Employees around the world are favoring a new way of working with the rise of remote and hybrid work. Similarly, as the world enters into its third year of the pandemic, employers are coming to terms with the new reality of how work gets done. While change is often scary, the cultural shift in the workplace has largely helped bring more balance to the office.
In this article, you’ll learn how distributed teams have seen improvements in cross-functional collaboration, schedule management across timezones, internal communication, and trust between managers and their direct reports.
Increasing cultural sensitivity
As companies grow their distributed teams, they also generally have the opportunity to expand employee representation from across cultures and regions. This expansion is bringing diversity into the companies’ work culture, including how employers manage their employees, how and when work should be done, and what the role of the workplace should be. Effective work now requires collaboration and an understanding of cultural differences.
Addressing silos and hierarchies
Many modern companies are striving to create a flat hierarchy and collaborative work environments. While silos and hierarchies are still prevalent, they can cause companies to suffer inefficiency and reduced productivity from workplace segmentation.
Distributed work allows employees and managers to be more intentional and to work cross-functionally. Project-based work—which is structured around specific goals and milestones—is increasing and encouraging cross-functional collaboration across all levels of an organization. As a result, teams that are able to remove silos and a deep sense of hierarchy are benefiting from increased efficiency and innovation. Employee satisfaction and retention are also seeing improvements as employees feel empowered with a sense of ownership in their work.
Tackling productivity issues
The saying that time is money rings true. Loss of productivity by way of inefficiencies and bureaucracy continues to cost businesses hundreds of billions of dollars each year. Luckily, distributed work has given employees the newfound freedom and flexibility to work in environments that promote productivity.
Employees that prefer to work in isolation, so that they can achieve deep focus, are able to do so without colleagues interrupting them. Meanwhile, those who prefer to work in social environments are able to find coworking solutions, coffee shops, and hybrid in-office arrangements that allow for background noise and opportunities for workplace chatter. Let’s face it: it’s much easier to put your Slack notifications on mute than to explain to a coworker that you don’t have time to talk about the dream they had last night.
Despite the initial concerns and assumptions, productivity has increased during the pandemic. People are able to skip the commute and spend their mornings preparing to focus for the work day ahead. Employees also have more freedom to shape their schedule to promote productivity, whether that looks like going on a run in the middle of the day to clear their mind or lighting a candle to promote focus and relaxation.
Distributed work has pushed all of us to reimagine the workplace and how we get work done. Organizational conformity is often recognized by the it-has-always-been-that-way mentality that older companies tend to fall back on. However, even older, traditional companies are now forced to consider how to be more inclusive of different ideas. Employers have no choice but to disrupt conformity if they want to attract diverse talent and younger generations.
Increasing collaboration innovation
With the abundance of technology and tools available, distributed work doesn’t need to sacrifice communication or collaboration. For some, these tools and new methods of communicating may even help overcome traditional barriers to communication.
Digital tools are providing employees with different ways to communicate based on their preferences. Synchronous communication (such as virtual 1:1s and team meetings) and asynchronous communication (such as email and instant messages) are encouraging employees to remain connected, even while working in different cities or countries.
Video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams are also allowing for collaboration above and beyond what in-office meetings can accommodate. Meetings are no longer restricted to the number of people that can fit in the room, allowing for increased visibility. Teams can also choose to record meetings to rewatch or share across the company.
Some employees may also find digital communication methods are less intimidating or stressful. For example, introverted employees who may not feel comfortable speaking up in a meeting can share their thoughts through the Zoom chatbox. Similarly, those who need some time after meetings to process the information are able to do so and share their ideas through their company’s online messaging platform.
But while these tools are readily available and reduce communication and collaboration barriers, managers should also remain conscious of how overusing digital technologies can lead to burnout and fatigue. One way to combat this is to find a balance between synchronous and asynchronous methods of communication. Managers should continue to actively and frequently communicate across all levels of their organization. It’s important that the people who report to them know that they are available to provide clarification or support when needed.
Focusing on fit, not location
The global talent pool offers opportunities for companies to recruit individuals with highly specialized skill sets and expertise. With distributed working, companies are no longer restricted to hiring locally. Companies are starting to shift away from reactively hiring remote talent when they are unable to fill a role locally. Instead, they are proactively hiring remote talent to find the best employees with the skills and experience required to succeed.
Companies are benefiting from the normalization of distributed work when it comes to business partnerships and opportunities as well. Now, companies can work with clients virtually anywhere. Employers are also able to be strategic about pulling their best talent from across markets to attend important meetings and to close big sales deals.
In a distributed workforce, employee success is less about physically showing up and more about actively engaging and getting the work done.
Managers need to be able to trust that the work they delegate will be completed and will meet a certain standard of work. Distributed work has forced micromanagers to take a step back and trust their employees with more accountability.
In a world of remote work, employees are assessed based on the outcome of the work they put in, not the time it takes to complete a task. This way of working is promoting productivity and encouraging employees to work in a way that makes the most sense for them.
Having trust and accountability goes hand in hand with strong communication. Managers must be clear and detailed about expectations and timelines when assigning tasks to avoid confusion. The feedback delivered must also be specific and clearly communicated in order to be most effective. When employees have defined roles and a clear understanding of their responsibilities, it’s easier to build trust and recognize good work.
Increased trust can take the form of flexible working hours that allow employees to work asynchronously outside of scheduled meetings and check-ins. Flexible scheduling empowers employees to work when they are most productive and offers time during the regular work day to take care of themselves and their mental health.
Companies that hire good employees know that they can trust them to get the work done on time, even if they are offline during certain periods of the day. In return, trusted employees gain more ownership and responsibility for their work, which generally leads to a higher quality of work.
The rapid adoption of a new way of working—in which remote work and distributed teams have become the norm—has greatly benefited both employers and employees. The world has seen a new focus on improving work-life balance and a commitment to providing a flexible work environment.
The companies that have adapted the best, in light of the pandemic, are intentional about building a culture based on strong communication practices and collaboration. As the world continues to adapt to changing conditions, employers will need to remain flexible in order to attract and retain the best talent.
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