You could argue that technology has come into its own more than ever in the workplace over the last year or so.
Perhaps you were already successfully working virtually, or maybe you found it thrust upon you as a result of the pandemic. In any case, it’s the technology that we use that enables an efficient work environment (or not, of course!).
With more businesses operating in a virtual environment, there are more people looking to optimize how they harness technology as an asset to their teams. Here are some of our tips for making it work in the virtual environment:
#1. Start with the right hardware
Many people found themselves having to dive into working from home all of a sudden last year. As we all know, the hardware you use - laptops, tablets, etc. - really matters.
If your team is connecting to the office remotely, working off a mobile phone isn’t going to cut it. Think about how long it takes to type up an email on your phone as compared to typing one on a regular-sized keyboard.
Another important consideration is the storage and processing abilities of the devices being used. Some cheaper, smaller devices just aren’t designed for heavy workloads and you’ll find they develop annoying habits, like freezing, crashing or overheating, then quickly need replacing. You’re much better off to begin with reliable hardware that keeps you productive for the long-term.
Lastly, think about ergonomics! In an office environment, this is often considered with desks, chairs and computers set up to optimally support healthy posture and to avoid strain injuries. Devices used at home should be considered too. For example, there is a growing body of research about the impacts of mobile usage on people’s neck and spinal health. If the aim is to productively use technology, you definitely want to avoid injuries!
#2. Designate a repository for key information
When you work in a co-located office environment, it’s easy to turn around and ask colleagues about the policy or procedure to get something done. When you move to a virtual environment, you can’t just swing your chair around and ask, so it’s important that information is easily accessible (and organized).
First, it’s important to document all policies and procedures. Cloud-based software is one of the best options for this because it means that documents can be updated in real time and people always know they’re looking at the current version.
Something like a shared Google Drive with Google Docs can be a good way to store and organize this information. Your virtual executive assistant can help to create a system that keeps everything organized and easy to find.
#3. Encourage more of a “live” environment
Chatting openly is one of the benefits of a co-located office environment. A lot can be said for the relationships developed next to the watercooler and the easy sharing of ideas and banter. People often discover common ground through their casual conversations and develop more solid working relationships.
Outside of an office environment, your challenge is to try to recreate some of those “live” environment benefits. One way is through apps like Slack, where team members can chat about work or non-work topics. You can create something like a “watercooler” channel for chit-chat, then appropriately themed channels for different sorts of conversations. By encouraging open conversation over private messages (where possible), it helps to promote more of that live feel.
#4. Make the most of video training
When you’re in an office environment, people often help each other out by showing how to operate a system or where to find things. In a virtual environment, you need to be able to still give people the opportunity to learn by observing.
Video technology is a great option to harness for your training needs. A browser extension like Loom can help you to create screen share videos and to record video messages. This can be a great option for sharing those “how to’s” that people would otherwise get by looking over someone’s shoulder.
#5. Sort out easy file sharing
If you need to share large files, you need to have a way to do this easily and securely. Email often won’t do due to restrictions on file sizes.
Cloud-based storage options are again a good answer. For example, you might use Dropbox or another file storage and sharing service. If you use Slack for communicating, they have integrations with Dropbox, Google Docs and more so that file sharing is as easy as pasting the link into a Slack chat.
#6. Use technology for accountability and keeping track
Another challenge of the virtual environment is keeping track of where projects are at, who is responsible and whether deadlines are being met. Staying on top of to-dos can be an issue, especially if they’re not highly visible or if people don’t have a reliable way of being reminded.
Project management software is one thing we consider to be absolutely essential in a remote environment. There are many different options, some with huge, feature-rich programs (like Asana) and some with more basic tracking and task allocation (like Trello).
It’s important to choose a solution that is a good fit for your company and what you need to do. Sometimes a large software turns out to be too big, especially if you don’t need all those features. Pick something that makes it easy to check where things sit.
#7. Have a reliable way to manage calendars
If you’ve ever been in the painful situation where multiple people are needed at one meeting and several are in different timezones, you’ll understand how crucial calendar management is! (Ask your virtual executive assistant - they’re experts at this!).
There are a few great solutions that make scheduling much easier by syncing with time zones and finding/suggesting times for meetings that are mutually available. An app like Calendly is one good option.
#8. Block big distractions
Most of us are prone to distraction in some way, but in a digital environment a lot of those distractions exist online. You’re trying to finish an important report when an email notification pings, or you deviate from planning “just for a minute” to check Facebook. It’s almost never just for a minute and whatever the distraction, it tends to take several minutes to get back to a solid, focused rate of work.
Technology is here to help with technology’s distractions! You can use apps to block your biggest distractions for certain periods of time - like especially when you need to be “in the zone” and focused on finishing something.
Zenware is one option that cuts out extra toolbars, icons and side rails that can be a distraction. SelfControl can block you from websites that frequently suck up your time. While we all aim to be super-productive, it’s important to acknowledge that as humans, we might get distracted! There should be no shame in using tools to limit those things that divert our attention.
#9. Know your Zoom
Here are some of the statements frequently heard during 2020: “You’re on mute!”; “Hey, your camera is on!!!” (as someone does something “not safe for work”); “Can you see my screen now??” This is common as people learn to navigate the remote environment, but of course it takes away from productivity.
Your aim is to keep up professionalism in the remote environment. So if Zoom is one of your tools of choice, it’s important to have a few rules or guidelines around how to use it. We wrote an article on tips for using Zoom like a pro here.
#10. Have reliable security protocols
It becomes even more important to have solid security protocols and rules in place when working in a remote environment. This covers a lot of ground, so here are some quick points:
- If you have work-issued devices, you need policies for their secure use.
- If people are accessing shared workspaces/systems from personal devices or computers, you need good security policies for doing this.
- All devices/computers should have good security software installed.
- Using cloud-based software can be a huge help in terms of maintaining security and ensuring that all work is saved. The companies that own the software are responsible for updates and keeping security at an optimum.
The virtual workplace seems set to be commonplace now and into the future. It’s important that you know how to make technology work for your company to create a productive remote environment!
A virtual executive assistant is perfectly placed to help. VEAs are experts at working in a remote environment and know all sorts of tips and tricks for setting you up for success. They can oversee key tasks so that you can focus on your most important goals.
If you need a good virtual executive assistant for your business, Worxbee is here to help. We’d love to chat with you about your needs - go here to see what we offer and to schedule a call with us.