13.9% of British workers are now working from home, and whilst that might conjure up thoughts of a writer crouched over a laptop with an unlimited amount of coffee, the largest number of those working remotely are actually in farming, then construction, followed by sales and business development.
But whichever side of the arrangement you’re on, managing those who work remotely or working remotely yourself, there are always ways to improve efficiency and get things done better.
It can be difficult to communicate, coordinate on projects and develop trust and agreement. However, the benefits can be substantial; a study by Aon Consulting found that by using virtual teams, employee productivity can be improved, with some organisations have seeing improvements of up to 43%.
How do you successfully work remotely?
Research into the performance of 392 managers, team leaders, and members of teams across the world found that if you get two main areas right when setting up processes, you’re much more likely to have a successful remote team.
Firstly, setting up social-emotional processes are useful for making sure team members feel included and therefore want to commit to overall goals. By making individuals feel part of a team, goals can be achieved with more cohesion.
Getting the balance right between these social-emotional processes and task-related processes is essential in increasing levels of mutual support, member effort, work coordination, balance of member contributions and communication.
Secondly, whilst working remotely can be incredibly productive, there are key points in a project where there isn’t a substitution for getting together to discuss, whether this is in person or using a service such as Google Hangouts – but more on that later! These points are as follows;
Kickoff: An initial meeting to introduce teammates, set expectations and clarify team goals and behavioural guidelines.
On-boarding: Give new employees the same in-person welcome you gave the rest of the group. Encourage them to video conference with the rest of their teammates.
Milestones: Get people together to celebrate the achievement of short-term goals or to crack tough problems to prevent team members from feeling disconnected and less engaged. Visual cues and body language help prevent misunderstandings.
What tools can streamline the process?
There are some brilliant online tools which can make working remotely, but collaboratively, much easier.
Slack is a chat platform that is aimed more at businesses than individuals, allowing teams to communicate quickly and simply.
Asana and Trello are invaluable for keeping track of who is assigned to what, as well as delivering finished projects.
For the times when you want to have a discussion, but it’s too difficult to get everyone in the same place, Google Hangouts or Skype can provide a platform on which a video conference can be held, to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Distractions such as social media and email notifications can break your concentration. I use Freedom.to which blocks distracting websites and even your email for your scheduled productive work times. I also use BatchedInbox for Gmail which hides any emails until you specify – e.g. you can receive your emails at 11am and 4pm. I also block all notifications on my phone except calls, alarms and calendar reminders.
G Suite is fantastic for collaborative work – you can work together on presentation slides, documents, spreadsheets, etc.
How do you look after the health of remote workers?
Research from Bupa suggests that if you work remotely, you’re 10% more likely than office workers to sustain injuries, aches and pains (51% compared to 41% of office workers). The most common issue is backache and neck pain. I know from personal experience that working on a laptop for a number of years can have a detrimental effect on your posture. Here are some things that I do to help (plus some additional best practices that I should do!):
Eyelevel screen – If you’re using a laptop, add a stand, separate keyboard and mouse. I use a musician’s keyboard stand at home, and a Roost superlight laptop stand for when I’m out and about. I use the logitech K810 keyboard (It’s lightweight and works via bluetooth with my phone, laptop and iPad), and the Logitech M220 silent mouse.
Daily carry – Ensure your laptop bag is as light as possible and use a backpack rather than a stylish side thing. It may not be as attractive, but you won’t regret it. I use the Slimfold laptop bag, keep contents to a minimum and stick to the lightest accessories wherever possible.
Mobile phone – Avoid reading or working on your phone for long periods of time – you can end up hunching over and straining your neck muscles. I use an app called Offtime (Android), which alerts me if I’ve been on my phone for more than 180 minutes a the day.
Move and stretch – Try to move around at regular intervals. Yoga or Pilates are excellent for maintaining mobility.
Eye health – Schedule regular eye tests. Check and adjust the lighting conditions to ensure you’re not squinting. Make sure you take a break from your screen regularly and drink plenty of water throughout the day. Tea and coffee can be very dehydrating, so try to sneak in some non-caffeinated drinks.
Circadian Rhythms – Routine can sound boring, but it can help improve your quality of sleep, which has a huge impact on your health. Work out when you are most creative, productive or energised, and schedule appropriate tasks at those times. Be mindful of light – aim to ‘consume’ bright natural light in the morning and tone down any blue light at night. I use Twilight for mobile (Android) and Flux for laptop (PC), both adjust the light to mimic the stage that the sun is in. I also use a Philips sunrise simulator alarm clock.
Not everyone pines over the idea of working remotely, but there are benefits for both individuals, businesses and the environment. For some, this is the ideal place to thrive and be productive, whilst for others it could prove extremely distracting and detrimental to their output. Either way, as working remotely becomes more popular, productivity tools and techniques for this mode of working are only going to become more advanced.