There’s no question that the hasty transition to remote work left a lot of organizations struggling to maintain a healthy company culture. But we’ve had over a year and a half to adjust and adapt; continuing to blame disengagement, lethargy and inaction on remote work isn’t just a cop out — it’s lazy management.
The Case for Bringing Employees Back
We’ve all heard it: “How will people connect with each other without watercoolers to gather around?” “How will we keep people on the same page without face-to-face interaction?” “How will we know people are working if we can’t see them?”
Remote work skeptics believe that effective, productive work can only happen within the walls of a traditional office. They don’t trust their employees. They don’t want to learn a new system. They refuse to accept the massive technological and cultural shifts that are changing the way we work.
And now, after months of working from home, many employers are rescinding the right to remote work. But as Seth Godin wrote recently, “The real magic of connections at the office was that we were having these connections without trying. It’s not that they were better, it’s that they were effortless.”
Embrace Unified Communications
But we now have access to technology that can make virtual connections just as effortless as they are in person. It’s called unified communications. UC solutions often come packaged as an application that you can download onto any mobile device, like your cell phone or laptop. Leveraging a variety of capabilities — like chat, calling, conferencing and collaboration — a UC solution empowers your employees to stay connected from any location, on any device.
Microsoft Teams and Webex are great examples of this. They both allow you to send chats, create collaboration spaces, make and receive calls, share documents and host video meetings. Within a single application, you have access to your contacts, content and conversations no matter where you happen to be working. But while features and functionality are important, ease of use is arguably the most significant aspect of a UC solution.
If effortless communication is what you’re after, UC provides the perfect solution. Instead of walking down the hall to check whether your boss is in a meeting, you can view her presence indicator. Instead of interrupting your coworker’s focus, you can send them a quick chat that they can get to when they’re ready. Instead of migrating to the conference room while balancing your laptop, notebook and coffee cup, you can meet with your team at the click of a button.
With UC, calling, chatting and meeting can be done with less effort than it takes to walk to your colleague’s cubicle or reserve and convene in a conference room.
Engage with Intention
But of course, just having a UC solution won’t guarantee remote work success. It requires intentionality from your management team. It requires using the tools at your disposal to their maximum capacity. And it requires everyone getting involved.
If your management team is worried about the lack of conversation happening around the proverbial watercooler, create a virtual one on your UC platform! If you’re concerned that you’re not getting the face-to-face interactions with your direct reports, schedule a 20-minute coffee chat and host a video call with the team or schedule a handful of one-on-ones.
Yes, this requires time and planning, but it’s well worth the effort. Polls indicate that 40 percent of white-collar workers would rather leave their job than give up remote work. Unless you’re prepared to lose a big chunk of your staff, you’ll need to figure out how to make remote work feasible for your organization.
Make It Work for Everyone
We’re not suggesting that you remain remote forever. But with the technology and tactics we’ve described, you can implement a hybrid model that makes work work for everyone in your organization, whether they’re in the office, on the couch or on the road.
In order to replicate office culture with remote and hybrid teams, modern managers must learn to cultivate communal gatherings online. They must become digital hosts, welcoming their employees, colleagues and teams into a virtual space dedicated to connection.
As Godin wrote, “No, we’re not sharing donuts. But if we put in the effort, we can share more than that.”