Home Office and Remote Work: How to Improve Team Collaboration
How digital collaboration tools enhance team productivity and support new work models
For decades, remote work has been a concept reserved for freelancers, creatives, and tech professionals. Although companies allowing home offices for their employees was not a novel phenomenon, it wasn’t mainstream. A paradigm shift came with the pandemic, making working from home a necessity rather than just a benefit of the workplace.
This rapid shift showed the benefits and challenges of remote working, affecting team communication and project collaboration. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that the home office is here to stay and many companies are adopting hybrid models. Upwork predicts that 73% of teams will have remote workers by 2028.
Digital collaboration tools (like the Zenkit Suite!) that promise better teamwork despite the distance compete for the limelight. With much software to choose from, it’s important for teams and companies to adopt tools that will complement team productivity, supporting their workflow within these new standard work models.
What’s the deal with New Work & Industry 4.0?
We live in the age of New Work and Industry 4.0. New Work defines today’s working society in the global and digital age. The integration of intelligent technologies under the term Industry 4.0 promotes a whole new concept of productivity and efficient systems. But what does all this have to do with remote work?
Well, depending on how you look at it, a little or a lot. The publication of the New York Times bestseller “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss is a good place to start making the connection. By demonstrating in his book how individuals can be just as productive in less time through process optimization, a stark contrast was created to the entrenched norm of the 40-hour workweek, initially created for production lines.
The appeal of flexible work hours and the nomadic freedom to prioritize work-life balance has only grown. Remote work and home office are the results of technological development enabling and demonstrating that work can be executed successfully without co-location. Flexjobs estimates that 4.7 million people were already working remotely before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Collaboration tools support this type of lifestyle, where professionals work outside of a traditional office environment, yet going fully digital isn’t as simple as it seems. Besides the fact that having a stable internet connection is an imperative requirement, remote work complicates the integration of corporate culture, as well as team communication, and engagement within tasks and projects.
Whether working in an office or remotely, the art of effective team management and the importance of good workplace communication are key elements and indicators for successful team collaboration.
Types of work models
With an increasing number of modern variations of working models, we’ve described a few of the most common types:
1. 40-Hour-Workweek, or, the classic 9-to-5
Initially instigated in the 19th century, from workers protesting against gruelling long hours and requesting a reduction, the 40-hour-workweek was created to regulate the working hours of the working class. Ford Motor Company advanced the idea in 1914, which led to increased productivity in the production line. Many companies soon followed suit and the popularized phrase of “8 hours for work, 8 hours for rest, and 8 hours for what we will” was born.
Today, most companies and organizations run on the 40-hour-workweek. Albeit, more out of tradition and habit rather than a deliberate decision based on employee productivity. With this knowledge and recent technological developments, individuals and organizations are reexamining the classic 9-to-5 working model.
2. Hybrid Model, where Home Office is part of the deal
Hybrid models are usually known to be the best of both worlds. Organizations that have adopted hybrid working models allow employees the freedom to work remote or from home, and at times even to manage flexible working hours. This working model has become more popular in recent years as company infrastructure has developed. Owl Labs estimate that 52% of global employees work remotely once a week, and 68% do so at least once per month. Though hybrid models seem to be the answer for the future of work, only a selected range of job sectors can take advantage of these benefits, particularly due to job requirements and tasks.
3. Remote Work, work without co-location
Working with a view of the Swiss Alps in February, at a seaside hotel in Los Angeles in July, and from a coffee shop in downtown Sydney in October, is a dream come true for some. As much as this idealized version of remote work appeals to many, this type of work model is not exempt from challenges, particularly for the self-employed.
Working remotely gives employees the freedom to answer emails and write up project proposals from any given location, yet being able to support this lifestyle can often be quite challenging when working as a freelancer rather than being directly employed by a private company. Creative freelancers often work on a project-basis, which means that their professional and financial security is deadline-reliant.
Employees working for fully-remote companies like Zapier and Buffer however, receive the benefits of working remotely while being fully integrated in a company. Although working with peace of mind of receiving monthly paychecks, working for fully-remote companies include challenges too.
That being said, there’s always a list of advantages and disadvantages. What’s important is finding a style and process that fits and suits your needs best.
4. 4-Day-Workweek, popular work-life-balance model
In short, the 4-day-workweek model is about reducing working hours from a standard 40 hours to just 32 hours for the same pay and benefits. This work model, adopted by various companies worldwide, focuses on achieving the same output as a 40h week, but in a shorter amount of time. Proven by employees and employers to be successful in optimizing use of time in correlation to productivity, the 4-day-workweek offers flexibility and enables individuals to concentrate on what’s important in their lives.
