Remote Working Fails Everyone When Good Communication Isn't Cultural

Christin Hume on Unsplash

In response to demands for a better work-life balance, and in a bid to reap the benefits of a more engaged workforce, more businesses are testing digital nomadism. 

Numerous studies show people want to work from where they choose. A new survey by Capita–of 2,000 U.K. knowledge workers who can do their jobs with a computer–found 71% want the option to work remotely, citing a better work-life balance (60%), reduced transport costs (47%), and lower carbon footprint (35%) as the biggest influencing factors.

And yet, the same survey found that less than a third (32%) are granted permission to work remotely whenever they want.

Only last month, a poll of 7,300 workers by FlexJobs found more than half (52%) had tried to negotiate flexible arrangements with their employer, and 80% said they would be more loyal to their employers if they secured them. 

In addition, around two thirds (65%) felt they would be more productive than in a traditional office environment, due to fewer distractions (74%), fewer interruptions from colleagues (72%) and reduced stress from commuting (70%).

The secret to making remote work a success

It's not good enough to offer home working and live happily ever after in the digital workplace. It's all too common to hear employers saying they've tried and failed to support remote working in their businesses. Moreover, some studies have shown remote workers may feel lonely, isolated and untethered, which can damage–rather than boost–productivity.

Hannah Wei on Unsplash

Look at those who’ve succeeded with remote working, and it becomes clear that it needs two things to thrive, and both boil down to good communication.

The first is proficient technology that makes keeping in touch and collaboration as easy as when two colleagues sit side by side. That technology must also transmit culture to the widest reaches of an organization so no one feels cut off.

The second is a common understanding that communication is paramount. This means being explicit about it, teaching how it's done, and making sure that talking–between teams, departments, branches and offices–is part of the culture.

A case in point... 

Take fast-growing software company Matillion, which has headquarters in the U.K. and Colorado, as well as offices in New York City and Seattle, as a good example of a company that actively pushes communication among its 150+ staff.

All its employees get the option to work flexibly for at least two days a week, or more on request, and it currently has nine people who work from home full time. 

New hires are assigned a ‘buddy’ outside of their own department, and its CEO, Matthew Scullion, hosts weekly video conferences where transparency is the order of the day: in the past he has covered topics like revenue goals and funding rounds and welcomes questions and encourages healthy debate in a dedicated Slack channel after each session.

Matillion

Scullion says: “It's an opportunity for my team to pick my brain, get information from me and disseminate it across the company. It focuses on keeping the organization not only smart about the business but healthy as a team. Engagement in the Slack channel continues to increase.” 

After finding the tone of digital communications across remote teams was being misconstrued, Matillion took a proactive approach and dedicated a weekly conference to identifying four communication modes to use when talking with teammates digitally. In practice, these four modes are now signaled at the top of emails and before engaging in conversations.

Scullion says that, by sharing which mode of communication you're looking for, you set the framework for the conversation which helps team members at all levels of the organization communicate better.

He finds it especially useful because people add a lot of weight to the comments and opinions of their CEO, when he’s actually looking for their ideas.

When I explain that I’m consulting people, it alleviates any confusion that I am handing down a decision when I am actually asking team members to bring their opinions and ideas to the table. For example, there is an upcoming conference where we’re looking to make a big splash. I sent one of our directors an email and started it with '#brainstorm' and then proceeded to share my idea for a theme and execution at the conference. This made clear it was meant as an idea to be considered, and not as a 'must do’.”

Accepting that digital communication being misunderstood or misinterpreted as inevitable is just as important as encouraging colleagues, whose paths may never cross, to talk. In short, a culture of good communication is key to motivating, and keeping, remote workers.

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Christin Hume on Unsplash

In response to demands for a better work-life balance, and in a bid to reap the benefits of a more engaged workforce, more businesses are testing digital nomadism. 

Numerous studies show people want to work from where they choose. A new survey by Capita–of 2,000 U.K. knowledge workers who can do their jobs with a computer–found 71% want the option to work remotely, citing a better work-life balance (60%), reduced transport costs (47%), and lower carbon footprint (35%) as the biggest influencing factors.

And yet, the same survey found that less than a third (32%) are granted permission to work remotely whenever they want.

Only last month, a poll of 7,300 workers by FlexJobs found more than half (52%) had tried to negotiate flexible arrangements with their employer, and 80% said they would be more loyal to their employers if they secured them. 

In addition, around two thirds (65%) felt they would be more productive than in a traditional office environment, due to fewer distractions (74%), fewer interruptions from colleagues (72%) and reduced stress from commuting (70%).

The secret to making remote work a success

It's not good enough to offer home working and live happily ever after in the digital workplace. It's all too common to hear employers saying they've tried and failed to support remote working in their businesses. Moreover, some studies have shown remote workers may feel lonely, isolated and untethered, which can damage–rather than boost–productivity.

Hannah Wei on Unsplash

Look at those who’ve succeeded with remote working, and it becomes clear that it needs two things to thrive, and both boil down to good communication.

The first is proficient technology that makes keeping in touch and collaboration as easy as when two colleagues sit side by side. That technology must also transmit culture to the widest reaches of an organization so no one feels cut off.

The second is a common understanding that communication is paramount. This means being explicit about it, teaching how it's done, and making sure that talking–between teams, departments, branches and offices–is part of the culture.

A case in point... 

Take fast-growing software company Matillion, which has headquarters in the U.K. and Colorado, as well as offices in New York City and Seattle, as a good example of a company that actively pushes communication among its 150+ staff.

All its employees get the option to work flexibly for at least two days a week, or more on request, and it currently has nine people who work from home full time. 

New hires are assigned a ‘buddy’ outside of their own department, and its CEO, Matthew Scullion, hosts weekly video conferences where transparency is the order of the day: in the past he has covered topics like revenue goals and funding rounds and welcomes questions and encourages healthy debate in a dedicated Slack channel after each session.

Matillion

Scullion says: “It's an opportunity for my team to pick my brain, get information from me and disseminate it across the company. It focuses on keeping the organization not only smart about the business but healthy as a team. Engagement in the Slack channel continues to increase.” 

After finding the tone of digital communications across remote teams was being misconstrued, Matillion took a proactive approach and dedicated a weekly conference to identifying four communication modes to use when talking with teammates digitally. In practice, these four modes are now signaled at the top of emails and before engaging in conversations.

Scullion says that, by sharing which mode of communication you're looking for, you set the framework for the conversation which helps team members at all levels of the organization communicate better.

He finds it especially useful because people add a lot of weight to the comments and opinions of their CEO, when he’s actually looking for their ideas.

When I explain that I’m consulting people, it alleviates any confusion that I am handing down a decision when I am actually asking team members to bring their opinions and ideas to the table. For example, there is an upcoming conference where we’re looking to make a big splash. I sent one of our directors an email and started it with '#brainstorm' and then proceeded to share my idea for a theme and execution at the conference. This made clear it was meant as an idea to be considered, and not as a 'must do’.”

Accepting that digital communication being misunderstood or misinterpreted as inevitable is just as important as encouraging colleagues, whose paths may never cross, to talk. In short, a culture of good communication is key to motivating, and keeping, remote workers.

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I'm a digital workplace entrepreneur who helps companies all over the world create their perfect virtual place to work, collaborate and engage. I started my company, Cla...