With the current Social Distancing situation, more companies are adopting a work-from-home model for their employees. For those who are not used to the concept of working remotely for an extended period of time, this shift in work culture can be a challenging transition.
At Google, we wanted to better understand how distributed work could impact teams. Our People Analytics team decided to take a closer look at the challenges that come with collaborating with colleagues across different time zones and locations by interviewing 5,000+ employees across the company.
After two years of study, we found that distributed work can be as effective as working in the same office, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s as easy or enjoyable. A common challenge for those engaged with distributed work is that they don’t know where to start: “What are the critical questions I should be asking as a distributed worker? What are the key things I should do as a distributed worker?”
We’ve put together a playbook that we believe can be implemented not just internally, but also in organizations big and small to help employees adapt with remote work. Here are five pro-tips to try:
Get Talking. A little rapport goes a long way. Create opportunities to get to know your distributed teammates just like you would if they sat next to you at the office.
- Start your conference meetings with an open-ended, personal question. Try “How are you doing?” or “What was something interesting you read recently?”
- Consider creating a group chat that is always “on” for work-related questions or fun, social messages.
Be Present. Some engagement signals are lost when working together virtually, particularly when we mute the microphone or focus intently on our laptops.
- Unmute your microphone and validate contributions from others. A head nod, “mmhmm”, or “yeah, good idea” will do it!
- Keep phones facing down when you’re doing video conferencing calls, unless you’re using it to take notes.
- Ensure you’re clearly visible on the video conferencing screen by zooming in, making eye contact, and expressing your reactions noticeably.
Reach Out. It can be hard for teammates in other locations to be heard, as they often have to overcome barriers to jump in and share. You can help create the space for them to speak up.
- Ask for input from the most isolated meeting participant any time the meeting breaks into a discussion.
- If you see someone trying to enter the conversation, stop and invite their comments.
- Say hi! Check in on a distributed teammate with an encouraging instant message, a project-relevant news article, or a funny photo – just because!
Set Team Norms. Norms set clear expectations for how your team works together. But they’re often assumed rather than explicitly stated, leaving opportunities for confusion.
- Encourage team members to create communication and decision making norms (e.g., answering emails/pings off-hours, information-sharing across time zones).
- Set norms for when team members should and shouldn’t join meetings off-hours.
Have Virtual Meals. Consider arranging catch-up meetings with no express agenda over video chat.
- According to Veronica Gilrane, manager of Google’s People Innovation Lab and who led this research, shared that she would arrange a 30-minute catch-up call once a week with her team with no agenda.
- She would encourage her teammates from different locations to eat lunch or breakfast over chat, as a way to bond as a team. She shares that “being able to see someone’s face – it’s not the same as being in person, but it really does help a lot. You can read their emotions. You can see how they’re doing.”