Long before the ongoing pandemic shut down the world’s offices, millions of workers became conditioned to remote work—probably without meaning to—because their physical workplaces were rife with digital tools. But many practiced a form of remote work that doesn’t suit the current environment.

I mean, haven’t you received instant messages from people who could literally spin their chair 180 degrees to say the same thing? Have you not spent 45 minutes reading and responding to an email chain that a five-minute conversation down the hallway could have addressed?

In a physical workplace that is digitised to the teeth, we can get away with using tools inefficiently. Knowing that we can spin the chair or walk down the hall gives us permission to do so. Fire out that email as fast as possible, and if it doesn’t make sense, well, talk it out.

Not anymore. Now, we have to use our digital tools to their fullest potential. Our communications, processes, and handoffs must be impeccable. Today, the biggest difference is not the technology we use, but how we use it.

I would argue that even if you’re using platforms specialised to your department, there are some patterns and common needs in a remote work environment. Maybe you have all these boxes checked, but hopefully, I’ll point out a blind spot, and you can do something about it.

How do you initiate work?

If you’re working in a home office—perhaps while your kids reenact scenes from Lord of the Flies—your output is probably creativity, information, and ideas. And the more abstract and complex your product is, the more it’ll benefit from project management platforms. Coders (and marketers) gravitate to systems like Asana, Basecamp, Trello, Jira, and Workfront.

Particularly in a remote work setting, we need to be articulate about what we’re doing. What is it? Who’s it for? Why are we doing it? When’s it due? Time in a pandemic is a trickster. Project management will give some order to the groundhog days.

If you can’t spin your chair, how do you talk?

In business, there are different versions of conversations. There are “check-ins,” often done by email, which tend to be light in substance but heavy in exclamation marks. There are, “what-do-you-really-need-from-me?” conversations, where someone sends an email, and you send one back asking the person what they actually asked. And there are many others, mostly done through email. That is why in remote work, you need a channel that isn’t email.

The top options tend to be Slack, Hangouts Chat, and Salesforce Chatter. They let you spin the chair around. Email is a medium of conversation, but it doesn’t facilitate talking. You need a way to talk.

How do we get things we need?

Have you ever counted the number of the emails you receive that entail person A, a coworker, asking person B, you, for something persons C, D, or E might have, maybe, delivered to you sometime last month?

In a physical setting, we can triangulate the location of any file, folder, or image. But in a remote setting, we need ways for people to share files and search for them without taking up someone else’s capacity. Whether your team uses Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, a digital asset management system (DAM) etc., you need a place where people can scoop their own ice cream instead of lining up and waiting for a coworker to do it.

Are we making a difference?

Without the in-person stand-ups, shout-outs, and comradery, it’s harder to feel impactful. Regardless of what department you work in, a system to measure your impact is priceless.

In marketing, we look to social and content analytics not just for validation, but to learn from our decisions and do better next time. In sales, our colleagues are motivated to hit their numbers and track how much business they’ve brought in. Many IT people find satisfaction in resolving tickets faster and eliminating recurring problems. Give yourself the pleasure of knowing you made a difference and the awareness to rise to a higher potential.

Some perspective

I wish I could end with a bold claim, like working remotely will be the best thing that ever happened to us! The reality is, we don’t know yet.

However, evicted from our usual routines, there is a chance to see anew the way we worked before the crisis, and the way we work within it. It’s the kind of perspective we normally get by traveling to a distant country or meeting someone from an unfamiliar background.  

So, meet your new remote life. It’s weird. It’s boring, at times. But it’s going to make you rethink what remote work is, and what you and your team need to be successful in any conditions.

Brooke Emley is Head of Implementation at Widen

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