Is remote work getting easier because we have collaboration tools?

Just like that.

The world as we knew it changed almost overnight with pretty much every facet of life impacted by policy changes and closures due to COVID-19.  Businesses are scrambling to make sure employees are enabled to work remotely. Schools are enacting plans to educate students through video and electronic-based assignments. This is all for those fortunate enough to have a job where remote work is viable. Are we ready?

I’ve worked remotely from an office throughout my career with different frequencies from once a week to several times a week. During this time technology has advanced tremendously creating many more possibilities for collaborative workflow. Video and audio connections from a computer are mainstream. Sharing and editing files within a team is possible with simultaneous viewing and editing.  Group calendars are visible to quickly arrange for meetings. Electronic chat sessions are persistent, continuous, and searchable for quickly finding information. As a result, working remotely has become much easier over the years. But there is much more to working from home than technology. 

This is more than a technology enablement exercise. 

There is a large body of work to equip employees and students to work and learn remotely. The good news is we have the tools to do it. But there are behavioral changes needed to succeed with remote work many are not considering. I’ve learned about distance working over the years and created a list of actionable items for maximizing productivity and collaboration. These same actions would work just as well in an academic setting as a business.

Make it work-life not home-life – Get up, get dressed, and go to a designated space for work. You will accomplish more and with better quality if you work as if you were in an office. This is both for own focus and so others can see you working and not lounging around the house. Look professional and act professionally. 

Use a camera – Make working from a home office feel like you are in a business office by turning on your video camera. My current workgroup has colleagues spread across the US and a couple of other countries. It’s important to me they see my facial expressions, my attitude, and my interest in the workflow of our team. When my colleagues also use their camera, it makes our relationship feel much closer because I can see the same level of engagement from them. Video cameras make distant colleagues feel local.  

Share files don’t pass files- Passing around printed paper is obviously not an option with remote workers. But we also need to get away from the habit of emailing attachments for working collaboration.  Versioning documents, consolidating changes from multiple teammates, and keeping discussion to the latest version is difficult when sending files as attachments. A better approach is to place files in a commonly accessible area and share a link. Work on the file together and screen share. Have everyone accessing the latest file to keep the conversation aligned. Google Docs and Microsoft One Drive are two common examples of this type of collaboration which increases the efficiency of workflow within remote teams.

Chat/Email/Call/Meeting –Chat when you need an immediate response.Email when a response is not urgent. Call when your message is too much to type or when written communication is easily misunderstood. Meet for conversations and group consensus.

Collaboration tools are making remote work more accessible. But distance working is easier when our actions remove distance by treating work as something local. 

Onward and upward!