Modern technology has helped facilitate an increased ability to carry out many jobs remotely, rather than traveling to a central place of work, but it is important to recognize some of the challenges associated with telecommuting. Arguably one of the most significant challenges relates to workplace collaboration. It is understandable that remote working causes a certain amount of concern in this area. After all, one of the single biggest arguments in favor of the move towards open-plan office designs was the supposed potential for increased collaboration that could be provided by removing barriers to contact.
However, research on the validity of this claim has also led to something of a backlash against open-plan designs and there is an increasing acceptance that the goal should really be to get the right people collaborating in the right way – and telecommuting has a role to play. In truth, when you adopt the right strategy, collaboration and telecommuting can go hand in hand.
You may not be physically present in the same room – or even the same building – as the people you are looking to collaborate with. The first thing to focus on is ensuring you have reliable methods of communication. For best results, this should include a telephone, video calling, instant messaging, and email.
A smartphone will be vital, as this will take care of all of the above options, assuming you download the relevant apps, such as WhatsApp and Skype. However, you may find it easier to carry out video calling on a larger screen, and laptops, desktops, and tablets are perfectly viable options for this, offering additional screen real estate.
Software solutions like Microsoft Teams and Zoom also allow for mass participation in video calls, while software suites like myViewBoard, can be ideal for sharing visual ideas in real-time with digital whiteboarding and visual communication options. Crucially, however, for collaboration to be possible, teams will need to have near-universal buy-in, with all team members using the same apps.
Managing Teams and Projects
A key part of successful project collaboration involves actually managing teams and this means assigning the right tasks to the right people at the right time, in order to avoid unnecessary delays.
Remote project management is a common area of interest for people discovering how to work from home with maximum efficiency, and there are some natural obstacles, as project leaders cannot physically see progress being made. Meanwhile, managing communication from all team members can potentially become overwhelming.
However, solutions like Trello and Microsoft Planner can help to organize and manage team activities from a single place and both options are simple enough to implement throughout an entire team. Both of these options can make it easier to visualize workflow and ensure teams are maintaining the required levels of productivity.
Overcoming Common Obstacles
Even with the right strategies, software, and hardware in place, there are a number of common obstacles that can make it more difficult to collaborate effectively while you work from home, with examples including the following:
The reliability of work from home solutions can be a major difficulty. This refers not only to the reliability of the various software solutions chosen to facilitate collaboration, but also the reliability of team members’ hardware and internet connections. Problems in this area could result in video calls ending abruptly, or team members becoming difficult to hear clearly, which can then have a huge bearing on the effectiveness of collaboration.
Of course, in a physical workplace, employers can take steps to make networking and internet connections more reliable, but this is not possible with remote workers. As a result, the main solution here is to ensure you and other team members have a wide range of different communication options available, including some offline methods. On top of this, you will need to identify the software applications that are most reliable for your requirements.
Another problem that may arise in certain organizations is the difference in working times between different team members. Employees may be afforded some flexibility in terms of when they start and finish work, yet this can make collaboration more difficult, as people who need to work together may not necessarily be working at the same time.
One of the potential benefits of telecommuting is the ability for people to work regardless of location. Yet, this may also present problems, especially if people are in different time zones from one another. To get around these problems, it may be necessary to schedule people to work at specific times of the day, in order to allow for closer teamwork. Additionally, it is worth noting that file-sharing solutions and video recording technology can help to get around certain problems associated with live communication.
Collaboration with telecommuting does present some natural obstacles because team members are working in isolation. Yet, working from home does also have the potential to reduce unwanted distractions and – when this is paired with the right coordination, the right use of technology and a willingness to work together – teamwork can be just as effective.