In just the last few years, a new wave of global, virtualized work has emerged as commonplace for many companies. But how do virtual or remote employees operate? How do coworkers interact, how do managers manage their teams — how do businesses effectively connect with clients about new projects from a distance? At Appirio, the vast majority of employees don’t commute to an office every day. So I took to Chatter, Salesforce’s enterprise social network, to see what my fellow Appirians have to say about staying connected, structured, and engaged as virtual workers.
Create a home office that encourages focus
Ideally, your workspace should be a closed-off area in your home where you can go and feel like you’ve arrived at work. Make sure everyone in your household knows that you’re off-limits while you’re working, just as you would be if you commuted to an office. Using a time management system like the Pomodoro Technique can also help you stay focused and make better use of your time.
In addition to making sure you have a functional workspace — desk, second monitor if you need it, comfortable chair — make sure you have a good-quality headset with a microphone that works with your computer and your phone. That way, you have the option of doing something other than shouting into the microphone on your laptop.
Independent work doesn’t mean isolated work
At Appirio, we use Gmail, Hangouts, and Google Calendar for just about everything — tasks, meetings, casual chats, and keeping up-to-date with projects. In fact, we use video Hangouts for most of our meetings. Visual communication is inherently better than speaking to a disembodied voice over the phone, so it’s important that you’re always presentable for a quick video chat.
It’s easy to IM a coworker to catch up or even just say hi if they’re too busy to talk. Giving a coworker a shout-out or posing a question to a group on Chatter also gives you a great opportunity for engagement. Managers may also dole out points/rewards using an internal gamification engine. These small moments of connectivity can help keep you grounded, and sometimes turn into meaningful business conversation.
Make time for regular breaks and socializing
When you work from home, it’s actually very easy to fall into the trap of working without taking breaks. Much like you would in an office, always take a break for lunch — away from the computer and, ideally, any mobile device with access to work email.
There are other great ways to stay connected to the people you work with, such as virtual happy hours on Hangouts, monthly meet-ups with other remote coworkers in your area, and volunteer events through work. At Appirio, we participate in community events all over the world — both in person and virtually — through our Silver Lining program and our Future of the Cloud Day. Giving back to your community while bonding with coworkers is a great way to repurpose time.
Make occasional changes to your environment
A 2015 study from the Harvard Business Review found that people who work from home are more productive than those who work in an office. Much of this has to do with modern companies’ move to mobile, the comfort of working from home, and the ability to make your own hours (to an extent). Virtual work allows people to make work a part of their life, rather than feeling ruled by the traditional 9 to 5.
Still, even working from home can lead to stagnation if you don’t change your surroundings occasionally. It can help simply to spend an afternoon working from a café or in a shared/coworking space, if only to have some movement and ambient noise in the background. Video check-ins with managers and regular video meetings to meet with peers can also help keep spirits high, taking the role of spontaneous chats in an office break room.