How Increased Remote Work Changes Coworking Communication

The popularity of remote work has been on the rise, especially as freelancing and the gig economy have become extremely prevalent. As the pandemic has forced companies to change to work from home, organizations across the board have been scrambling to adjust to suddenly having a distributed workforce. Communication and collaboration have shown themselves to be the biggest challenges in this transition. 

No matter the product or focus, companies thrive on communication, and offices are designed to promote an optimal environment for both collaboration and focus. As these trends have changed over time, so has the office environment. We saw the rise of high-walled cubicles in response to a desire for focused work and separation, followed by the open floor plan style that is popular in modern offices, as the focus shifted to collaboration and community. Remote work, the newest format on the scene, is still finding its balance.

The adjustment to asynchronous communication, virtual meetings, and independent work can be extremely difficult. While co-working spaces are an opportunity to have a place for employees to work, while not having to rent a dedicated space, staggered schedules are now required for social distancing purposes. Embracing asynchronous communication and using the opportunity to help employees develop their soft skills are key to making remote work a positive experience. 

Supporting a Distributed Workforce

In response to the ongoing pandemic, companies are shifting as much of their workforce as possible to work from home (WFH), but some are keeping some office spaces open with limited availability. If your company is still utilizing a physical location, staggering schedules and ensuring that there is plenty of room for social distancing are necessities, as is introducing the use of asynchronous communication. If you use a coworking space, this will also involve coordination with other companies that share the space, and an agreement to limit office personnel. For employees working strictly from home, or who have to be mobile, support looks a little bit different.

Laptops and specialized software are standard elements to the work at home support kit that companies put together. Adding in supplementary items like laptop carrying bags, noise-canceling headphones, or a stipend for items that support the unique needs of employees transitioning to remote work can make a huge difference in workplace satisfaction. Additionally, finding new forms of communication that can alleviate screen fatigue and promote communal communication can be instrumental in supporting remote employees.

We have all recently become closely acquainted with Zoom fatigue, as these calls have suddenly taken over the remote workplace. There are many factors to the Zoom fatigue we have all been feeling, including a lack of the social reward of being in the same room with other people, expected digital multitasking forcing us to do more than just be in a meeting, and a continuous feeling of being “on” all the time. The balance between collaborative and solitary work is more important now than ever.

Communication and Training

A major concern has arisen around employees having to not only do their jobs but learn new systems and methods while keeping up with quotas and deadlines. In response, some companies are building an entirely new position. The Head of Remote is an executive position that manages the training and operations of remote workers, including tackling transition periods, building documentation, creating a remote-specific culture, and more. Positions like this are already being seen in large companies like Microsoft and Hubspot as remote employees become more and more common. As companies become more reliant on remote work, having a position that can guide employees through new processes like asynchronous communication can be vital to workplace communication and satisfaction.  

Asynchronous communication is any form of communication that does not happen in an immediate exchange, the way that face-to-face meetings or phone calls do. Many companies already use a combination of synchronous and asynchronous communication naturally. In a remote setting, embracing asynchronous communication can promote focus and quality of work, and there are already tools available to support remote teams. 

Resources like Kona interface with chat programs such as Slack and help managers maintain empathy and awareness by providing recommended changes in phrasing or intent. For project management, systems like Asana or JIRA can help keep communication smooth, and work transparent. These platforms use ticket style tasks, allow users to tag other team members in comments, and be assigned specific work by managers. This can help employees manage their workload and stay focused on necessary tasks.

Opportunities and Soft Skills

While remote work holds many challenges for teams and managers alike, it presents several opportunities for expansion and professional development. Hard skills are important for potential employees to get their foot in the door of an interview, but it is often the soft skills that get them a job. It can be difficult once in a position to further develop these soft skills, especially if you work in a highly technical field, or within a small, close-knit team where shorthand often comes quickly. 

Both hard and soft skills are necessary for workplace success, but professional development often focuses on hard skills like programming knowledge, software experience, and analytical reasoning. Because of the challenges of remote work, teams are presented with an opportunity to continue developing soft skills such as effective communication, adaptability, and emotional intelligence. These soft skills are especially important in remote settings and when tensions are high, and text or video-based communication is challenging people to communicate in new ways. 

This development is essential for those at all levels of the organizational hierarchy. Managers must balance structured work, with understanding that employees are dealing with far more stress than simply their workload. Similarly, team members must develop an understanding of emotional context, accepting criticism, and adaptability in a new context. While challenging, these development opportunities can give employees a much-needed chance for professional development. 

Whether working to create a safe and supportive co-working environment, helping employees develop soft skills, or even developing new positions to support the transition, building new communication methods is vital to successfully working as a part of a remote team. By acknowledging these changes, and finding new ways to communicate with and support your employees, you can make this change smoother, and even a positive experience. 


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