Digital Workspace
June 2, 2020

Key Tools to Make Remote Work ― Work

Remote work today

The COVID-19 pandemic has propelled many organizations into the world of full remote work. For some, with established remote work practices and policies, it has been about expanding those policies to new parts of the workforce. Others are discovering for the first time what it means to support their remote employees in the best way possible.

One of the keys to success is ensuring that team members are equipped with the right tools to be as productive as they would have been in the office (and in some cases, more!). Remote work is different, and while everyone will still be using the tried and tested digital productivity tools (albeit in a new setting), remote work presents novel challenges that can require new tooling to address.

After nearly two months of remote work, organizations have the basic tools under their belts. But as the return to work for many organizations is still being organized, and the possibility of additional lockdowns looms in the future, it’s a good time to be thinking about the types of tools that can help boost the productivity and improve the experience of remote workers.

First, master the basics

You must crawl before you run. As it is with remote work. While we are entering into month 3 of distributed work, it’s important to evaluate your organization to see if you have a strong foundation for collaboration in place: is everyone on the same instant message platform? (and are they all actually using it?). Is the video conferencing solution working, or are people throwing their laptops across the room in frustration trying to get voice to work? Can your team members access their voicemails remotely? Ensuring core infrastructure is in place may be table stakes, but it still takes a non-trivial amount of effort to setup and maintain the right infrastructure to keep working moving. We’ve written about what we see as the “core” of digital collaboration before, do a self diagnostic before trying to spread your resources too thin!

Remote access support for IT

When all team member devices are on-site and regularly connected to a common network, allowing IT teams remote access to specific devices can be simple. But with remote access and individual, private wireless networks, the simple act of troubleshooting email issues can be a challenge for IT professionals and employees. Luckily, there are a number of new platforms that allow your IT teams to view and control team member computers remotely, allowing support teams to virtually look over the shoulder of users and walk them through technical challenges faster.

Vendors to consider:

Keeping a virtual pulse

Experienced leaders have a sixth sense for when something is off with the team. It could be the tenor of office chatter, more aggressive typing on keyboards or a few off-handed comments heard in the hallways. There are dozens of tiny signals that managers pick up on (consciously or otherwise) that can help them identify and address issues before they turn into big problems.

With remote work, most of those signals no longer exist, and while the virtual one on ones and conference calls can help, leaders need a way of knowing how their teams are feeling so they can keep everything on track. Luckily there are a host of tools that can help keep your leaders in the loop on what is going on with their teams. Virtual employee engagement survey platforms like Tiny Pulse can provide both team and organizational level details.

15Five provides a framework and platform to ensure leaders and team members are on the same page with weekly tasks and allows leaders to ask questions to get a feel for how their team is feeling.

Forging connections

A typical day in the office setting created the opportunity for countless meaningful connections: meeting a new colleague at the coffee machine, bumping into someone in the hallway, meeting up for lunch on the patio. These countless interactions, small and large, are what create the professional network of team members inside an organization. It is this professional network that team members rely on to solve critical problems when they arise.

The nature of remote work vastly limits the opportunities for these unexpected collisions that form the basis of our organizational understanding. Luckily, there are a number of tools that can help team members get to know each other while apart.

Jam and Donut are innovative platforms that recommend and schedule video conversations or chat sessions between colleagues in an organization. The professional equivalent of a blind(ish) date, these tools work to spark creative collisions and ensure that people can meet their peers and build a network in an organization that expands beyond the seven people they work with on a daily basis.

Of course, you can only forge connections with people you can get to know. Even in the pre-lockdown world, getting your coworkers as people was challenging, especially for those you didn’t work directly with day-to-day. Often, it took years of cross-functional projects for an individual to build up a strong personal Rolodex of who was who in the ever-changing zoo of their organization.

Now that already gradual process has been slowed to a virtual halt as we volley emails and instant messages back and forth from our home offices, never getting to know the person we are virtually working with beyond the tactical details of our day today.

Even more challenging is when we need help with something and we don’t know who to go to directly. Ten weeks ago in our open office world, we could swivel our chair and ask the colleague closest to us, and if they didn’t know there were dozens of other victims collaborators we could ask for help. In our home offices, we are stuck asking a question in one of our instant message channels hoping that someone will get back to us.

We built Sift, a modern people directory, to help with these and countless other situations where you just need an easy way to find the right person in your organization. Sift automatically pulls data from the existing systems your company uses while allowing everyone to curate their own personal profile so they can share their cell number, what projects they are working on, and a bit about what makes them unique. Profile details are wrapped in a hyper-simple to use search that surfaces all information in a single search box: it’s like if Google and LinkedIn teamed up to build an employee directory, and in a world where we may not see our colleagues for months at a time it's a critical tool to keeping people connected and work flowing.

Remote work tomorrow ― brave new (virtual) worlds

By now we’ve all become intimately familiar with the pros and cons of video conference calls. While these calls can help with the feeling of working with someone, they don’t help you share the feeling of being together. In fact, while you are staring at the fuzzy image of your colleague during a moment of video lag you may be reminded just how not together you are.

Some organizations are taking their meetings into wild new directions. Matchbox.VC, has been matching startup founders with venture capitalists so they can all enjoy a game of Fortnite together. AltspaceV, a firm with backing from Microsoft, has created a platform for virtual reality events and meetings. While it may sound a bit far fetched, Facebook's head of AR and VR recently tweeted a short video of early-stage prototype AR glasses that create a virtual office for you at your own desk.

If all that sounds crazy, just remember that iPad didn’t exist until 8 years ago. We live in an era of unprecedented and rapid change, so work to ensure your organization is on the front end or you're at risk of being rapidly left behind.