We all know how challenging remote working can be. Thanks to the pandemic, more of us than ever before have had to adapt our working styles to adhere to governmental regulations. It is even reported that 60% of people, when asked, said that they’d prefer to work remotely always or most of the time if they could.
For some, remote working is a privilege and a flexibility that allows people to enjoy a healthier work/home balance. Perhaps they’re more productive when working in their pyjamas, or it saves them hours of the day usually spent commuting or money that would be otherwise spent on eating out when in the office five days a week.
However, for others, remote working can be a hindrance to productivity and ineffective because their home environment isn’t conducive to working without constant distraction.
Whether it’s unstable internet connections, pets/kids that can’t stand being left out of important virtual meetings or the constant knock at the door for delivery after delivery, there are plenty of difficulties faced when working from home.
So, how do we navigate these (potential) troubles? Is it possible to improve the quality of remote working for teams? Can anything be done to bolster productivity, collaboration and communication during a time as extreme as a global pandemic?
I’ll discuss what I’ve learned about the importance of clear communication channels and collaboration within a remote/hybrid working model, using my experience of working at ICS-digital, in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic, as a case study.
Given recent developments, with ‘Plan B’ activated shortly before Christmas, we’re all mostly working from home again and these findings are more pertinent and applicable than ever before.
The start of the pandemic
The pandemic destroyed routines, kept us isolated from one another and forced employers to reconsider their office-dependent working models. The main way in which this has been done is in maintaining a hybrid working model, post-lockdown.
It can be incredibly daunting returning to the office after months of working from home and in a lot of ways, after adapting for so long to working from home, old routines and processes sometimes seem a little redundant or antiquated.
It can feel overwhelming at the best of times, but when you factor in the inevitable anxieties felt by basically anybody who hasn’t been living under a rock for the last 18 months: it’s clear that this is a time when people may be feeling especially lonely or experiencing higher, unnatural levels of stress.
Now obviously, virtual alternatives won’t replicate the experience of a meeting in the office where you can chat face-to-face, nor will it magically change your shoebox bedroom/office into the workplace of your dreams, but it certainly bridges the gap between people and makes working at home feel both more professional and personable.
Luckily, what I found is that clear communication channels, such as Microsoft Teams chats, have aided positive wellbeing by encouraging people to interact in a more informal tone.
This both builds upon a healthy work culture and redefines the working environment for future employees, as well as existing ones.
The importance of communication apps
Like many others, I started a new role during the pandemic and this meant that the initial induction period was spent predominantly learning from home.
This is how I came to rely on Microsoft Teams, which, for all its quirks, I’ve found to be the ideal hub for both work-related queries and recreational chat. Unlike email threads, which can be missed without notifications or put on the backburner, Teams generally promotes instant replies.
This means you can be productive and complete your task without having to wait indefinitely for guidance or a response.
Plus, there were also other perks of communicating with work colleagues & managers through the app.
In terms of transparency and opening up clear communications between me and my new colleagues, this platform was perfect for training purposes.
On a social basis, from the outset, there were routines like the morning briefings that consist of seeing and hearing from all the content team. In these sessions, the objectives for the day/week ahead are outlined and there’s also the opportunity to flag up any queries or concerns.
On top of this, there were almost daily calls with my line manager and others who were tasked with training me, which meant that I had the opportunity to build rapport in and among getting into the swing of tasks.
Let’s not forget the constant array of GIFs exchanged in the team’s group chat. This was a way of getting to know my team better and a stark reminder: these are real people beyond this screen and one day I will meet them!
With each interaction, I started to understand more about the dynamics of our team and felt a little more comfortable with the idea of collaboration.
After all, it’s so much easier for you to share ideas if you feel valued as part of a team and the main way to achieve this is to be able to communicate clearly with your peers.
Essentially, the platform itself is a technological tool, but ICS-digital chose to use it to its full potential by encouraging the use of webcams during meetings so that people aren’t just staring into the abyss of a screen.
In addition, encouraging collaborative video/audio meetings wherever possible has meant that people feel some semblance of normal routine when working from home.
Having friendly meetings with my colleagues and managers gives me a routine that is pivotal for wellbeing when working from home as, without it, employees can easily feel demotivated.
Put it this way: you’re more likely to make an effort with what you’re wearing and where you’re working from if you know people can see you.
There’s no denying that working from home can be inconvenient, but the use of apps like Microsoft Teams can help to open up communication channels, strengthening team morale and maintaining some form of accountability and professionalism.
With attitudes towards working from home irrevocably changed by the pandemic, it’s looking like there’s a societal shift towards adopting the flexibility of hybrid working schemes. So, with this in mind, we should utilise the apps that facilitate healthy communications and support one another as we adapt to the ‘new normal’.