Doing Remote Work Smarter

Companies are now taking pride in their rankings for providing their employees with flexible, relaxed, and comfortable working hours to help them manage their lives better. In return, employers get access to the best talent from across the world without having to consider the geographical constraints. It is happening now more than ever, and needless to say that no one is perfectly equipped to tackle the emerging unexplored challenges that come with it.

Of course, we saw this coming. We knew there would be problems with the incompatible working hours, the difference in work cultures, technical problems with connectivity, etc. What was inadvertently overlooked was a simple fact that “humans are social animals.” We have been conditioned to rely on society around us for every kind of exchange and we do need a social confirmation of some sort to stay motivated and driven.

Let’s look at a few of the challenges that come bundled with the package of ‘Going remote’:

Avoid Inside Jokes

Teams usually have an uneven distribution of its members across geography and many a time there’s a comparatively larger number of people working from one particular location. This leads to the formation of smaller sub-groups who interact more among themselves. It is completely natural to develop certain group-specific content and jokes.

But looking at it from an outsider’s point of view, such inside jokes could be mistaken as a very rude signal to other team members who are not a part of it. While we couldn’t control coming up with group-specific slang and jokes, we can very much control bringing them up in team meetings and communications. It is good to bring laughter to the meeting, but not if it leaves half the participants wondering what’s going on!

Find Opportunities to Socialize

“Social isolation” is a very common and serious problem with which remote employees deal. By spending long hours working on screens alone at home, employees end up self-ostracizing themselves. While people could very be a source of anxiety and irritation, they also provide the best of comfort and psychological support and there’s no known alternative to a having a healthy psychological being than to “socialize.”

A good way to tackle this problem is to find opportunities around to step outside and meet people. There are numerous products and services that one could avail to find out local events and meet-up groups. We exist in a technically sound age, it is only wise to use it to our benefit.

If this sounds too much of an effort and does not sound very efficient to some, another good alternative is “co-working spaces.” This industry is seeing a sudden boom and it does have a lot to offer. The choice for such spaces ranges from being pet-friendly to the ones with an in-built brewery.

Speak Up Anyway

In a usual conference room meeting, participants usually hesitate from speaking up because they fear rejection or the disapproval of their boss. It isn’t the same with remote teams. For them, technology plays both the savior and the devil.

A very general problem is “having a lot to add but not finding the right time to speak up.” Since it’s difficult to gauge any sort of anticipation from the expressions (especially when there’s no video available) of other participants of what’s coming next, many of them end up speaking up at the same time and then apologizing. Recurrence of this situation sometimes even damages the self-confidence of some participants. The key is to keep attempting to communicate until you’re heard.

Having team members from varied cultural backgrounds has its innumerable benefits, but sometimes it could also result in miscommunications followed by chaotic situations, ending up demotivating the involved parties. We have to understand that the only way to normalize this gap is to communicate more and eventually getting better at it.

It is very much possible that we are only looking at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ‘how remote teams work’, but it’s very important that we acknowledge its existence and take one small step at a time to get us closer to providing the best(if not ideal) experience to our remote employees while they continue to do amazing work.

Photo by Carlos Garcia Campillo, CC-BY-NC 2.0.

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About Veethika Mishra

Veethika is an Interaction Designer at Red Hat, based out of Bangalore, India. She enjoys exploring the juncture of design and open source practices and highlighting the nuanced approach for design research when an open community is involved. She is also an active member of the Creative Commons community.

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