Technology has unchained a generation of office workers from their desks, allowing them to work, collaborate and communicate from anywhere. Remote working arrangements are increasingly seen as a “new normal,” and for many professionals, remote arrangements offer unprecedented flexibility. Increasingly, remote work means employing tools like Slack, Zoom and SharePoint to make communication and workflows more efficient.

Beyond providing technology, successful remote working also requires a cultural shift, and it’s one that challenges many modern assumptions about workplace productivity. Work, as we’ve been taught to understand it, requires one to be present. For generations of office workers, that meant sitting at a desk and at least trying to look busy. The question of productivity was never ignored, but it was historically separate from the understanding that everybody be in attendance. Now that physical proximity is optional, the worry that people aren't working is hard to avoid.

Although we might not realize it, when we’re physically at work with our colleagues we engage in a lot of performative behavior. Think of how often you’ve tried to “look busy” by chiming in on a Slack channel or a shared document, despite evidence showing that hours worked and volume of communication don’t necessarily lead to greater productivity.

Without the appearance of productivity, remote workers especially can worry that their colleagues might suspect them of dereliction. Remote employees as a consequence are prone to performative communication — jumping in on Slack, instantly responding to emails — which interrupts their focus and hinders productivity. To break this cycle of unproductive chatter, businesses have to consider both practical and cultural adjustments.

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Productivity Tips: Practical Solutions

One of the great drags on productivity for remote and deskless workers has been the proliferation of communication channels, and the lack of a corresponding organization. What started with web-based email has spawned an entire stack of tech solutions for reaching and collaborating with colleagues in different places and contexts.

Part of this is because those different systems and channels work, each in their own way. How people and businesses communicate has changed, and for any competitive business the idea of ignoring new tools in favor of legacy systems like email simply isn’t an option. The business world moves too quickly these days.

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An efficient employee communication program — for both deskbound and remote workers — requires structure. And that structure must be clear and standardized from day one. In every leadership role I’ve occupied, I’ve had a policy to provide new employees with a “First Day Memo,” outlining the various communication and collaboration channels and the function of each. Sales collateral lives in HighSpot, team-specific directives come through a certain Slack channel, projects are managed in Wrike, HR resources are in SharePoint, top-down company updates come through Dynamic Signal — and so forth. It gives new employees the resources to do their job, and standardizes the protocol for how multiple moving pieces (teams, departments, projects, etc) function together to move the work forward.

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Productivity Tips: Cultural Solutions

The second consideration for optimizing remote working arrangements is cultural. From the CEO down through the organization, internal communication programs need to effectively convey the company’s mission, brand voice and values.

This means respecting employees, and acknowledging their time is precious by not bombarding them with needless work chatter. It also means setting clear expectations. If an employee understands they’re allowed a time to focus uninterrupted, free from the expectation of immediate responses to every ping and email, not only will the organization experience better outcomes, but everyone involved will be happier and more engaged as a consequence. These sorts of expectations can seem far-fetched at first, given the always-on expectations that have taken root in many workplaces, but they are possible.

The mark of a good internal communication manager will increasingly be the ability to fluently employ various channels to their greatest and proper efficiency. While we can’t ignore the relentless march of technology and the pace of a competitive market, we can employ the right people and the right cultural and structural practices to successfully thrive in this new environment.

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