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As the workforce becomes increasingly dispersed and remote, organizations need to reevaluate how they support and manage employees who no longer work from traditional offices. Communications and collaboration technology can help bridge the gap between office-based and mobile employees.
Traditionally, business leaders have been hesitant to support a fully dispersed workforce due to concerns that allowing employees to work remotely will lead to decreased productivity.
"In reality the opposite is true," said Alaa Murabit, a high-level commissioner for the United Nations. "When workers are given the flexibility to work remotely, productivity actually increases."
Murabit was one of several business leaders who spoke at the Flex Summit in Boston. The conference, hosted by cloud communications provider Fuze, centered on the future of work and fostering a corporate culture around dispersed workforces.
UC technology creates corporate culture for a dispersed workforce
High productivity in a remote workforce depends on more than just providing employee flexibility. Dispersed workers need to feel like they are still part of the company culture. Creating an equal playing field can foster a team environment for remote workers, according to Ryan Merkley, CEO of Creative Commons.
When Merkley joined Creative Commons, he mandated that if some workers were remote, then all workers would be remote. Merkley ultimately made the decision to close the non-profit's headquarters to support an entirely virtual workforce. While Creative Commons is an extreme example of a dispersed workforce, unified communications (UC) tools, such as telephony and video conferencing, allow workers to interact and form the community bonds necessary to create a team environment, according to Merkley.
Successful meetings conducted with video communications technology should make everyone feel as if they are in a room together. Leaders need to set expectations for meetings that set the tone for a focused experience, according to Merkley. For example, using a chat app concurrently with a video conference can help fill in any gaps in context for those joining a meeting remotely. Choosing video conferencing platforms that integrate tools such as digital whiteboards or other shared visual tools will also help make collaboration more seamless and strengthen remote worker productivity.
In addition to productive video meetings, remote workers need a way to participate in the social aspects of work culture. Using video conferencing platforms for dedicated social video sessions creates more personal connections between on-premises and dispersed workers. Making sure that some of the conversation is about the individual and not just the person's work goes a long way to making a dispersed workforce feel connected, according to Merkley.
Set limits on UC tools to prevent burnout
One of the biggest challenges with remote work is that employees often don't know how to separate work from home, said Murabit. Flexible work has increased productivity, but it has also increased the number of employees who suffer from burnout. The ability to access all of their business communication tools from any location has created a trend where many don't know how or when to turn work off.
Rather than working a traditional 9-to-5 schedule, employees may be working late into the night to finish projects, disrupting the essential work-life balance. Leaders of dispersed workforces need to set clear expectations and limits around communications tools to help workers maintain a separate personal life.
One method to prevent burnout is to mandate specific times when all communications should be stopped. Murabit spoke of a company that set a rule to stop work communications after 6 p.m. Giving parameters on the use of communications tools helps maintain a high level of performance while mitigating the potential for burnout.