17 remote working solutions for developing a workplace culture and physical environment where both your home-based and office-based teams can thrive

17 remote working solutions to help your teams thrive - Part 3

Series of Remote Working Articles
This year’s massive, worldwide adoption of remote working practices and solutions, necessitated by the anti-coronavirus measures, has accelerated existing trends. While remote working has been growing at a steady rate over recent years, the current health crisis has pushed many companies, which were previously unsure if it was the right choice for them, to adopt this practice. Amidst all the challenges, this experience has answered many long-standing questions, confirmed certain assumptions and disproved others.

We’ve heard from many leaders who now realize that remote working – when implemented well – is a viable arrangement for their organizations. They’ve also been reassured that the vast majority of their employees are highly adaptable and trustworthy.

In addition, this situation has drawn attention to the importance of a strong workplace culture, authentic and empathetic communication, as well as trusting and supportive in-person relationships. Many of us were also confronted with the fragile nature of mental health, and that we need to address this issue intelligently and without delay, on both individual and organizational levels.

Team members’ routines and expectations have shifted. They were granted trust along with other benefits associated with remote working, and most won’t be happy to give it all up, even when it becomes safe to return to the office.

It's the people who are driving long-term changes, not the disease

Many companies are currently in the planning phase of bringing their people back to the office. In others, the process has already begun. However, with all the new experiences and learnings, work is inevitably changing, along with the role and function of the physical workplace. This is also the case in organizations that have already adopted remote working solutions, to some extent, before the pandemic.

According to recent surveys, the vast majority of employees would like to be able to work from home at least one or two days a week. If this is a reflection of the future (and hopefully it is), remote working solutions will need to be deeply embedded in the ways organizations operate. The ‘typical employee’ will soon be a part-time remote worker.

Leaders and managers therefore need to reassess how they can manage and support their people wherever they work. However, it would be a mistake to throw away all the learnings from the evolution of the workplace or jump to conclusions about future strategies. There are no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions for remote working. Leaders and teams need to develop their own unique remote working practices that strengthen and support the workplace culture, operations, and the purpose of the business.

Anetta Pizag

Anetta Pizag

Anetta is an expert consultant for workplace change projects, editor-in-chief of Kragelj Design blog and member of the Advisory Board. She is the author of Create a Thriving Workspace and is working on her second book.

Anetta Pizag

Anetta Pizag

Anetta is an expert consultant for workplace change projects, editor-in-chief of Kragelj Design blog and member of the Advisory Board. She is the author of Create a Thriving Workspace and is working on her second book.

Alenka Kragelj Eržen

Alenka Kragelj Eržen

Alenka is CEO and Chief Architect at Kragelj. She is the author of numerous articles on workplace strategies and green architecture and is a regular presenter at Workplace Design Conference and other business events.

Alenka Kragelj Eržen

Alenka Kragelj Eržen

Alenka is CEO and Chief Architect at Kragelj. She is the author of numerous articles on workplace strategies and green architecture and is a regular presenter at Workplace Design Conference and other business events.

Focusing on burning questions

The first article of our remote working series explored the challenges and opportunities associated with remote arrangements. The second article delved into some fundamental solutions for remote working, such as coordinating work intelligently, sharing information and feedback thoughtfully, and using smart communication practices, technologies and platforms. In this third part, we aim to answer some of the questions that have been frequently raised over the past few months: How can we create a strong workplace culture remotely? How do we need to adapt our physical workplaces to enhance engagement, wellbeing and performance? What can we do to support better communication between remote and office-based members? How can we give the right education and support to our remote employees? And how can we track results and improve our strategies? Here are 17 remote working tips and solutions.
Large meeting room with modern video-conferencing facilities, in the agile workplace of a global entertainment company at Crystal Palace in Ljubljana.

