Teleworking – communication challenges and solutions
What are the major concerns of the business about telecommuting and how to overcome them? To manage people in different locations or even time zones you need a new strategy. Integrating the right communication tools improves teamwork and creates an effective system of cooperation. Discover the major issues of flexible work policy and some possible solutions.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, teleworking is: “the activity of working at home, while communicating with your office by phone or email or using the internet”.
The advantages of remote working are clear. You can learn more about them in our article What are the benefits of telework? Why is cloud telephony essential for remote employees? However, this new work style comes with a new set of challenges for the companies and their teams. To manage people in different locations or even time zones you need a new strategy. Integrating the right communication tools improves teamwork and creates an effective system of cooperation. Below we listed the major issues of flexible work policy and some possible solutions:
While it’s easier to interact with colleagues in the office, communicating with your remote employees can be more challenging. It relies strongly on technology and if it does not run smoothly, the whole team faces decreased productivity.
Main challenges that affect remote employees’ collaboration:
• poor communication with co-workers and supervisors
• lack of information
• not receiving information on time
Efficient communication is essential for any business. Though, it can be more challenging, when the workers connect via chat, email, phone, audio, or video calls. Another problem for the virtual team is when the manager does not provide important information on time. This will cause misunderstanding and miscommunication among the remote employee and their in-office co-workers. Often supervisors find it hard to navigate the different communication styles of remote employees. Extra efforts are required for the entire team to function as a unit without meeting face-to-face.
To ensure smooth information and communication flow throughout the company managers should focus on:
• Stimulating effective communication culture
• Providing the right tools
• Hiring the right people
Stimulate effective communication and collaboration culture
Set regular meetings with your virtual team to discuss the progress of the projects and other work-related issues. A manager has to provide guidelines on how the team members should interact with each other. Also, you should encourage active communication among team members. That way they’ll feel engaged and motivated. The remote employees should also be informed about the important events in the company.
If remote colleagues are in different time zones make sure that there is an overlapping period in their flexible schedules. Virtual meetings that concern the whole team should be arranged during this period. If possible plan certain activities, that require face-to-face meetings with your remote colleagues. This will help them feel part of the company’s community and it stimulates a better communication process as well.
Provide the right tools
Effective communication tools are fundamental to the success of teleworking. With their help, remote employees are always connected to the company. Additionally, they have constant access to office resources and information. Considering the company’s needs you can choose from a different set of tools to support communication and collaboration within your company.
Email is probably the most used written communication tool. Always consider it because of its high accessibility and the option to write long informative messages when necessary.
• The average office worker sends and receives as many as 121 email messages per day.
• Employees spend an estimated 3.2 hours per day checking work emails.
• 60% of work email accounts get checked one or more times a day.*
Chat (instant messaging programs)
Instant message programs allow employees to have a real-time text-based conversations. The virtual chat rooms can be organized to correspond to the company’s structure. Team members discuss work-related issues in real-time like in a face-to-face meeting. The co-workers can also leave a message if someone is not available at that moment. A team leader, however, should track if the ongoing messaging is not becoming too distracting for the employees.
Instant messaging benefits for business communication:
• it allows multitasking
• is less invasive than a phone
• more immediate than email
• very little additional costs*
The cloud phone system is one of the milestones of flexible work arrangements. It provides an easy way of calling, messaging, video meetings, audio conferencing, and task management. These features build an effective communication system among remote and in-office employees. Cloud PBX ensures that the distributed teams benefit from the same functionalities of the business phone system as the office staff. It allows remote co-workers to connect, using their office extensions of direct numbers. They can initiate or receive calls via any device convenient for them:
• a business desk phone
• a home landline
• a phone app, installed on a PC or laptop
• a tablet or cell phone
With the help of VoIP solutions, mobile devices can be fully integrated into the business phone system. Using a mobile application allows business calls to ring on mobile phones. That way mobile employees are always reachable and connected to the company with their office phone number.
Fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) is a communication technology that allows your mobile phone to have the same features and functionalities as your fixed office phone. With the help of a mobile application you can bring your office number anywhere your smartphone goes – at home, in a coffee shop, or while traveling. Using such a tool ensures your remote colleagues will never miss an important call again. They can benefit from features like simultaneous or sequential ringing. The outgoing calls made via the FMC mobile app appear as calls made from the business phone number to the recipient. This ensures a professional image for your company, regardless of the employee’s location.
The biggest advantage for teleworkers using FMC-based apps like Mixcall is that they can use their smartphones from anywhere as an extension to the company’s phone system. This ensures your business continuity as the remote team members are always reachable on a single business number. Learn more about the Mixcall application and how it helps you simplify your business telephony experience.
Another valuable solution for companies with remote workers is the cloud phone app or softphone. It can be used either as a web-based service directly in the web browser with no installations or via an application for a mobile device. With its help, employees can turn their computer or mobile device into a feature-rich telephone. All they need is an Internet connection and they can take office anywhere with them – at home, in the co-working space, or at the airport.
Call conference is another valuable feature for remote teams integrated into the cloud phone systems as well as freely available to anyone. It is a useful solution for productive audio meetings with colleagues from different locations. With the help of conference calls employees can have live discussions even if they are not in the same office. Organizing and conducting an audio conference can be handled quickly and easily. Joining a remote meeting with Mixvoip’s conference solution happens instantly from anywhere and from any device. It does not require an additional subscription and you can use it with no limits, regarding time.
Learn how to conduct effective web conference meetings that will streamline your team’s communication.
Video chat, video conferencing, and video messaging
Video chat is helpful when a supervisor has to discuss something in person and a face-to-face meeting is not an option. Video conferencing is a solution that helps improve the quality of communication and collaboration among remote and in-office workers. It also strengthens relationships, improves the degree of engagement, and promotes deeper empathy and cooperation. With video meetings, all participants embrace the idea of shared purpose easier, even though they do not share the same location. If the manager has a message for the whole team and its content should not be discussed immediately, the video message is the right tool.
Start your productive video meeting now with the free Mixvoip video conferencing tool! No need for an extra subscription and no time limits for the video call.
Project management tools
Centralized project management tools help managers to distribute, organize, and monitor the tasks within a team. Such a solution supports effective communication and collaboration among remote employees. They have quick access to any work-related resources and data. It is a transparent way to assign tasks, outline project development, or add comments. Utilized properly, the project management system can be the information hub for remote employees.
Secure telework via VPN
A major challenge for organizations that support teleworking is security. The company should help remote team members establish a secure online connection to its network from anywhere. This can be achieved with the help of a VPN service. Its main role is to secure communication between the user and the business computer network. Also, VPN allows your remote co-workers to connect to their computers at work. So even if you work out of the office, you can still save your files directly to the company’s network and servers. You can safely access all the business software, hosted in your company’s local network from anywhere. This allows you to proceed with all your work as if you are connecting right from the office.
If your company needs a secured connection with your remote workforce, check out our in-house developed VPN solution – FirstVPN. It is simple, easy to deploy, and secure to use, thanks to the One-Time-Password (OTP) received on the mobile phone via a soft token. Contact our experts to help you find the right solutions to collaborate better when working remotely.
Hire the right people for telecommuting
The recruiting process is an excellent way to find out if the job applicant is a good communicator or not. To find out if the person fits in a virtual team it is advisable to conduct the interviews via different mediums. As remote work requires specific skills in written and phone communication, test the candidates in these two areas. The ideal remote team member will be the one that has convinced the supervisor of both communication and time management skills.
Many employers fear that their team can be less productive (69% according to Owl Labs) if its members are not working in the office. Some remote employees indeed experience difficulties in meeting deadlines when nobody supervises them daily. Others on the other hand are overworking and risk burnout which again makes them unproductive and inefficient. The productivity of your remote team can be a real issue if there is a lack of a well-established structure or poor communication among team members. Other factors that affect employees’ performance can be slow response time or too many distractions during the working process.
1) Build a well-functioning structure
Flexibility is a key benefit of remote working. Yet, the lack of a defined structure within your team with remote workers can decrease its productivity. A manager should review regularly the guidelines and procedures which shape flexible work arrangements. They need to be clear, simple, and efficient. Any changes in the company’s policy and business practices should be communicated on time.
