For many of us, making the abrupt shift to working from home (WFH) wasn’t easy. What’s more, is that once we finally got used to our new, at-home schedules and procedures, the prospect of returning to an on-site working environment wasn’t too far off.
As more and more people get vaccinated, office reentry is not out of reach, but what exactly will that look like? Do we go back to our face-to-face, pre-pandemic strategies? Or, do we focus on a WFH system? We’ve gone through a lot in 2020 and 2021, and the truth is that returning to normalcy might be a bumpier road than we expected.
Is Remote Working The Future?
It’s safe to say that none of us will miss the pandemic: The fear of getting sick, the stress of adhering to new protocols, the social disengagement. However, stepping out of our safe place and into a new world feels frightening. How do we pick up where we left off? How is it possible that we would even be expected to get back on track?
Even simple things, like working next to each other, shaking hands, and eating out of the same crisp bowl are now anxiety-inducing.
Not to mention, many would prefer to continue working remotely. It isn’t hard to see why. This past year has demonstrated that we can work from home successfully, and we can do so while simultaneously getting things done, like laundry, or walking the dog, or signing for a package.
WFH was on trend to become the new norm pre-pandemic, so it’s not surprising that we quickly adjusted our professional life to revolve completely around technology. For the most part, WFH means working how, when, and where you need—regardless of whether that’s from your bedroom or on a train traveling abroad.
With this type of setup, employees don’t need to invest time, energy, and cash in commuting (good for our wallet and the environment). They can alternatively deal with family duties, childcare, and other responsibilities. Furthermore, when workers have power over their schedule and don’t need to put their personal needs on the back burner, they are fulfilled.
Remote managers also benefit from having the tools and technology to manage their team efficiently from a distance. Without the distractions of the office, team leaders can focus less on the demands of grueling, daily meetings and more on guiding their team members through their daily responsibilities, conveying goals effectively, and reaping the rewards of improved efficiency.
Even the big players, like Twitter, have told their workers that they can continue to WFH indefinitely, while Facebook and Google have broadened their remote working protocols.
WFH isn’t for everyone
One major issue that people ran into was a lack of clarity and disintegrating team communication. WFH was especially difficult for pre-pandemic new hires and first-time remote workers. Individuals that were new to a company before the lockdown may have had trouble with correspondence since they were still finding their place.
What if someone misreads the tone of an email? Could an assignment fall through the cracks due to misinterpretation? If you felt desolate, disengaged, and socially separated in isolation, you weren’t alone.
Fortunately, these feelings are typically just growing pains. Once comfortable, and with the right tools and procedures, team collaboration comes naturally. Plus, these days, there are so many resources available to help individuals learn how to work from home like a pro.
Still, nothing can replace in-person communication. If it isn’t possible to create opportunities for new employees to meet their colleagues face-to-face, it’s helpful to begin some virtual meetings with a relationship building activity instead of diving right into work mode.
And, of course, it’s a learning curve. Establishing and maintaining workplace culture isn’t easy, and it’s even more difficult to do so in a virtual setting. Many of the cues the physical workplace provides, such as the look and feel of the office, or how people talk, interact, and dress, disappear with virtual work. All this is to say, managers need to get creative with how they keep teams engaged. It’s time to think outside of the box.
While quarantine regulations have reduced face-to-face exchanges significantly, human ingenuity has allowed for fun activities online. For example, cloud parties and online streaming of concerts, shows, and events have increased in popularity around the world. Likewise, educational institutions, like museums and art galleries, now offer virtual tours and online gaming has seen a significant spike since the outbreak. Businesses must take the same approach to keep teams connected.
Hybrid Communication Software
As it becomes safe to get back to face-to-face working conditions, we will see more hybrid-type models that suit both those who like the buzz of an office setting and those who favour the independence of working from home.
Rather than yo-yo between on-location and remote working, communication software will work in conjunction with both methods. It will allow team members from various offices to share notes, show what they’re working on, see what others are working on, and make decisions.
The hybrid workplace could mean designating certain days for in-office meetings and remote days for work that requires individual focus. Employees could be physically present for team-building exercises or training sessions, while singular projects are better completed at home.
How Do We Maintain Team Collaboration in the Future?
In face of the pandemic, stilted forms of communication are becoming less and less popular, in favour of team messaging. Email, for example, tends to create silos and is a very formal medium for communication. It is difficult to build real relationships with partners and stakeholders when you’re worried about things like tone and sign-offs.
Plus, less time will be spent sifting through email chains for a piece of information. RingCentral saves everything, so rather than trying to remember, you can easily find what you’re looking for. No wasted time. No second-guessing.