5. Coworking Spaces, the office alternative for professionals
Considering the progression of work models, there’s a good chance that there’s at least one coworking space in every major city. As hubs of productivity, community, and technology, coworking spaces offer an out-of-home office atmosphere and networking opportunities with others who work in a multitude of industries.
Fun fact: The first official coworking space appeared in 2005 in San Francisco, USA.
6. Work & Travel, the best of both worlds
Desk jobs aren’t your thing and travelling the world has always been but a mere daydream for you? The work and travel model operates on short-term contract work often based on seasonal work such as during harvest time. Adventurers who enjoy taking each day at a time move location to where the work is. In this case, location is the objective and the type of work is the dynamic subjective.
7. Workation, let’s combine work and leisure
The terms ‘workation’ and ‘bleisure’ gained significant traction as a new market trend in light of the pandemic. A concept for travelling workers or working travellers, where work and vacation were combined in a single location. According to Dr Hayley Stainton, “A workation can be defined as a holiday, during which a substantial amount of time is dedicated to work.”
In Japan, the model was originally a way to realize a variety of work styles and promote creativity and networking opportunities in locations outside of the home and office. Today, various travel and tourism organizations offer workation packages for individuals as well as families.
Currently, travel restrictions and guidelines are subject to constant change. This in-depth guide on how to practice responsible tourism during COVID-19, prepares any traveller for the journey, whether for travelling to holiday destinations or for business trips.
How have things changed?
Before the pandemic, the office was where millions of us spent about a third of our time. With the range of working models already being implemented by organizations worldwide, why would the pandemic be considered a compelling driver to advance the standardization of home office or remote work?
Simply put, the conditions of Covid-19 affirmed the urgency of digital transformation in business, and brought an unprecedented shift, designating hybrid working conditions a necessity rather than a benefit.
The mentality of remote working previously highlighted the benefits for individual employees. Today, home office and remote work is considered an asset for individuals as well as an advantage for company productivity and collaboration.
From one day to the next, the world was required to adjust. Arguably, the potential of remote work has been realized. At the same time, the challenges and conditions in terms of the privilege interlaced with the arrangement were revealed.
Benefits and challenges at a glance
+ Remote work is reshaping a future new world of work, popularizing modern working habits while disproving old ideas that working from home leads to low productivity with limited opportunity for collaboration.
+ The office-to-home transition caused a breakdown of emotional and professional barriers, allowing colleagues and clients a more intimate view into each others’ personal lives.
+ Importance of soft skills have increased as working remotely solicits more intentional interpersonal interactions.
– The potential for remote work is determined by tasks and activities, not occupations.
– Working from home draws a fine line in an individual’s work-life balance. A heightened level of responsibility and trust is required from managers and employees.
– Affecting more than just personal factors, remote work affects engagement, performance management, means less office space, and more.
Benefits of remote working
Workplace values have been redefined: the future of work is remote. Instead of planning activities in life around working hours, remote working enables individuals to incorporate the necessities of their life and work.
The popular concept of leading a work-life balance lifestyle advocates for similar objectives, but with different intentions. Work-life balance is a concept referring to the level of prioritization between personal and professional activities in an individual’s life. What many early adopters have come to realize is that the work-life balance lifestyle is a cycle rather than a destination or an achievement.
1. Flexibility: Remote work grants individuals the opportunity to develop a work-life balance due to the flexibility offered through the working model.
Remote working or working from home grants employees flexibility where it matters, whether that is picking up the children from school on time or allowing the laundry to dry in the sunlight rather than using the dryer. At best, working from home should reinforce an individual’s work-life balance.
2. A Healthy Balance: Employees are able to manage their health, tasks, and responsibilities better. Eliminating the commute and rigid routines can alleviate stress to allow individuals to do deep work and grow their creativity.
The flexible lifestyle isn’t the only thing proving beneficial to remote workers’ mental health and likelihood of company loyalty. Working from home simultaneously requires and fosters individual time and task management, and responsibility.
Cutting travel time and other forms of mundanity from life, employees are able to focus on work. With less time spent commuting for example, employees are able to manage their health, tasks, and responsibilities better. As a result, a silent expectation for employees to rise to the occasion by living up to their potential is present.
Despite the expectation, swapping out the busyness of crowded train stations for a 30-minute walk in the neighbourhood park with the dog can cause significant changes to an individual’s health. Now, instead of attending company-run in-person team-building activities, some companies set aside time in the week to encourage employees to engage in activities that inspire and empower them for work and life.
3. Time Management: Remote work possibly requires more management, however simultaneously allows an increase in creative flow and productive output.
What remote work advocates promote, such as Laurel Farrer in her working remote article, is that “work is something you do, not somewhere you go… For knowledge workers whose roles rely on mobile tools, location should be a daily choice, not a lifestyle commitment.” With the right tools and circumstances, work doesn’t need to be chained to an office desk.
