IgniteTech is proud to present “Work From Home Reimagined,” a four-part series on the future of remote work. In Part 1, we discuss internal communications strategies and the expectations that need to be set to maintain your corporate culture.

With vaccine distribution ramping up and COVID-19 cases below their winter peak, it’s starting to feel like post-pandemic life is just around the corner. One part of life this past year that isn’t going anywhere, however, is remote work. In a June 2020 survey of company leaders from Gartner, more than 80% of respondents said that remote capabilities will continue at their organization in some form after the pandemic is over — whether that means employees stay home permanently or come into the office at least part of the time. 

Of course, as organizations make remote capabilities a permanent part of the way they do business, they’ll probably have to make some adjustments — especially if the current remote work plan was thrown together hastily at the beginning of the pandemic. One of the key areas that will need an update is communications. From after-hours calls to endless email chains, the new normal can become overwhelming for workers without clear expectations. In addition, the group brainstorming and collaboration that’s a hallmark of any strong office culture can be difficult to replicate digitally — unless employees have the right tools.

Fortunately, a remote-first communications strategy is possible with a few adjustments and clear expectations.

Culture

Even if employees have all the right tools to communicate with each other in a way that makes sense, they won’t necessarily use them if your company culture hasn’t caught up. In the past, the collaboration and comradery that successful teams thrive on was built in-person, whether in meetings or at the water cooler. A January 2021 PwC survey of executives found that 95% still believe that in-person work, even as little as a few days a month, is essential to building a strong company culture. But what if you’ve elected to remain fully remote? 

According to the Harvard Business Review, one of the best steps any manager of a remote team can take is to establish clear norms for communication. This can include everything from the proper uses of each communication channel (e.g. what issues are worthy of an email, versus a direct message or quick video chat) to the kind of formatting and language that’s appropriate for work. This will most likely vary depending on the relationship between each party and whether the communications are internal or external.

With workflows moving out of the office and into the digital space, the solutions that have altered communication in the office (such as messaging platforms or video conferencing) are now, for some employees, the only way to stay in touch. That makes finding the right software for your organization more essential than ever. Ideally, you’ll streamline the number of solutions needed for email, messaging, workflow management and video conferencing, et al — ensuring that everything is easy-to-use and that employees buy in.

Expectations

While remote capabilities can give employees added flexibility and autonomy, it also makes it possible to be always on. With the line between work and leisure no longer separated by a physical location or neat 9-5 schedule (if your organization allows flexible hours or employees in multiple time zones), knowing if you’re on the hook for your boss’s after-hours queries is a much trickier question.

Unclear expectations about when employees need to be available can result in frustration, lost productivity and burnout. Some of the largest discrepancies in opinion between employee and management views in PwC’s recent survey included issues related to work hours and workload management — with executives more likely to feel that a clear guideline had been set and employees significantly less sure. The survey underlines exactly how the promise of the remote workplace can create difficult situations if everyone isn’t on the same page. 

In addition to communicating consistent guidelines, your organization can use technology to lay down the law. For example, employees can set their work hours on their calendar apps to avoid being booked for a meeting when they’re unavailable, and they can mark when they’re online. 

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