And it’s not just about exchanging information – RingCentral has the components to create a virtual office environment where employees can remain engaged no matter where they are working from. HD video meetings are engineered to feel like everyone is in the same room. Emojis, memes, and gifs do a great job to add levity to any situation, by conveying humour and sentiment. With these options of communication built into the platform, exchanges become more casual, and little is left to interpretation or memory.
Etiquette still counts
Despite the transition to a less formal platform, it is still important to keep exchanges professional. Even if you’re very close with a colleague, avoid general chit-chat, especially if using a company device. Incorrect spelling, grammar, and punctuation looks unprofessional no matter how you slice it.
If you’re working from home, make sure you set up a designated work space. If you don’t have a home office, use a separate room with a closed door. Make sure the room is tidy, with good lighting, and minimal decor. Doing so will help to separate your work life from your home life.
By creating an environment that promotes professionalism, collaboration and innovation, employees are more willing to take risks and share out-of-the box ideas. This translates to increased productivity and a happier workplace. Everyone wins.
Which Communication Platform is Best For Team Collaboration?
It goes without saying that reliable, high-speed internet connection is of utmost importance to the workplace. Network hiccups, like too little bandwidth or network outages, could mean choppy conversations, lagging videos, and dropped calls.
When choosing a cloud collaboration software, pay attention to your network provider and vendor’s combined resilience, availability, and flexibility. You will be hard-pressed to find software that meets everyone’s needs and addresses all issues. So, rather than work with a single software vendor and get a communication programme in the same ecosystem as other programmes you’re already using, choose tools that are best for the task at hand.
Integrations between different software tools can solve collaboration issues and increase productivity. With RingCentral, connecting with tools like Microsoft, Google Workspace, Salesforce, MailChimp, and more. This means your support team will be able to work quickly and efficiently within one platform that they know well instead of having to switch between customer conversations and coworker conversations and back again.
Having this type of all-in-one system allows employees to move from their home office to the corporate office with ease. It also ensures all of the information they need is in one place, so no matter where they are doing their job, they are ready and able to deliver.
You might be tempted to go with the most robust communication system on the market, but that might not be the best choice. It doesn’t make any difference how fancy or technical your communication software is, if your employees find it confusing or irrelevant, they won’t use it, and that’s money down the drain. Your organisation’s software will depend on the number of employees, your functionality requirements, and integration needs. In essence, the software you use should help you:
- Simplify your workflow with file sharing, screen sharing, and task management.
- Ship projects faster by bringing everyone together.
- Follow along with everything related to individual topics, projects, or teams.
- Message internal and external teams in dedicated threads for any project or topic.
- Gain valuable insights with actionable data at a glance.
- Customise everything from call flows, greetings, IVR, and voicemail settings.
- Break down large projects into individual tasks.
Collaboration Software is Here to Stay
This year has been filled with profound atrocities. However, as is typically the case, it has allowed us the opportunity to put things in perspective–to rethink what we need in order to do our jobs best, to reconsider the value of solid and meaningful relationships, to reevaluate our limitations to avoid burnout, and to reexamine what’s possible through technology.
The Covid-19 pandemic has illustrated the significance of digital readiness for businesses to continue operating as usual. Building the necessary infrastructure to support a digitised world and stay current in the latest technology will be indispensable for any business or country to remain competitive in a post-pandemic world, as well as take a human-centred approach to technology.
As Sunny Dhami, Senior Director of Product Marketing, RingCentral put it:
“The world of work we’re returning to isn’t the same one that we left. That needn’t be a frightening prospect—a new landscape means new opportunities, and it’s time for us to make the most of what’s available to us. We have the technology to not only survive, but to thrive—as individuals, as colleagues, and as communities. This is our opportunity: to enable every single one of us to start thriving inside and outside of work; no matter where we are, no matter what we do.”
How might we keep employers, employees, clients, and partners safe, healthy, and connected whether they’re across the room or the world? With the correct strategies and tools, offices can facilitate the change and guarantee that work is both profitable and satisfying anywhere.
As things get back to “normal” and companies begin to consider how a hybrid work model will work for employees, it’s important to remember that a lot more will change than just where and when your employees work.. It will also change the technology they require to be successful. Employers who decide to embrace hybrid models post-pandemic will only succeed if they create a truly virtual workplace that benefits both remote and in-office workers. Now is the time to take a step back and figure out what’s working and what could be optimised. Ask yourself: What technology is needed to completely digitise a hybrid workplace and keep employees happy.
Returning to the workplace will take some figuring out. First, it is vital that we focus on which activities are better performed in person and which activities can be performed at home. In the process, we will likely learn that a hybrid workplace is the most effective method to drive growth.
Originally published May 21, 2021, updated Jan 16, 2023