Why running a virtual workplace is no longer just a ‘remote’ possibility

Dan Tyler, Managing Director of project management software company Vism, believes more businesses will continue to offer staff the option of remote working following the coronavirus pandemic. As the leader of a remote team himself, he says this will make a positive change for businesses and employees alike.

 

The number of people working remotely was already rising before the pandemic forced many more businesses to introduce this way of working. The UK’s Office for National Statistics found that in April 2020, 46.6% of people in employment did some work at home. Of those, 86% did so as a result of the pandemic. 

Interestingly, only 19% of those in skilled trade occupations were doing so. Remote working should be an option for all kinds of workers though – there’s already a whole army of people out there on the road and in the field (possibly even literally), who simply don’t need a fixed workplace. So, when we talk about supporting remote workers, we’re not just looking at home workers.

Championing remote and mobile working

Vism has been a remote-first business since day one; I launched the company while travelling in Morocco and whilst we do make sure we come together periodically as a team, we don’t gather in a central office. It’s a way of working that we’ve long been championing to improve efficiency and work-life balance.

Our software is designed to support busy teams in the large format print and signage industry, and the installers who see their jobs through to completion. By providing users with apps that can be accessed on PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones, Vism can go wherever its users go. 

Supporting remote and mobile working isn’t just about enabling staff to do their day-to-day job, it’s also crucial to focus on keeping teams engaged with the business to support job satisfaction, a shared culture and excellent service.

Delivering a positive culture  

It’s always been more difficult to create a team dynamic among mobile workers such as delivery drivers and installers who aren’t regularly all in one place, however it is important and it can be done. Some of the new tools we’re all using these days to facilitate more home working can help bring everyone together with shared values.

Because we run the Vism business remotely, we understand the kinds of support people need to function effectively, and the challenges of building a remote team spirit.

Tools for remote working

Like everything in business, communication is key. There are a number of tools on the market, and it’s important to find those that work for your setup.

At Vism, we like the simplicity and instant nature of Slack – it allows us to chat in real time; however we don’t automatically expect that of each other. Everybody needs to be on the same page in terms of how they expect communications to work. I’ve seen scenarios in the past where this isn’t the case, so make sure that everyone is clear on what the expectations are of each other to avoid any unnecessary frustration.

Other tools include the popular Zoom, Skype and Google Meet for voice and video calls, webinars and so on. Microsoft Teams is also commonly used for its additional screen and file sharing facility. For perhaps the more informal chats, there is also the option of Whatsapp groups for simple messaging.

Websites such as https://remoters.net/blog/ offer insights from those already working remotely and information on tools and techniques to keep a remote team engaged and productive.

Connecting, not tracking people

I loathe email – it’s inefficient, open to misinterpretation and just doesn’t connect people. We’re living in a different world now, and the rise of video and other easy to use communication channels like social media mean we no longer have to reply on increasingly clunky-feeling mail systems. So video, married with chat via Slack, works great for us.

I think a daily or weekly team video call can be great, depending on what you’re doing as a team, but it’s important to not see this as a tool for tracking if and when your team are working. 

Trusting and sharing with your team

If you’re going to allow remote working, you need to trust your people. People’s lives are upside down right now – homeschooling, sick relatives, pets, partners also working at home; life is chaos. Respect this and focus not on when and how long your team are working, but instead on what they’re getting done. I suspect you’ll be happy with the results this leads to!

For me, I take as open an approach as possible. The team has access to my calendar and we can connect whenever they need to inside the parameters I set.

It’s not all work and no play

The mobile connectivity that facilitates remote working shouldn’t mean that staff are expected to be available at all hours. Businesses should support people to develop a routine that works for them and the business. Everyone should switch off at the right time and create a separation between work and home life.

My personal ‘rules’ include not checking my phone until I have made the bed, opened all the windows, done a brief bit of exercise to get moving, showered and had breakfast. I’ve even bought an alarm clock so I can remove my phone from the bedroom completely!

Responsible employers can also use online technologies to support their teams, for example promoting fitness by organising classes or giving subscriptions. Social events such as virtual pub quizzes, cooking classes and group catch-ups can be popular (as long as no one is forced to join in). There are also apps such as Headspace that help people ‘be kind’ to their mind.

Beware of the biggest mistakes on Zoom

Of course, linking on video is all well and good, but we need to remember that while we might not be in the same room, people can still see us. Even if you think you’ve muted your video you can still get caught out. Huffpost has some salutary lessons for us in their feature on 16 funny tweets that sum up the hell of video conferencing. Watch and learn from the worst!

More than 700 large format print and signage professionals across the UK use Vism’s software to manage their day-to-day work. Vism includes a client portal, a project management dashboard and an installer app for iPhone and Android, built in conjunction with customers. Together they help teams across the graphics and signage industry to deliver a streamlined and efficient installation service. To find out more, visit www.vism.io

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