Six Tips for Remote Working Success

May 6, 2019 by Katherine Haugh, Matt Baker, Lauren Leigh Hinthorne Comments (0)
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What do staff who telework every week, staff who live across countries or a manager who supervises staff who don't come to the office have in common? They are all examples of remote working situations in development.  We know that effective collaboration is incredibly important to the success of development work - its the C in CLA, after all. But how do you maximize the benefits of remote working? We developed a tip sheet of Remote Working Tips for international development staff to improve the efficiency and productivity of important working relationships.

Remote working is becoming more common in general. A 2017 Gallup report notes that more than two out of five workers now work remotely, and they are doing so for longer stretches of time. This has sparked more research on the benefits and challenges of remote working. Research suggests that remote working promotes higher engagement and productivity compared to in office environments; this may be in part to the ability to focus on cognitively demanding tasks or ‘deep work’. Remote working also offers employees the opportunity to save costs; it also improves workers' health, benefits the environment, and supports worker retention. However, remote work is not without its challenges. Addressing cultural challenges, working longer hours, and receiving less favorable performance evaluations are all potential pitfalls for remote workers. As a recent MIT Sloan Management Review article points out, ensuring that remote workers are as integrated as in-person workers is key to staff retention. While there remain a number of challenges to remote working, well structured remote working that promotes effective collaboration can be successful for both the employee and their organization.

Based on our experience working with USAID, we have collected a set of tips based on our collective experiences with working remotely. From this consolidated list, we identified six overarching areas that can improve the efficacy of remote working for both remote workers and their teammates in the office, here they are (see the tip sheet for the full list):

  1. During Team Meetings: 
    Five minute social. Schedule the first five minutes of meetings for social, non-work related time. This often happens anyway, but making it formal will set expectations and allow more accurate time management, and will go a long way to solidify personal relationships on the team in ways that can be hard for remote workers to achieve.
  2. Using Technology for Better Meetings:
    Have a remote buddy during breakout group work. Think about facilitation ahead of time and have a remote ‘buddy’ or remote group separate from the in-person group; different platforms facilitate this in different ways.This approach allows the remote workers to participate in the meeting as fully as those in the room.
  3. Effectively Using and Sharing Your Calendar:
    Think and share digitally - in advance. Share materials including agendas ahead of time, and include links to documents in the calendar invite and/or agenda for the meeting, so that remote workers have access to the same documents that may be circulated in the room in hard copy.
  4. Leveraging Technology for Effective Knowledge Management:
    Use universal editors on open platforms. Use documents that are viewable online, such as Google Docs, instead of flipcharts in the room for facilitation in order to allow remote participants to more effectively engage.
  5. Tips for when remote workers spend time in the office:
    Maximize face-to-face interactions. While it is important to have a desk, you probably won’t be spending much time there. Schedule time to meet with people face-to-face, leveraging this opportunity to build and deepen relationships with people you might not work with on a day-to-day basis.
  6. Day to Day:
    Don’t forget about snail mail. The speed and efficiency of sharing most of our documents electronically has huge benefits. There might be times, however, when sending something through the good, old-fashioned mail service has added benefits (e.g., sending products from events to remote workers, sending snacks to office celebrations as a reminder that you--as a remote worker--are there in spirit, if not in person).

For more tips, be sure to check out our Remote Working Tips for International Development Staff.

If you have other tips for effective collaboration in the international development field, please share them with us! Get in touch with Katherine Haugh at khaugh@learning4dev.org.

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