Questions that are worth asking after the lockdown, to better manage work

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Strategy 1:

Build and nurture social bonds

1. Allow time for social interaction
Allow time for social catch-ups with (and among) remote members. Chatting about home life, current affairs, or personal interests and opinions, for example, is not a waste of time; social bonds are important pillars of a great workplace culture. Schedule virtual coffee meetings, and set up social media channels dedicated to non-work related conversations. While such interactions occur naturally in an office, you’ll need to be organized and proactive to bring people closer to each other in a virtual environment.
Leaders and teams need to develop their own unique remote working practices that strengthen and support the workplace culture, operations, and the purpose of the business.
2. Meet your remote members in person
Catch up with your remote members in person once in a while. Try to meet even those who live far away at least once or twice a year. When possible, bring the whole team together. Face-to-face events can strengthen relationships, energize your team and give collaboration a boost. I’m sure you know what it feels like when you meet a good friend you haven’t seen for a long time – the friendship suddenly feels stronger and more real. In this regard, work relationships are very similar. It’s also worthwhile to organize in-person meetings to discuss certain matters, such as performance challenges, conflicts or other emotionally charged issues.
Showroom area of BSH, a leading global home appliance company with strong focus on customer-driven innovation. This multi-functional space with flexible furnishings, is designed to enhance in-person collaboration among employees, as well as between BSH’s teams and clients. The space is also able to accommodate company events attended by all employees.
When possible, bring the whole team together. Face-to-face events can strengthen relationships, energize your team and give collaboration a boost.
3. Encourage remote members to work together
If some of your team live near each other, encourage them to meet and work together every now and then. They could work side by side at a coworking space, a cafe, or someone’s home office, for instance, enjoying a welcome break from the usual solitude. Even if they work on different projects, using different skills, this could still be a great opportunity to explore shared interests, help each other out, and learn from one another.

Strategy 2:

Adapt your workplace to a remote-working culture

4. Create inviting, well-equipped team areas
While not everyone might be able to travel to your office frequently, some members may have this option. And if you’d like to see them in person more often – which will likely benefit business performance – your workspace needs to be an attractive destination. Think of the reasons why remote members might want to visit the office. Chances are they are looking for in-person collaboration and personal connection. So ideally, your workspace should incorporate inviting, well-equipped team areas where visiting members can work and connect with their mates.
Informal meeting and breakout area at the heart of Grey’s new workplace, inviting boundless collaboration and social activities. The multi-functional space also supports individual focused activities, small meetings as well as company-wide gatherings.
5. Create a welcoming ‘base’
Remote workers may also want to pop into the office for a top-up of inspiration, and to immerse themselves in a community where they feel they belong. To ensure that visiting members get the emotional support they need, let them know that they always have a place. When feasible, create a welcoming ‘base’ where they can sit and work whenever they come in, so that they don’t need to hunt for a vacant desk, or to settle for a spot that feels more like a ‘naughty corner’.
Informal meeting space, also accommodating standing meetings, within a large open work area in the new Ljubljana headquarters of UniCredit Bank. This activity-based workplace offers flexible seating, encouraging employees to choose where they work and who they work with based on their projects and the task at hand.
To ensure that visiting members get the emotional support they need, let them know that they always have a place.
6. Allocate a space for deep focus
People working from home regularly can quickly get used to the quiet and controlled environment. On the downside, they might become increasingly sensitive to noise and other distractions. Keep this in mind when you invite home-based members to work in your office. We suggest you allocate a space for deep focus, in a relatively quiet area of your workspace, where loud conversations and phone calls are kept to a minimum.
7. Make your workspace feel a bit like home
The workspaces of some progressive companies employing both office-based and remote members are designed to feel a bit like home. Apart from the significant productivity and wellbeing benefits, these workspaces send the empowering message: everyone’s treated fairly and equally. There are no ‘lucky ones’. How can you achieve this? Create a pleasant and comfortable environment which offers ample personal space and a great degree of flexibility and control. Make sure your people have the option to work in privacy, without interruptions, as needed.
Social spot within BSH’s new Ljubljana workplace, the ‘Living Office’. This setting is designed to support informal gatherings and social activities, offering easy access to the cafe and an outside terrace. This space, equipped with advanced communication and collaboration technologies, is also able to host medium to large meetings and collaboration sessions.