Some advanced collaboration tools have the so-called “presence” feature. It reveals the availability of the team members via their real-time status. That way the in-office employees see the current status of their remote colleagues. So everyone in the team is informed if the person is actually at work and ready to cooperate or not. With this information in mind, remote teams can optimize their call-flaw, communication, and collaboration process. Supervisors should track the collaboration between remote teams and if necessary, make adjustments.
2) Set accountable goals
Setting clear and accountable performance goals is an efficient way to stimulate productivity. A manager should communicate openly what is expected from the team members. Regular meetings can be held online to follow their progress. Usually, not everyone works at the same pace. Yet, a supervisor should know whether the team members manage to complete their tasks on time. It is recommended to set a common deadline for finishing the whole project that applies to everyone involved. At the same time, co-workers should be allowed and even encouraged to arrange the execution of micro-tasks by themselves. This is useful for improving team collaboration and efficiency.
3) Monitor and manage the performance of the team
Tracking employees’ performance shows if they complete their work successfully or not. Set transparent KPIs that will be reviewed for each member of the virtual team. Provide remote employees with an application recording how many hours they spend on a project. There are various tools for monitoring the performance of flexible working teams. Most of them deliver a quantitative way to evaluate the personal contribution of each team member. The managers should analyze the results and review if the remote team is accomplishing the company’s goals.
4) Hold regular meetings
Conducting meetings with remote co-workers is the next step to improving the team’s productivity. Giving feedback based on performance data is valuable for the employees. It engages them and increases their efficiency. It also encourages transparency and creates a feeling of connectivity among team members. Even if colleagues are in different locations, there is always a way to schedule a meeting. The enhanced tools of communication enable conversations between co-workers in a distributed team. Being able to talk to remote employees regularly shows the support of the manager and boosts teams’ efficiency.
Building trustful relations with employees
Trust is essential for any team. While daily personal meetings create easier trustful relations among colleagues, remote working has its limitations for bonding with co-workers. Extra effort should be put into “team-building” activities for flexible working employees. The managers should trust telecommuters to work independently. If they try to manage the working process at every step, the team members might feel frustrated and less motivated. Luckily, there are several possible solutions to this:
1) Determine a shared company’s vision and mission
Define the company’s core values and communicate them among remote employees. Sharing a common vision helps them feel more engaged. It boosts the community spirit and strengthens the relations within the virtual team.
2) Help virtual co-workers feel committed to the team
Supervisors should acknowledge the contribution of the remote teams to achieving the company’s goals. It is important to provide personal feedback not only for work-related issues. Discussing personal challenges that affect co-workers’ relations is as important. Do not miss to inform the remote employees about the company’s daily events and projects. This helps them feel like an inseparable part of the company.
3) Organize team buildings and stimulate effective collaboration
It is recommended for remote colleagues to meet in person. They can have regular face-to-face meetings every couple of months. In case the team is spread across the globe this can happen once or twice per year. Team building activities are usually welcomed by remote employees, who sometimes feel isolated. Personal meetings allow them to know their colleagues outside professional relations. This builds trust within teams and helps coworkers bond better.
4) Provide tools that support collaboration and transparency
A special chat channel for more informal communication can be organized. Colleagues can send birthday greetings, share funny pictures or ask for recommendations. The company shows that way that it cares for a positive work environment. Managers can allow using the company’s tools for personal interactions as well. Video is a great solution for better interpersonal relations between co-workers. Trustful relations rely on the idea that everyone follows the established rules. Supervisors should use transparent time-tracking and task-management tools. It is important that they are accessible to everyone. This reduces the suspicion that some employees work more than others. And everyone benefits from improved collaboration.
Teleworking displays a lot of advantages for business and for people as the modern work environment is becoming more flexible, mobile, and agile. Yet, both sides face also challenges while establishing the new guidelines for successful remote collaboration. Thanks to advanced technologies like cloud telephony employers have the tools to manage distributed teams and employees can work from anywhere. To overcome the challenges that come along, you should consider the specific communication style of your remote team as well as your company’s business needs. Finding the best solutions usually requires a creative problem-solving approach as well as giving the right tools to the right people.
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