspace, selecting the right technology tools, and establishing effective routines and boundaries to ensure productivity.
- Communication and Collaboration: Glazer and Sloan emphasize the critical role of communication in remote work settings. They delve into strategies for building strong connections with colleagues, leveraging virtual communication tools effectively, and fostering collaboration and teamwork despite physical distance.
- Productivity and Time Management: The authors provide valuable guidance on managing time and increasing productivity in remote work environments. They explore techniques for setting goals, prioritizing tasks, minimizing distractions, and maintaining focus to maximize efficiency and output.
- Well-being and Work-Life Balance: Recognizing the potential challenges related to work-life integration, the book offers practical advice on maintaining a healthy work-life balance. It covers strategies for setting boundaries, managing stress, cultivating self-care routines, and fostering a positive mindset to promote overall well-being.
- Career Growth and Professional Development: “How to Thrive in the Virtual Workplace” recognizes the importance of continuous growth and development in remote careers. The authors provide insights into leveraging remote work as an opportunity for professional advancement, including strategies for networking, skill-building, and personal branding.
Writing Style and Structure
The book is well-organized, with each chapter focusing on a specific theme or aspect of remote work. Glazer and Sloan present their ideas in a clear, concise, and accessible manner, making the content easily digestible for readers. The writing style is engaging and conversational, enabling readers to connect with the authors’ experiences and advice effectively. The use of real-life examples and case studies further enhances the book’s practicality and relatability.
- Practicality: The book excels in offering actionable tips and strategies that can be readily implemented in a remote work environment. The authors provide numerous tangible recommendations and exercises that empower readers to make immediate improvements in their work practices.
- Comprehensive Coverage: Glazer and Sloan leave no stone unturned in their exploration of remote work. They address a wide range of topics, ensuring that readers receive a holistic understanding of the challenges and opportunities associated with virtual work.
- Balance of Perspectives: By combining the insights and experiences of both authors, the book offers a balanced perspective on remote work. This approach provides readers with diverse viewpoints and expands the book’s relevance to various professional backgrounds and industries.
- Lack of Inclusion: While the book covers the essentials of remote work, it falls short in addressing the unique experiences and challenges faced by individuals from marginalized communities. A more inclusive approach would have enhanced the book’s relevance and applicability to a broader audience.
“How to Thrive in the Virtual Workplace” is an invaluable resource that equips individuals with the knowledge and tools needed to excel in remote work environments. Glazer and Sloan’s expertise shines through in their comprehensive coverage of topics ranging from setting up a productive workspace to fostering effective communication and maintaining work-life balance. Despite a minor drawback in terms of inclusivity, the book’s practicality and actionable advice make it an essential read for anyone navigating the virtual workplace. Whether you are new to remote work or seeking to enhance your existing remote career, this book provides a wealth of insights and strategies to help you thrive in the virtual realm.