Guest Blog by Mark Schnittman, Co-founder and CTO at Owl Labs
It’s the modern technology paradox: we’re more digitally connected than ever before, but consequently we’re becoming increasingly physically disconnected. Bringing this into the context of the workplace, this is a red flag for the engagement and energy levels of those working remotely.
It’s a well-known fact that allowing employees to work remotely can improve job satisfaction and work-life balance. However, the dark side of remote working comes to light when employees often work longer hours, or worse — feel disconnected from colleagues due to poor technologies that hinder real connection.
This happens especially during team meetings. In fact, I was once a remote worker myself and experienced this frustration first hand. When joining group meetings remotely, I found it extremely difficult to see the group, hear the conversation, and thus understand what was going on. This poor experience made it extremely easy to become disengaged and distracted verses serve as an active participant.
This is important — while many companies might assume that it’s the remote person’s fault when he or she might drift away, it’s more likely due to poor business practice and technology. For example, I often had to interrupt the natural flow of the conversation to ask for the details I’d missed. In those moments I felt like a burden. Imagine asking people to repeat themselves, interjecting at awkward times, reacting inappropriately based on misunderstanding — this makes you want to stay out of the conversation, not engage. As such, a ‘group meeting’ quickly turned into a one-way, hard-to-follow information feed as opposed to a dynamic group discussion.
These frustrations are also shared with UK employees. We recently asked about their attitudes toward this issue and found that an overwhelming number of workers say communication and collaboration declines immensely when working from home. In fact, nearly 80 percent admitted they have a hard time staying engaged when joining meetings remotely. It goes without saying that when staff are disengaged, they are also unproductive. Only last month the Office of National Statistics (ONS) announced that 2018’s Q2 productivity levels are still lagging behind pre-recession rates.
HR experts already know that the key to increasing staff productivity is through employee engagement and motivation. Ironically though, in an age when home-working is on the rise, its the business’ tools that are behind. When we probed UK employees on this, 53 percent felt their companies weren’t doing enough to meet the needs of modern day and remote flexible working.
It’s easy to see why.
A few years ago, remote working was virtually non-existent. Today, it’s a standard feature of the modern workplace. This growth was driven by socio-economic factors, such as the rise of the gig economy and increasing price in office space. Now employees from growth companies have to work from home or multiple locations. The problem is, we haven’t quite managed to adapt our communication practices to keep up with this shift.
Technology can solve the disconnection that technology created
To address this issue, leaders must rethink how they address organisational collaboration across a fragmented workforce. The first step is reviewing their technology.
Today’s generation of remote workers are driven by a different type of technology engagement: smart tech. We’re all accustomed to the seamless experience home devices such as smart speakers and other connected devices provide. Therefore, there is an expectation that workplace technology will offer the same consumer design and user experience, when this is often not the case. How many times have you found yourself on the floor (gracefully) trying to re-plug clunky equipment in the middle of a meeting, or frantically attempting to reconnect to the internet on a video conference?
Workplace technology should not be making us work this hard, leaving us in a constant state of anxiety. It is there to serve us. Employers must take note on the equipment their staff are using and monitor how it supports real connection between the team, as this is the sweet spot for truly innovative team work.
Work with your employees and remote workers to ensure that the technology they are using to connect is the right fit for them and enables them to do their jobs well.
Remote working is only going to increase, so facilitating team connection – whether employees are in the office or on the moon – is vital to keeping everyone engaged, energised and working in unison.