5 Ways to Enhance Productivity and Engagement in a Virtual Work Environment
When the pandemic hit, most of us were thrown into a virtual, remote work environment with no time to plan. Teams immediately had to learn how to adapt their everyday office routines to working from home with little to no forewarning. The rhythms and routines many relied on, from in-person meetings to the occasional coffee break with peers, suddenly went by the wayside.
While working from home does have its fair share of benefits, it is not without shortcomings. Bosses can no longer see their employees throughout the day and many wonder if they are staying productive. Team members can no longer just walk down the hall to ask their peers for help. When emergencies arise, people just cannot come together with the same speed and efficiency as before. Does that mean this low-productivity streak will prevail as long as you are working remotely?
Not at all.
In fact, if you follow the tips and tricks below, you may even see your team's productivity and engagement increase in this new virtual work environment.
Choose the Right Tools
Optimize Video Calls
Teach WFH Best Practices
Trust But Verify
1. Choose the right tools
While in the office, your team probably had tools like Skype, Zoom, or MS Teams already in place to communicate and collaborate. Many assume that these same tools will do just fine while working remotely too. That’s not always the case.
Tools like Zoom and GoToMeeting are ideal for video conferencing and virtual meetings, but they fall behind when it comes to team collaboration. Conversely, MS Teams and Slack, allow your team to communicate in real-time, but are not always the best way to hold meetings or give presentations to large groups of people. Lesser-known tools like Jitsi and MatterMost might do the trick, but they often fly under the radar.
Every team is unique as should be the tech stack they use. The best app for the job is that which best suits your team's needs. To keep your team productive and engaged in this virtual work environment, use this comparison of collaboration tools to help find what’s best for you.
2. Optimize video calls
You and your team likely join a fair amount of video calls these days. Morning standup meetings, midday check-ins, and miscellaneous meetings throughout the day all add up.
Zoom fatigue is a real concern as it can quickly exhaust a team. Every meeting and call can break their focus and is more mentally taxing than similar meetings in person. Your team is hyper-focused on themselves, checking how they look on the screen, screen sharing, and watching their own non-verbal actions, taking their focus away from the meeting topic.
Video calls are now a required part of our day-to-day but do your best to minimize the quantity while optimizing quality. Before scheduling a meeting, ask yourself if it could be covered in an email or group chat. Look for smaller topics, that are not time-sensitive, that can be grouped into a single meeting. Ensure each meeting has a dedicated leader, sticks to the topic, and stays within the allotted time frame. Do everything you can to make the most of video calls throughout the day.
3. Teach WFH Best Practices
Many of us are developing outstanding best practices for our new virtual work environment. However, we don't always think of sharing them. Don’t hesitate to shed some light on your WFH hacks; ask your team to do the same. Some of our favorites include:
Have an on-camera policy for all meetings
Try to work in a room with good sunlight
Add plenty of lights and plants to your home office
Create a “do not disturb” policy with housemates
Invest in a standing desk
Have outdoor walking meetings occasionally
Effective communication is critical to every work environment. In a virtual work environment, it needs to be an even stronger focus.
Up to 93% of communication is non-verbal. This includes your speed and tone of voice, gestures and body language, sitting or standing position, even your facial expressions. Zoom calls, as great as they are, just cannot transmit all of that information. Audio delays make it next to impossible to converse as fluently as in person. Video glitches mean you miss micro expressions. The small camera view prevents you from being able to see every mannerism. The point being, much of that 93% of communication is lost in translation.
Be sure to give clear and concise instructions, specific deadlines and expectations, and make yourself approachable (not just available) for questions. The only way to overcome the communication deficit is if you, as the team leader, make it a priority.
5. Trust But Verify
It is easy to be anxious or even paranoid when you can’t physically watch over your team. Their actions have a direct effect on you and your project so it’s only natural to want to know what they are doing. Remember, you hired them for a reason, so trust but verify.
Focus more on the outcomes of their work rather than the granular activities themselves. We are no longer in the same environment and, therefore, not everyone has the same obstacles to work through during the day. Some may find it easier early on while others choose to work late. Some may have zero distractions until noon while others can only truly focus during their child's naps. As long as the quality expectations are being met on time or early, be a bit forgiving about how they got there.
Today, many leaders are looking for ways to increase productivity and engagement in this virtual work environment. Like us, you were likely thrown into it without a warning or time to prepare. Use these tips and you may find that, like us, working remotely provides a wealth of hidden benefits.