Some of the biggest challenges with working remotely are social.
Communication & collaboration issues, loneliness and distractions (from living things with legs) are challenges with our social environment that affect our productivity in different ways.
Not all types of virtual work need the same amount of socializing. Some work requires less communication (like writing, coding and designing) than others (decision-making, brainstorming and onboarding). Now that the world's less hysterical about remote work, we're having more conversations about how to make remote work, well, work.
The hybrid workweek, for example, is one of the new ideas that can ease the struggles of socializing in remote work. (Working 3 days at home, and 2 days in-office or coworking spaces). Ideally, focused work like writing, designing and coding are productive in home offices, and collaborative work like decision-making, onboarding and brainstorming will be better as “in-office” work.
But being social in 100% remote work environment requires more effort. So how can you better manage the social environment of working 100% remotely?
By being proactive with social exchange.
Really understanding and providing for the social needs of your work environment is the way to improve your social experience.
Important areas to think about are:
- Frequency: How often do I have to take calls and messages?
- Call Quality: Where’s the place with the least noise and traffic around me?
- Setup: How and when do I keep in touch with my team?
- Culture: How do I stay on the same page with everyone?
Frequency: Overcommunicating Smarter
Effective communication is hard work. Unfortunately, we haven't invented telepathy yet, so we might struggle with communicating on Slack. Stuff like tone & gestures, facial expressions and even emotional state are things we could miss out on in remote work.
The way out is to overcommunicate, often. So we've got to using emojis, audio and video, as well as asking more questions to make things clearer.
Also, we can use empathy to prevent most miscommunication issues, so it's important to be as clear as possible, and pay attention. After all, effective communication reduces errors and enables teams to achieve goals.
It's clearly very important to overcommunicate. But it's hard work, isn't it?
Thanks to technology and software, it doesn't have to be. For example, Loom is helps create shareable, prerecorded videos for demonstrations and reports that are better with screen sharing. Loom is also a great way to onboard after hiring a virtual assistant or employee, saving the time and effort used in overcommunicating. Check out this blog for more helpful software for remote work, by the way.
Finally, protect your social energy (your ability to socialise) - Zoom fatigue is real. Technology works best when we use it to improve things, but can become a problem without boundaries.
It’s important to keep video meetings to a minimum, and to respect everyone’s time. Since 100% remote teams rely heavily on video calls to communicate, they need to be structured, kept relevant and be as short as possible. Irregularities, irrelevance and extensiveness reduce the quality of the call experience for everyone. If Warren Buffet avoids unnecessary meetings (like the plague) to save his abilities for more important things, I reckon, so should we.
Maintain the same empathetic response in video calls to texting, audio calls and any other form of communication you use. Let it be relevant and as direct as you can, and fun too.
Call Quality: Handling Interference
Control background noise, interference (no preposterous pant-pulling pranks, please), fluctuating internet and the state of the visible background in your meeting rig.
Major video calling software comes with the ability to blur or alter your background if there’s a lot going on in the background. Or use a curtain.
Also, communicate with family (if you WFH) to respect your meetings. Fixing a special family time after work or during breaks helps to keep everyone feeling close. Defend their time with you as much as you keep them from your time at work.
You can use an “On Air” sign like in radio stations to let your people know you’re unavailable. Or an LED bulb with different colours for work and break times. Go crazy, really.
Change your damn — 🧡 internet plan if the one you have is the bare minimum quality. Good internet is good work. :)
If you’re a nomad, internet quality should be a big concern before you travel. Make it as important as the bathroom.
Setup: Video Meeting Rig
A dedicated rig is good practice for video meetings. Pick a spot with good lighting, a strong internet signal, an audiovisual setup (the thing with a webcam, a microphone and headphones/speakers) and some water to stay refreshed.
This way, you’ll provide an exquisite call experience for the people that get to see your lovely face. Most setups are located in the same place as the workstation, and that’s fine if you don’t take a lot of calls in a week. 1–3 per week is cool, but if you take calls every day, please use a separate location.
It’ll help your brain switch between communicating and focusing to get work done.
Culture: Creating Opportunities to Be Social
To ease feelings of loneliness and increase connections, it’s essential to create opportunities to flow together.
That means checking on everyone occasionally and at the start of meetings. It also involves doing things outside of work together like hobbies, environmental activism (yep), and games on Slack to develop closeness and improve understanding.
Hosting a regular town hall meeting once a month to see how your team is doing is a great way to create opportunities to bond. Sharing podcasts, books, helpful stuff and fun videos helps everyone find ways to connect. Virtual parties too, Christmas parties at Athyna are to die for.
Being proactive about building a healthy social environment for your remote team has work benefits too.
Increased focus, better communication, stronger teamwork, higher output quality, happier lives and healthier relationships are the rewards of being deliberate. It also means less stress, lower chances of falling sick, and reduced feelings of loneliness.
Humans are social creatures, and it helps us achieve more together. We take our sociality with us everywhere, even in remote work.