How can communication enable employees to work better from home?

Mar 16, 2020

Frank Sielaff Founder & Managing Director

Are organizations and employees prepared to work remotely?

This question was asked a few days ago by the business magazine Forbes regarding the coronavirus pandemic. Companies that have introduced work from home concepts in recent years currently have a clear competitive advantage. Working from home requires communication platforms, so that employees and partners can continue to collaborate, and the communication does not stop over the next few days.

Admittedly, nobody will currently start a big platform relaunch project. But this is not even necessary. How can we improve the situation with the current setup and what can we do in the next few days? Often it doesn’t fail because of the technology. Rather, it fails because of a lack of communication. People do not know how to make the best use of the technology.

The good news is that if we put some effort into communication now, we help our companies a lot. Here are three areas where we can improve the situation in the short term:

Web Meeting Tools

In the next few days, team meetings will probably take place mainly online. Web meeting tools, such as Cisco WebEx, Microsoft Teams or Zoom, have great advantages over the telephone conference. It’s much more fun when you can see who you’re talking to and share your computer desktop, isn’t it? The market’s hope in this technology is in fact enormous. The news channel CNBC just commented: “Videoconferencing software company Zoom has been one of the biggest winners from the crisis. Its stock is up about 67% so far this year.” The question which remains is whether this euphoria will also be transferred to the employees. Can your employees use the web meeting tool effectively?

Not all companies have one standard tool, which is available to all employees in a home office compatible form. Unfortunately, these tools are mostly incompatible with each other.  Companies should decide on one. Are you sure which tool is applicable for all home office employees? In answering this question, the company’s IT security officer should be involved to ensure that it does not fail due to security guidelines or the company’s firewalls.

Many employees are not experienced in using this technology and therefore feel uncomfortable. This can be improved by communication. Employees need more than only simple, understandable operating instructions for the tool functions. In particular a web meeting with several participants has a different dynamic than a face-to-face meeting:

  • If a participant has to download the software first or search for the right link, there may be delays. This should be taken into account.
  • Due to the transmission delay, special attention should be paid to let each other speak out. Otherwise the participants will quickly talk at cross purposes.
  • Especially the camera function helps a lot to transmit the non-verbal part of the communication. However, many people reject this, because e.g. the view into the home intrudes too much into the private sphere.
  • Even though the tools have now reached a high level of maturity, technical transmission problems, such as freezing camera images, occur surprisingly frequently. The reasons can be multifaceted. In most cases they will not be fixed within the next days.

All in all, good communication can now ensure that every employee knows which tool is used and how. It also allows for some control of the employee’s expectations of themselves, of other participants and of the technology. 

Working from home (by Thought Catalog on Unsplash)

Team Collaboration Tools

Many will miss the exchange with colleagues in the office, some may not. On the other hand, doesn’t this “sense of we” arise from exactly these coincidental contacts? Moreover, the exchange fosters new ideas. Of course, software will not be able to replace the social integration power of the coffee machine. Nevertheless, Team Collaboration Tools help greatly to keep distributed teams together. Their functions are very diverse from team chat to task planning and file exchange. There are tools that combine these functions to a more or less good extent, such as Google G Suite or Microsoft Teams. In some cases, there are several tools used for special tasks, such as Slack, Trello, Jira or Dropbox.

If a company has introduced these tools and they are used intensively by the employees, this is an excellent basis for the collaboration in the next days. In most companies you can currently find a combination of Microsoft Teams and several other tools. Frequently there is some confusion about variety and functionality. Now, it is crucial for employees to know which tool they should use for which purpose and how it works. Often these information materials already exist. However, in terms of the current work from home situation, these are needed in a simple and clear form, so that everyone can understand them.

Those who have been working with these tools for some time will know it: Without a few rules, such as file storage or structuring permissions, chaos will soon prevail. In order to prevent chaos from slowing down collaboration, it is recommended to repeat the most important rules once again. 

Employee app

A range of companies enable access to intranet news and articles via smartphone apps. Right now, it is an excellent opportunity for companies to stay in touch with their employees. Do you have an employee app and if so, do your employees know how to install and use it on their mobile phones?

Do your employees also use the app less frequently than they use the intranet via a PC browser? In many companies, this is due to the fact that up to this point, employees have simply been less interested in an app. Additionally, the installation is unfortunately very often simply too complicated. In some cases, there are special logins, which take place in several stages for IT security reasons. It is advisable here to distribute detailed, understandable instructions by email, perhaps even to provide remote support via other channels.

Even if the app seems to be highly intuitive to us, not everyone feels the same way. A manual is needed in any case. Interactive “walkthroughs” through all the features are of course the perfect solution. But a brief one-pager is better than nothing. The coronavirus-related work from home boom will increase interest in the apps. It would be a pity if it fails due to a lack of communication.

These were the three areas in which we can now simplify the collaboration in the home office for our employees with a manageable amount of communication. Are your communication platforms and measures ready for the coronavirus crisis? If you are not sure, come to us! We are happy to help.

COVID-19 and the postponed digitalization
COVID-19 and the postponed digitalization

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