Strategy 3:

Set up your workspace for improved communication

8. Enable seamless video conferencing
Create a team space for seamless video conferencing. First, organize the space to support engaging, inclusive conversations. A great collaboration space allows participants to easily stand up and move around, and incorporates vertical surfaces to draw and write on. The next step is to design technology around the natural flow of work, ensuring that members stay on screen even as they move around. No-one should feel constrained by technology. With the right set-up, participants could forget about the physical distance and work together as if they’re in the same room.
9. Provide small sound-proof spaces
You probably find that collaborating with remote members requires a large number of one-on-one phone calls and video calls. Members returning to the office after the lockdown are now used to making calls with little effort, typically from their desks. At the same time, colleagues trying to concentrate probably crave silence more than ever before. So it’s especially important to manage noise issues. You could provide several easy-to-access, sound-proof rooms or booths for phone and video calls. Everyone will benefit – people on the call will find it easier to pay attention to each other and discuss issues in privacy, while the rest of the team will be saved from the distraction.
Chat room (left) and quiet room (right) at BSH’s open plan office. The workplace also incorporates a series of other soundproof rooms for sitting and standing meetings. These spaces act as sound buffers between the departments and also provide visual privacy. At the same time, the meeting spaces which are easily accessible to everyone invite members from different teams to connect.
First, organize the space to support engaging, inclusive conversations. The next step is to design technology around the natural flow of work.
10. Support good balance between communication and concentration
Workplaces are increasingly becoming places of interaction, as more and more people choose to work from home on individual tasks. Subsequently, office spaces around the world are incorporating a growing proportion of collaboration spaces, while the number of solitary settings is shrinking. Please make sure you don’t get carried away by this trend, and that individual work doesn’t suffer. Not everyone is able to focus at home, or to find the energy and motivation to do their best work. If members can’t excel in individual tasks, they will have little to contribute to teamwork. Give your teams the space and support they need to work effectively by themselves, and you’ll find that communication will naturally improve.

Strategy 4:

Provide assistance and training

11. Provide everyone with the same standard of technology
If feasible, provide every member of your team with the same quality of technology – as required for their jobs – as well as IT support. This will not only enable efficient communication and teamwork, and increase productivity, but again, will send the message that there are no ‘second-class citizens’ in the team.
Provide every member with the same quality of technology. This will not inly increase productivity, but also send the message that there are no ‘second-class citizens’ in the team.
12. Help people set up their home offices

Provide assistance and training to remote members for setting up their home offices. Home-based workers often experience discomfort and health issues that stem from having a poorly set-up work area, using low quality furniture, or working in places they shouldn’t. Bad posture can also directly impact their mood and performance. Give them the same level of support as your office-based members; they will be able to perform better and will also feel equal to their peers. Remote workers with a dedicated, comfortable and functional home office also tend to feel more satisfied with their jobs, and are better able to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