Granted, working remotely makes employee and task supervision more complex. But with less time lost moving from one office room to another for meetings, and no more lines for afternoon coffee, more time can be invested in getting work done.
4. Cost-saving (for businesses): Reducing the need for office space enables companies to invest in other things, preferably to the benefit of employees.
With fewer employees in the office, businesses need less office space, decreasing rent cost exponentially. Instead, companies can opt to invest in supplying employees with the necessary work equipment or offering other benefits as an alternative to the cost of the canteen upkeep.
Challenges of remote working
While eliminating location from the equation brings flexibility, certain concerns are also key variables when considering if and how to implement remote work at a company. Working remotely requires high self-management, time management, and team management.
Engagement is usually what suffers first due to the distance. Managers and colleagues working from home can’t simply walk over to ask a question about the financial proposal or spend time catching up with their morning brew in the office kitchen on Mondays. Instead, an increase of chat notifications, forwarded emails and dedicated meetings to discuss workflow best describe the workday.
1. Team Culture: The objective to encourage teamwork and cultivate a team and company spirit remains, although the method to achieve this may have changed.
Team meetings over Zoom or Skype are certainly different from those held in the office meeting room. When working with distributed teams, distance should merely be considered a factor rather than an obstacle for team integration.
The method for scheduling and conducting meetings may have changed, but the objective to encourage teamwork and team spirit remains. Managers as well as coworkers require and should actively seek interpersonal relationships within the workplace. Just like work isn’t tied to a location, company culture isn’t contained in a building. Rather, corporate culture is cultivated by the individuals that make up the company.
The responsibility and journey for cultivating a strong and effective team and company culture is an individual process. That being said, there are ways and certain remote team management mistakes to avoid to make the process easier.
2. Management: Using productivity tools to manage and regulate team, task, and time management is the answer.
Every company uses software for everyday business operations. With oodles to choose from, it’s the team and company’s responsibility to evaluate which tools best support both internal and external business operations. Some companies use Suites, while others mix & match; some even create their own apps for internal processes.
Either way, when it comes down to the wire, productivity tools and team management software is a growing billion dollar business with a mixture of advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, team management software can build stronger teams. At the same time, it’s vital to analyze whether a productivity tool is actually enabling team productivity or not at all.
3. Party for the privileged? Remote work is only available for those working in sectors or jobs that are primarily made up of online tasks and activities.
Praised for all of the benefits, working remotely isn’t available as a viable option for everyone. Hospitals, supermarkets, hairdressers, and other services will necessarily continue to be in-person. Although technology has certainly enabled medical consultations and other services to be handled online, not everything can be solved digitally. Even with advancements in machine learning and robotics, it’s hard to envision massage parlours or operating rooms to switch to robot-only employees.
Research into the future of remote work from McKinsey Global Institute indicates that the potential for work is determined by tasks and activities, not occupations. Professionals able to avail of remote work fall into categories of highly skilled, highly educated workers in various industries, occupations, and geographies. For those already working with digital and mobile tools, like those working in the IT, communications, and marketing sector, the option of home office is often already included in the contract.
Collaboration tools for the workplace: the tools that keep employees productive despite distance
One of the most impactful changes the pandemic brought was to the way humans work. Businesses switched to digital collaboration tools for team communication, project management, and more. The best collaboration tools facilitate effective teamwork for tasks and projects, primarily in a streamlined manner.
In this case, there is no ‘one software fits all’, since the tools companies require should strengthen and support individual business operations and the organizational structures. A countless list of applications and their alternatives are available for any type of work and team size. We’ve listed a few categories essential for remote teams:
The most widely used mobile apps are chat apps, because communication is necessary to get any work done. Originally created to replace email conversations, enterprise chat apps are essential internal communication platforms for teams today. Every company uses enterprise messaging applications to facilitate and boost teamwork, communication, and collaboration.
The most popular enterprise chat apps allow teams to not only communicate with one another but also on specific topics, projects, and tasks. Depending on the interface, chat apps for business include features allowing teams to create channels, categorize topics, use quick edits, manage tasks, share files, conduct export functions, and more.
Top 4 Chat Apps for Business:
Video Conferencing Tools
Remote teams don’t have the option of organizing a team meeting in the boardroom on a Wednesday morning. Instead, video conferencing tools are used for coaching sessions, the quarterly report, team-building activities like Friday mocktail hour, and the company Christmas party.
The pandemic certainly accelerated the future of video communication. Microsoft Teams received an increase of 55 million users within a 5-month period and the latest report of the conference call company, Zoom, shows an 88% year-over-year jump in revenue.
