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Almost an entire year since the pandemic flipped the way we work on its head, many businesses in 2021 are faced with a ‘hybrid’ half-in, half-out working environment. Some businesses are back in offices more or less full time, some have signalled a long-term intent to remain permanently remote, while about half of all office workers are choosing to divide their time between their office and home this year.
While Australia is out of nominal recession and implementing its long-term recovery plans, recent lockdowns in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia have sent many businesses a stark reminder that forced remote work is never out of the question. To some extent, the pandemic only accelerated an existing, but gradual trend, but in doing so, it created new and immediate considerations and challenges that must be addressed. Success, both today and long-term, is predicated on a commitment to two easily ignored processes: communication and collaboration.
A communicative and collaborative approach to remote work
While the shift to remote work in 2020 was born out of necessity, many businesses are devising permanent or semi-remote policies in 2021 out of choice. To master the long-term transition, the importance of communication is unequivocal. Research from MIT found that communication was the single most important ingredient to successfully manage a transition to remote work. Meanwhile, the annual cost of poor communication for small businesses with 100 employees or fewer was over half a million dollars (AUD). While there is greater business certainty and continuity today than for much of 2021, every customer, sale and invoice still matter. Therefore, the ripple effect from savvy or sub-par communication and collaboration could be the difference between sink and swim.
Whatever industry a business operates within, with remote work, employees may find it difficult to interact and communicate with their colleagues. Good communication leads to not only improved productivity, but helps boost employee morale and motivation. The byproducts of productive and motivated employees permeate throughout a business and can improve the quality of a business’ products, services and customer experience.
It’s imperative, therefore, to create a working environment in which employees feel part of an inclusive and supportive team, wherever they are, and have channels for open, honest communication with peers and managers. We’re in entirely uncharted territory, though, with no definitive playbook. So, because communication and collaboration aren’t a ‘set and forget’, don’t be afraid to seek regular feedback from employees to find out what is and isn’t working and use that to refine your approach.
Embracing technology to navigate the new normal
When working remotely, managing people, resources and workflows can be a complicated task. However, experience and the right technology can ease the transition and help businesses create policies and practices that are productive and fulfilling for employees and employers.
For example, effective communication and collaboration is more than just hosting virtual meetings, but ensuring it’s strategic, there’s a structured agenda, only the required team members attend, and follow-up actions are clearly defined. Choose the right meeting software, too, and allot time for informal conversation to begin – replacing the traditional water cooler office chats is crucial for morale and continuity.
When it comes to technology designed to boost communication and collaboration, integration rather than siloed is essential. If a company is relying on too many individual, siloed tools, there’s not only more for employees to master, but it can restrict the flow of crucial information across a business. Instead, through integrated tools like, for example, Zoho Projects, businesses can access a comprehensive suite of solutions including instant messaging, virtual meetings, collaborative documents, shared dashboards, staff and resources management and progress tracking.
It’s easy to forget that communication and collaboration are skills that, when honed, can vastly benefit a business. Communication ensures employees feel valued and nothing falls through the cracks, and collaboration ensures that a business is working together as a team, pooling its collective expertise to complete tasks faster and to a higher standard. It may sound simple, but in extraordinary times doing the basics well can be one of the greatest competitive advantages businesses can wield, long-term, in new hybrid workplaces.