It’s no secret that since March 2020, professionals have been working from home at significantly increased rates. So far, working and leading remotely has:
- proven high levels of productivity can be achieved while working remotely.
- taught teams how to comfortably use remote work tools, such as video conferencing platforms like Zoom.
- created an appreciation for the opportunities to build and strengthen relationships in-person.
- opened eyes to how a flexible work schedule can provide balance and fulfillment.
With these years of experience behind them, some professionals feel confident that they fully understand how to work and lead remotely and don’t need remote working skills training.
However, at Workplaceless we’ve seen that many new and lingering challenges continue to result in ineffective remote work. Workers are quitting because their companies don’t know how to sustainably offer flexible remote work, and leaders haven’t developed the skills to demonstrate that they value their remote employees. Many leaders are using their own discomfort with remote work and preference for in-person relationship building as reasons to mandate a return to the office (RTO) for some or all of the time. Meanwhile, hybrid work trends demonstrate that companies still lack a strategy for successful implementation. Teams are still overscheduled with meetings and Zoom calls in the office, and leaders are unprepared and disconnected. For these and many other reasons, remote and hybrid work training are still critically important for experimenting and evolving toward a sustainable future of work.
What can leaders still learn from remote working skills training?
Leaders hold the power to determine remote and hybrid work success. When leaders and executives are hesitant and not bought in to learning the skills they need or to modifying their behaviors, remote and hybrid work setups will continue to falter. People managers especially should be agents of change. They must be empowered to own and influence decisions, habits, and rituals for impactful remote work.
In our work with clients, these are the areas where we see the most opportunity to optimize remote working skills through training:
Strengthening Inclusive Leadership
The shift to hybrid work structures requires leaders to strengthen their abilities to be intentionally inclusive and to combat distance bias, or the tendency to favor people who are closer to us in time and space. Neglecting to do so isolates remote workers and can put them at a professional disadvantage. By adopting a Placeless Mindset, leaders learn to be more inclusive with digital-first work practices, shifting their approach to: “When one person is remote, the whole team is remote.”
Shifting to Async-First Communication
Leaders must strategize the use of sync and async communication in order to balance connectivity with autonomy. An overreliance on synchronous communication leaves employees overworked, drained from long and tiring meetings, with no time to actually get work done. By developing async-first communication practices, leaders allow for deep work and focus, as well as freeing up their teams’ time for personal and professional commitments.
“It opened my eyes to how much our team relies on sync opportunities vs. async. I’m eager to decrease our Zoom time and help our team feel productive in new ways.”
– Leadplaceless virtual leadership training participant.
Making Meetings Meaningful
Traditionally, organizations have defaulted to meetings as the go-to for collaborating and communicating across teams. But when leaders use them more thoughtfully and sparingly, teams benefit enormously. The Placeless Taxonomy is one framework leaders can use to strategically determine the method for getting work done, thereby saving time and energy across their departments. And when a meeting is deemed necessary, meeting owners should structure the conversation purposefully as a blended meeting, crafting an agenda that includes a mix of prework, moments of connection, decision-making, and task assignment.
Setting and Modeling Expectations
Remote work burnout rates remain high. Even managers who are experienced leading remotely struggle to align, influence, and support their teams with boundaries. While it’s common to encourage a team to turn off phones at the end of the work day, or wait to check email, the reality is that leaders are often poor role models of such behaviors. Leaders must practice setting expectations and maintaining clear boundaries between work and life, and hold their team accountable to do so as well by documenting boundaries as a team.
What can individual contributors still learn from remote working skills training?
Workers on remote and hybrid teams will have varying levels of comfort and autonomy—and therefore success—with remote work habits. Leaders should cultivate and encourage team members to continuously develop their skills and, in fact, see remote work practices as a set of skills, distinct from their jobs.
During our sessions with teams, these are the areas where we see the most beneficial remote working skills training opportunity areas for individual contributors:
With so many distractions working from home, or constant messages from the team, it’s easy to get off course. Individual contributors can overcome bad work habits by implementing small adjustments to their routines. Putting limits on checking notifications, ending work days promptly, and closing communication loops are examples of self-management habits that can have a meaningful, long-lasting impact.
Strengthening Virtual Communication
While it’s tempting to rely on familiar tools like phone or video calls, an overuse of synchronous communication tools can lead to burnout and increased interruptions across teams. Leveraging cutting-edge tools, and even familiar tools used in a new way—such as cloud-sharing written documents, whiteboards, video messaging, and chat—can be powerful approaches to improving remote communication.
“I have learned several new tools for remote communication. I now understand what remote work entails and how to make remote work most successful.”
– Workplaceless Remote Work Certification graduate
On hybrid and remote teams, comfort with virtual best practices such as documentation is key. Individual contributors should hone their written communication skills, in addition to leveraging tools, for impactful communication.
Clear boundaries are difficult to implement, even for an experienced remote worker. Incoming deadlines, power dynamics, and increased responsibilities can put incremental pressure on employees. With this pressure comes the need to continuously set and hold boundaries at work using clear language. In our trainings, we offer scripts for such conversations to help our participants prepare and practice positive, clear, and firm language for these important conversations.
How can teams use remote working skills training to build impactful behavior change?
Skill building, experimenting, and optimizing at every level is important. Where our remote work training can deliver incremental impact for your teams is by going beyond passive learning to translate those skills into improved behaviors, habits, and rituals.
- TERMS: Are we speaking the same language? Common language and terminology foster alignment of a team’s remote and hybrid culture.
- TOOLS: Are we using tools consistently and to the fullest extent? Coordinated and effective tool use maximizes productivity and engagement on teams.
- HABITS: Are individuals practicing good daily work habits? Are leaders inclusive? Prioritize documentation to reduce interruptions and increase inclusivity.
- INTERACTIONS: Are individuals and teams practicing async-first work? Setting clear boundaries? Communication and collaboration practices that prioritize async-first work increase efficiency.
- RITUALS: Do individuals and teams have rituals to ensure long-term connection and wellness? Rituals like structured check-ins, celebrations, and recognition ceremonies reduce isolation and burnout.
Does your team experience any of the 7 Signs Your Remote Team Needs Training? Want a deeper dive into understanding your team’s remote effectiveness? Start step one of our free Effective Remote Work Assessment.