Although the ongoing pandemic has triggered a worldwide transition to work-from-home practices, companies have actually been experimenting with this workstyle for at least four decades. Until the development of modern team collaboration platforms, however, those early remote-work efforts produced decidedly mixed results.
IBM is generally credited with launching the remote-work movement with a 1979 experiment that put remote terminals in the homes of five employees. The company continually expanded the program over the years, and by 2009 reported that more than 150,000 employees in 173 countries were working remotely. Many other organizations followed suit, finding that telework often produced measurable productivity improvements while reducing real estate costs and employee turnover.
Over the years, however, studies repeatedly pointed to nagging issues. Lacking regular interaction with coworkers, remote employees reported increased levels of isolation, loneliness and anxiety. They also reported that creativity, innovation, trust and teamwork were suffering. For example, a Harvard Business Review study found that remote workers believed colleagues were denigrating them behind their backs, making changes to projects without telling them in advance and lobbying against them with management.
With as much as half of the U.S. labor force now working at home full-time, you’d think those issues would spell trouble. Yet, recent surveys show that vast majority are satisfied with working from home and hope to continue doing so after the health crisis has passed.
Why the shifting in attitudes? The continued evolution of team collaboration solutions seems to be playing a key role.
Collaboration applications that combine voice, video, chat and file sharing have become essential for helping dispersed team members remain connected, share ideas, solve problems and accomplish tasks. Besides the clear productivity benefits, these tools provide an important hedge against employee isolation. A recent Stanford University study found that people working collaboratively reported higher levels of engagement and success and lower levels of fatigue.
Industry analysts say these are important characteristics of a collaboration solution that can address both the personal and professional needs of your remote workforce:
- Contextual collaboration. This refers to the integration of multiple collaboration tools in a single platform, which greatly eases the process of working with dispersed colleagues, customers and partners. With productivity applications, conversations, files, tasks, calendars and more accessible through a common dashboard, remote workers can quickly get up to speed on project or team activities without toggling between multiple apps, engaging in long email chains or playing phone tag.
- Persistent messaging creates a “stickiness” to team interactions — conversations and message threads don’t disappear when you close the app, you can go back and scroll through them days or weeks later. Individual “rooms” for specific projects remain in place, creating a sequential record of work and making it easy to resume work on projects.
- The best solutions can be customized through the integration of key business applications, databases, cloud platforms and even other collaboration apps. This helps improve workflow management, creates continuity and eliminates information silos.
- Workflow optimization. It’s been estimated that knowledge workers spend almost 20 percent of a working week just looking for information. Collaboration apps should simplify the process and improve workflows by ensuring that team members always have access to the right files at the right time.
- Team collaboration doesn’t work if you can never engage the entire team at the same time. Mobile-friendly solutions ensure that team members stay in the loop even if they are on the go.
Although companies have been experimenting with remote work for decades, it is now becoming an operational imperative. According to one recent survey, 71 percent of organizations say that they expect to continue having employees work remotely after the pandemic is over. Advanced team collaboration solutions are critical for enabling a remote workforce.