13. Discuss effective work practices
The simple choices people make during the day can make a huge difference to how they feel and what they can achieve. Knowing exactly when, where and how to approach different tasks makes it easier to focus, overcome mental blocks, find inspiration and creative ideas, and manage their energy and emotions. In the workplace, self-aware employees often develop personal routines to work effectively. However, the home environment offers vastly different choices than the corporate office. So it’s worth discussing with your teams what challenges and opportunities they face when working remotely. Together you should be able to develop new, powerful routines that support their work styles and allow them to excel.
14. Prepare your teams to effectively work in ‘third places’
Think of the members of your team who frequently work in ‘third places’ – in other words, in places that are neither the company’s office nor home. Today’s employees often work in the offices of clients and collaboration partners, in coworking places, and in cafes or libraries. Some people spend a lot of time on the road, and regularly work on trains, in airport lounges, conference centres and hotel rooms. They too need to learn, perhaps more than anyone, how to block out distractions and get into a state of flow in any environment. So give them the necessary training, and point them to the resources that will help them make smart choices.
15. Discuss with members how they can look after themselves
Members’ physical and mental health are integral to workplace culture and organizational performance. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to take care of people while they are out of sight. Furthermore, wellbeing initiatives are always more effective when people are educated and intrinsically motivated, rather than just following instructions. So we encourage you to have deep, engaging conversations with your teams about how they can nurture a healthy body and mind. For example, you could address the conflicts people often experience when facing various lifestyle choices, or the challenges around maintaining boundaries between work and home life. Please respect your members’ intelligence and refrain from bombarding them with clichés.
Remote workers with a dedicated, comfortable and functional home office tend to feel more satisfied with their jobs, and are better able to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Strategy 5:

Track results and get feedback

16. Pay attention to how your people feel
If you’re concerned about remote workers slacking off without the structure and accountability of the office environment, we might have surprising news for you. Studies suggest that remote workers who love their jobs despite the inherent hurdles tend to have exceptional work ethic. They are typically hard-working, self-motivated individuals who strive to be their best and are willing to go the extra mile. So instead of questioning their performance, you might want to check how your remote members feel. If they consistently struggle, remote work might not be the right choice for them. But if they handle the challenges with great spirit, they certainly deserve your trust.
17. Obtain well-thought-out and meaningful feedback
Mastering remote work is an ongoing journey for everyone. And especially for members who are new to this practice, every week can bring a different challenge. While it’s worth paying attention to good practices, there isn’t a recipe for success. To better understand what works for your teams and what doesn’t, seek frequent feedback, both formally and informally. Test your assumptions. Rather than relying on standardized surveys, ask smart, thought-provoking questions that invite people to think deeply about their experiences of work. Encourage them to suggest their own solutions for remote working. The best talents certainly don’t want to be spoon-fed or treated like children.
Relaxed lounge area in BSH’s Living Office, located at a quiet corner of the workplace, suited to impromptu meetings as well as individual focused work.
To better understand what works for your teams and what doesn’t, seek frequent feedback, both formally and informally.

The way forward

After adjusting remote working practices in your company, adopting new solutions, observing results and obtaining feedback, it is a good time to revisit the ‘reality-check’ questions we shared in our first article. This should help you get a better sense of how your current practices are influencing different aspects of employee experience and performance – what’s working well and where there is room for further improvement.
Bright and airy, open work area at Resalta’s recently completed office in Ljubljana, incorporating casual settings for relaxed individual work and restorative activities.

Here are these questions again for easy reference.

Recognize where change is needed

In fact, it’s worthwhile to regularly check how things work and make improvements as needed. This is an ongoing journey. But please keep a level-headed approach, and don’t create change for the sake of change.

Certain aspects of work tend to shift quite rapidly, including technology, societal and industry influences, as well as people’s desires and expectations. Work tasks and activities may also change relatively quickly, along with management strategies, and the role of the physical workplace. Other factors are more steady, including your company values and purpose, your employees’ roles in the business, and the nature of human psychology (e.g. our innate desire for face-to-face contact, spontaneous interactions and social experiences).

Once you see the whole picture, you are in the right place to make excellent decisions about the future of your business. Remember, smart investments in remote working solutions, and subsequently in your culture, work practices and office space, will keep paying off well after the crisis. They will enable your teams and partners to effectively respond to new opportunities and challenges, contributing to the best of their ability while enjoying a positive and rewarding experience.

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Time to discuss remote working strategies: coordinate work intelligently, share information thoughtfully, use smart communication technologies and platforms

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Fast changing factors

More steady factors

Work tasks and activities

1

Your company values and purpose

Management strategies

2

Your employees’ roles in the business
Role of the physical workplace

3

The nature of human psychology