Contact Us

Facilitating Collaboration and Communication in Remote Work Environments

14 April 2021

The pandemic forced remote work upon almost every business. For some of us, it has been a challenge to adapt. But a year after COVID reached the U.S., we are living in what Stanford calls the “working-from-home economy.” The latest data shows remote work has normalized, with more companies willing to offer at least partial flex days away from the traditional office space. Now that we’ve crossed the threshold into the remote and hybrid workspace, how can organizations improve company-wide collaboration and communication to create a better model of work for their teams?

Give employees the right tools

The Pew Research Center released findings in December 2020 that showed how successful we’ve been in transitioning to remote and hybrid work models. In a nationwide poll, they found that an unprecedented 71% of Americans participating in the research were working from home. Of those, more than half said that, when given a choice, they would like to keep working from home long after the pandemic is over. About three-quarters reported they felt like they had the technology tools they needed to do their job, along with a comfortable space to work.

But what about culture? Did the research find that work collaboration suffered from the move to remote work? Eight in ten of the workers polled said they still had regular interaction with their co-workers; 52% said they had a lot of interaction. Technology played a big role in facilitating this; 81% report video conferencing has played a big role. Most see online tools as a good substitute for in-person contact, suggesting that they feel collaboration and communication haven’t suffered since going remote. But having the right tools is just the first step toward making remote and hybrid work models effective. The data also shows that the lines between home and office blur when work is done primarily at home.

Set perceptions around remote work

The remote work model also has a darker side that negatively affects employee culture and collaboration. The latest data shows that not only are workers more engaged when they are working remotely, but they are also burning out faster. The problem is that the lines have blurred between work and home. It’s harder to get away from work when work is in your kitchen. It’s not just employers that are pushing these boundaries, either; employees themselves aren’t great at turning off work at the end of the day. The Harvard Business Review says, “Our research has shown that workers often unintentionally make it hard for their supervisors, colleagues, and employees to maintain boundaries.” At the same time, about 33% of managers say they distrust the remote worker and their ability to get the job done.

What’s the answer? Employees who feel compelled to be “on” all the time are subject to burnout. Remote employees may have a problem in an unstructured environment when there is the expectation from employers that they must respond quickly, even to a non-urgent problem. The alternative assumption may be that the employer or manager feels like the worker is slacking off.

The most recent data shows that remote employees work nights and weekends and well over the allotted 40 hours they’re being paid for. While employees must clearly establish times when they are not working, employers can set boundaries and expectations so their employees aren’t working nights and weekends. Employers can communicate positive mental health messages to their employees while encouraging them to take breaks and shut down for a while. Managers should watch employee work time and help prioritize workloads so these valuable employees do not burn out.

Develop and implement workflows for the remote environment

Facilitating collaboration in a remote or hybrid work environment requires new workflows designed for this new type of environment. These aren’t just employee productivity workflows but also for HR — how can HR keep its finger on the employee pulse when they can’t reach the employee?

Deloitte suggests that the top ways to make remote work models sustainable are to create a more humane work design by:

To this we would add using behavioral profiles to provide everyone with objective insights into how to best work together and designing workflows that achieve the best balance of synchronous and asynchronous work — individually and collectively.

Fitch Consulting works with organizations to help them embrace these new types of work models. We specialize in helping companies adjust their thinking and processes to make them more productive — and more humane. Call on us.
Subscribe to the Fitch Consulting Insights Newsletter