Numerous studies have shown how a remote working environment increases happiness and employee productivity among office-based workers. Remote employees save commuting time and escape the often mundane routine of a traditional work setup.
However, the big challenge for remote work is the physical separation between remote workers and management, which makes it difficult for managers to monitor their teams.
Without office space, companies have to compensate by implementing productivity tools and collaborative remote work technologies to fill the gap posed by the distance between your remote teams.
Managers can’t physically monitor their employees, and remote employee monitoring software, while disturbingly popular, is creepy and destroys trust.
Remote work technology has evolved significantly and rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even as the outbreaks decline, businesses are capitalizing on the technological advancements that have been introduced during the global crisis. Remote work technology can improve employee engagement, whether you have workers all over the globe or you’re all located in San Francisco.
Here are five (non-creepy) ways companies can use technology to improve work productivity in a remote setting.
1. Cloud computing
Cloud computing services provide a single collaborative work environment where your team members can make changes to projects simultaneously. This technology reduces the need to send files through email and ensures that live copies of files are always available.
Google Suite is a great example of this technology. Users can work on files stored on Google Drive together by making and resolving comments or adding and deleting content. Google apps don’t require any software downloads and are accessible through any web browser.
Other examples of cloud computing software include:
- Confluence: a knowledge base that your remote teams can work on from anywhere.
- Bitbucket and Github: code repository tools that contain code saved by your IT/web development team that other remote employees can use within the organization.
- Trello: web-based task managing software where you can assign employees tasks and oversee which are in progress or completed.
Cloud computing platforms are scalable, allowing you to add as many collaborators as your service level permits (and then upgrade your subscription level to add more).
Many cloud computing applications are free, while some offer advanced features or additional users for an extra charge. If you’re a small team that’s looking to expand rapidly, cloud-based apps will help you scale your operations quickly and easily.
2. Transparent team communication
Because geographically dispersed teams don’t share a physical working space, the biggest challenge in remote work is communication and employee monitoring. Fortunately, some helpful remote work technologies can help your team communicate remotely in real-time.
Here are some team communication tools that make remote work environments work.
- Video conferencing and voice over IP apps like Zoom, 8×8, Shindig, and Microsoft Teams enable companies to hold discussions, briefings, and weekly one-to-ones in the form of online meetings with audio, video, and screen sharing.
- Project management software such as Asana and Trello are helpful for managers who fear that the remote structure hinders their ability to monitor employees. With collaborative task tracking, anyone in the company can monitor the status and progress of critical tasks as well as who is assigned to each task.
- A messaging channel like Slack can mediate and organize communication with employees. This makes business communications more spontaneous and fast-paced than sending email messages.
Using these types of tools, you can create open communication among your teams despite being in different parts of the world. You can do everything you’d do in a coworking space, such as in-person meetings, overseeing employees, and instant communication—just online.
3. VR and AR training tools
Virtual and augmented reality emulate a three-dimensional space for the user. With VR and AR tools, users can create three-dimensional artwork, immerse themselves in an augmented environment, and experience a simulated scenario, among other possibilities. The realization of this potential has paved the way for innovative training methods using VR and AR.
You don’t need to be a Silicon Valley tech startup to utilize these technologies. Your employees don’t need a sophisticated VR headset to simulate the working environment. Many AR solutions only require a smartphone or tablet to work.
Farmers Insurance used AR to train their employees on interpersonal communication, particularly with customers. The insurance giant partnered with Talespin to create a realistic scenario where customers communicate with AI-powered characters, complete with body language and language processing.
The tool allows employees to hone their communication and negotiation skills from the comfort of their homes. This remote working technology reduces the need for costly in-person training by offering a lifelike experience. VR and AR can also help your employees retain information more efficiently by simulating real-life scenarios without the risk of damage or personal injury.
4. Automated scheduling and tracking
Your project management tools should work for your employees. Remote work technologies should be able to automate specific tasks such as logging employee task progress.
Automated scheduling and tracking tools help your employees manage their time and help you stay on top of projects.
When your workforce consists primarily of freelancers, you should make it easy for your freelancers to report on their time and update project assignments. Automating this reporting minimizes payroll error and is a time management best practice.
The same applies to regularly occurring tasks and online meetings. Reminding your employees about these schedules should be an automated process. Many shift planning apps offer this feature. Here’s what you can do to automate scheduling and tracking:
- Progress trackers like Asana provide reports on what team members have finished. As employees check off items on their to-do list, these automatically gets included in the report.
- Reporting is also a mundane quarterly task that you should automate. Orient your staff on using data gathering and reporting software so they don’t have to spend an entire week preparing their quarterly reports.
- Time-tracking tools like Toggl Track and Clockify count the hours your freelancers work on your project. Sophisticated time-tracking tools can detect idle time and automatically remove it from billed hours (though you are venturing into “creepy” territory here…and if you can’t trust your freelancers, maybe bring in new people).
- Use a shared calendar like Google Calendar to alert your workers of upcoming meetings.
Many of these tools are either free or have low monthly costs, making them ideal for small teams on a tight budget. Once you deploy them, you’ll soon notice an improvement in your team’s productivity, mainly because your team will be more aware of the time they spend on their tasks.
5. Mobile optimization
Your tools should be mobile-friendly as well. Your team members spend a lot of time on their smartphones. Many business tools, like Trello, Asana, Slack, and Google Drive, have iOS and Android versions that offer most, if not all, features of the desktop apps.
Mobile optimization enables your staff to access business tools with their phones. Your workforce will be able to see notifications instantly, respond to business messages more quickly, and provide progress updates more regularly, even if it’s just a few lines of text.
Mobile optimization also allows your team to multitask. Having more devices integrated into the workers’ workflow makes your workforce more efficient with their tasks. For example, your staff can be editing a document on Google Docs and responding to business messages through Slack on their phone instead of having to switch windows throughout the day.
However, since smartphones are probably your team members’ most personal items, it’s best to avoid sending them emails on weekends or at odd hours. You need to be respectful towards your employees’ personal lives to keep them from getting burned out.
You may also provide your staff with a business phone separate from their personal phones if you wish to integrate a mobile device into their workflow.
In the current work environment, where different office arrangement are being tested, remote working technology is an essential resource. Remote working technology migrates office-based tasks and practices to a remote environment. These technological resources help make employee onboarding more efficient and foster employee engagement even within a remote working structure.
Cloud computing supports scalable collaboration software wherein anyone from anywhere in your organization can help work on your organization’s projects. Remote work technology is also a catalyst for transparent communication with employees, closing the gap caused by geographic separation.
VR and AR tools minimize the need for in-person employees training and associated travel. Automated scheduling and tracking optimize employee efficiency by eliminating the need to manually log their progress and hours. Mobile optimization allows your staff to utilize their mobile devices in their workflows.
These tools create a streamlined remote work setup. But it takes more than just sophisticated software to build an overall collaborative remote employee experience. You also need the proper practices.