But it’s not just the conferencing tool companies who have realized the advantages and profits video communication brings to teams. Switching to video conferencing tools allows individuals to participate in meetings from the convenience of their own home, supports the flexible schedules of working parents and ultimately influences company culture. Significant features of such tools include screen sharing, presentation mode, meeting annotation, and creating subgroups within a meeting.
Top 4 Video Conferencing Tools for Business:
- Microsoft Teams
- GoTo Meeting
Project Management Software
Managing projects is no simple job. Tracking deadlines, updating task iterations, and communicating the project status to stakeholders are tasks project managers need to handle on a daily basis.
Project management software enables teams to manage individual tasks and resources within projects. Built for agile teams, project management tools include features such as tracking project progress, task management, project view switching, and plenty of other collaboration features.
Top 5 Project Management Tools for Business:
- Zoho Projects
Knowledge Management Software
Knowledge management software are excellent tools for teams to manage everything from internal company processes such as onboarding information to managing a customer database. Primarily focused on the collection, storage, and organization of data and information, these tools help teams with all sorts of administrative tasks.
Top 4 Knowledge Management Tools for Business:
Learn about the different types of knowledge management processes and find more alternatives in Knowledge Management Tools 2021.
Tools for Centralized Storage
Shoot for the stars, but keep your files secure in the Cloud. Cloud file storage is a necessity for remote teams, permitting file access to team members, whether they live a 30-minute drive from the office or working remotely in another country. The best tools for centralized storage support all file types, sync across multiple devices, track document changes, and integrate well with other applications.
Top 4 Business Tools for Centralized Storage:
- Microsoft Sharepoint
- Google Drive
We’ve only listed a few tools useful for teams working remotely. Find more alternatives in 50 Must-Have Remote Working Tools And Apps.
Practical tips for a balanced home office routine
The right tools certainly help get the job done, but even with advanced tech running on artificial intelligence, humans still have to put in the work. These are our tips for a balanced home office routine:
Overcoming the notion to stay in your pajamas all day is a good tangible step that helps you mentally prepare for the workday. Select a few outfits that are both presentable and comfortable, so you are prepared for the odd-chance when your boss unexpectedly calls for a meeting.
Distractions are bound to happen. To best navigate such situations, establish boundaries, whether that may be to set specific times to go on breaks, schedule packages to arrive only at certain times, or communicate your availability to your children and spouse.
Tip: Turn off desktop notifications when doing deep work and set all applications settings on silent, especially when in meetings.
Stick to routines
The urgency of staying online and always being available increases when working from home. Just do as you would in the office: take time to get your coffee, spend a few minutes catching up with a colleague via chat, and respond to emails when you normally do.
Home office allows more flexibility, however routines help in more than just sticking to a daily schedule. Some things to remember: Make sure to stick to your standard work hours, don’t skip the lunch break, and try not to work overtime.
Tip: Even with boundaries and routines, remember to stay flexible when things don’t go as planned. Humans aren’t robots and that’s a good thing.
Get out and about (unless self-isolating)
Without the commute, we might spend most of our days enclosed in our houses. Make time for walks around the block, trips to nature parks, or even a quick drive to a local bakery for the morning coffee and breakfast fix.
Additionally, fresh air and sunshine are great for both the mind and soul. Taking care of one’s health with enough physical activity and time for relaxation is perhaps even more necessary now when most of our daily interactions happen online.
Take regular breaks
Downtime is necessary for technology devices; the same goes for humans. Research states that brief diversions from a task can improve an individual’s ability to focus. When we take a short break from hours of deep work, we essentially reward our brain with a downtime.
There are various techniques and systems on how to train yourself to focus. And though daily to-do lists are great, the essence of time blocking is to produce high-quality output within a specific amount of time.
Check in with colleagues regularly
Because it’s not just always about work. Cultivating relationships help any employee to feel at ease and accepted within a company. Most of the time, we may not know what challenges our neighbor may be going through, even more so when we don’t work in back-to-back cubicles or a shared office space.
Even more reason to make it a habit to type your colleagues some greetings every now and then, or send them encouraging messages to make their day. That said, I hope you have a great day!
All remote work statistics are sourced from Review24’s Remote Work Statistics for 2021.
Image credits from Andrew Neel, Daria Shevtsova, Sarah Chai from Pexels; AltumCode, Sigmund, and ThisisEngineering RAEng from Unsplash; and Giphy.
That’s a wrap! It’s exciting to see how much has changed in a short amount of time. What are your thoughts on the variety of modern working models? Our team has run on a hybrid model within the last year and have experienced the impact that digital collaboration tools have on team productivity and collaboration. We hope, as probably most other companies do too, to navigate back to more in-person meetings and workshops soon. How has your team navigated teamwork this past year?
Jessica and the Zenkit Team