5 Best Practices for Optimizing the Virtual Workplace
Updated: Jan 27, 2021
The word “virtual” has taken on a whole new meaning since March 2020, giving rise to a variety of new experiences for many of us, both in the workplace and in our personal lives. As a result of the pandemic, worldwide made it mandatory or encouraged employees to work from home — and that may not change any time soon for a few good reasons:
Remote workers are more productive: According to Boston Consulting Group, 75% of employees working remotely say they can maintain or improve productivity on individual tasks, while 51% mention they have improved productivity on collaborative tasks. Even working parents report increased productivity.
Remote workers are happier: On the Workforce Happiness Index, remote workers score 75 out of 100, compared to 71 for in-office employees.
Organizations save money: With employees working remotely, organizations can save on office space and operational overhead. Global Workplace Analytics reports that U.S. employers stand to save over $500 billion a year by adopting hybrid in-office and remote work strategies. That’s about $11,000 per employee who works from home just half of the time, per year.
These benefits have not gone unnoticed — Mercer surveyed 800 employers and found that 73% said they expect a quarter or more of their workforce to continue working remotely post-pandemic.
The rise of the virtual workplace
A “virtual workplace” is a workplace that doesn’t occupy physical space and isn’t tied to geography. Key among the tools empowering the remote working trend is Zoom, along with more established video conferencing apps like WebEx, GoToMeeting, Skype, FaceTime and others that allow people to connect face-to-face, remotely. Zoom has been the primary conduit for business continuity during the pandemic and the cornerstone of the virtual workplace to which we’ve become accustomed.
But creating a successful virtual workplace isn’t just about virtual meetings via conferencing apps — it’s about providing collaboration, messaging, project management and other tools and applications that keep members of a team connected and productive, despite being physically remote and geographically dispersed. It’s also about overcoming some significant challenges, including time zone differences, relationship building and conflict resolution remotely, ensuring engagement, responsiveness, and more.
Here’s What We’ve Learned
To Waters Agency, the virtual workplace wasn’t new — in fact, we’re virtual-by-design and have operated as such since inception. So, we’re confident that we know what we’re doing — and we’d like to share our secrets. Here are five best practices for creating a virtual workplace that works:
1) Make sure you have the right tools in place.
Without the right tools and technologies, staying connected and productive is impossible. According to the World Economic Forum, 44% of HR decision makers say new technology is a key driver for enabling remote working. But in their rush to accommodate widespread shelter-in-place orders, many organizations didn't have time to think through which technologies would be optimal for their employees.
For example, perhaps Zoom seemed like the only option for running your internal events, since you were already using it for meetings. Over the past year, however, a number of new solutions have become available, and many offer better collaboration features. Perhaps your messaging app — Slack or Teams — morphed into a makeshift project management platform, but you now realize you need a more robust solution such as Asana or Trello. Now that the mad scramble is over, take some time to revisit your choices and research which tools and technologies best fit your business and can grow with you as your company expands.
2) Maximize the effectiveness of your virtual meetings.
If you’re not already, treat virtual meetings as you would in-person meetings — come with an agenda, start and end on time, and take notes. Apps such as Otter.ai enable very rapid, AI-driven transcription of audio and video files from meetings, and that’s a big time-saver. Give attendees a few minutes to check in and make small talk. This is especially important in virtual workplaces where people run the risk of feeling disconnected or isolated, and many crave social interaction. To boost collaboration, make some meetings working meetings by allowing people to share and edit documents in real time. This will help strengthen bonds through teamwork.
3) Create collaboration spaces.
In the virtual workplace, you can’t pop your head into someone’s office or shout across the bull pen, but sending emails back and forth creates a lot of busy work and bulk — and frankly gets confusing. Create channels in your Teams, Slack, Skype or other messaging app and encourage team members to collaborate there. Instead of relying on email, use apps like SharePoint, Google Drive, Dropbox or Asana for storing and sharing documents. This will eliminate inbox clutter and confusion, and enable you to centralize all discussion, tasks and documents related to a project in one place.
4) Check in regularly, and give kudos where kudos are due.
When your team is completely virtual, it can be easy to forget about them. Managers and executives must make an effort to engage team members on a regular basis. At Waters, we do this in Teams. We use a general channel to start conversation topics, ask for input or referrals, and keep a pulse on the wellbeing of our employees as a whole. The channel is used to make announcements, pat each other on the back, give a shout-out for a job well done, or commiserate when we’re tackling a particularly big challenge. The friendly banter that naturally occurs helps to build community and the sense that we’re “all in this together.”
Be sure to recognize accomplishments (publicly) and provide targeted feedback (privately). Schedule regular check-ins and 1:1s with your reports, to make sure they feel empowered to raise issues or ask questions. As the virtual environment often limits the ability to read facial expressions and body language, be very specific with your words, especially when providing constructive criticism or feedback. Take time to make sure your teammates understand your meaning and feel comfortable expressing themselves, as well.
5) Make team bonding standard procedure.
Not all meetings have to be serious — and, today, team bonding is more important than ever. While it used to be easy to head to the local bar with your team after work on Fridays, spontaneous outings are impossible now. Schedule team-bonding time, such as Friday virtual happy hours on Zoom or online group classes, to keep teammates connected, or plan a special event. For example, you can send art supplies to employees’ homes ahead of time and host an online paint night. Bonding outside of work-related meetings will strengthen your team and create the kind of camaraderie that boosts job satisfaction.
In the Virtual Workplace, the Best Talent is Within Reach
Adopting an all-virtual model from the get-go has enabled Waters Agency to curate top talent — PR, AR and social media experts, writers, designers, strategists and leaders — regardless of where they reside. Our team is truly global and always has been — and we’ve become experts at thriving in the virtual workplace. And there are so many benefits! We wrote about them here.
To learn how you can leverage our global talent and services to build brand awareness and reputation for your organization, contact us today.