The recent public health threat from the coronavirus outbreak has brought working from home into the mainstream. But many companies like Xtensio have been running remotely for years. From its challenges to its perks, here’s our perspective on getting work done virtually.
Remote work has been on the rise over the past decade. Companies small and large have begun to offer flexible schedules and telecommuting options to their employees. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2005 and 2017, the number of U.S. employees who work remotely increased by 159%. But the practice is still considered an experiment – a talent bait adopted by startups, tech and lifestyle companies. Many executives would not easily be convinced of its benefits in traditional business economics. However, a major physical event like a pandemic is suddenly forcing organizations to establish effective remote workflows.
Overnight, remote work is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.
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Business Insider reports that some of the larger US-based companies like Apple, Google, and Amazon, have already restricted travel and asked employees to work from home to prevent an economic decline in business while protecting the health of their employees. The ability to keep functioning remotely is not only an employee safety measure but also a matter of sustaining productivity and growth amidst a global crisis.
Naturally, this raises questions about whether corporations are ready for such a drastic change in business workflows and policies. Coronavirus has presented a unique need to place remote work at the forefront of innovation and the future of the global, modern workplace. Companies small and large have the opportunity to prudently think about what it means to be collaborative and how to improve productivity, efficiency, and growth in times of global health crises and economic slumps.
Getting work done while apart requires a different way of using office tools.
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Our platform, Xtensio, has been built from the ground up and is currently running with team members collaborating across the globe over 8 time-zones. This might sound like a dream-come-true for the introvert genies and free-spirited talent who want to see the world while they work. But before we’ve reaped the benefits, we have experienced all the challenges that come with a distributed team.
The idealistic benefits of remote work are promising. Yet, like in any business structure, there are logistics to refine, policies to amend and new hurdles to overcome when thinking about implementing a virtual workplace. Virtual teams are distributed across different departments, time zones, and even national borders. Physical and cultural differences can make employees feel social and professional isolation. Collaboration and getting things done together while apart is the biggest hurdle of a virtual team.
The emergence of virtual teams is not the first time corporations have had to navigate challenging business workflows. With the explosion of information over the past couple of decades, Forbes notes that many different industries, from healthcare and manufacturing to finance, etc, have been left to design a variety of complex workflows required to manage this information.
These workflows allowed businesses to enforce standards, transparency, regulation and optimize for efficiency. But, at the employee level, most employees relied on means of communication that are often suboptimal and inefficient. – Jun Wu, Forbes
With remote work came tools and software built to empower and inform employees; to make them feel connected in the virtual workplace. Technology like Google and Microsoft suites and other cloud-based tools were created so employees could collaborate in real-time from wherever they happened to be. According to Forbes, the problem with these initial cloud-enabled tools is:
[These tools] didn’t optimize employee’s communication or processes. Instead, employees were still stuck in their old workflows, the same ones they used in the office. With each email sent, each report created, the repetitiveness of these workflows can create a feeling of disconnection in their work. – Jun Wu, Forbes
Technology itself isn’t what makes remote work successful. Rather, it’s the optimization of workflows to support and empower both the employee and the organization. By using the right tools and implementing the appropriate culture and workflows, organizations can provide their employees with transparency, and the motivation needed to empower remote work.
At Xtensio, we’ve been through the ups-and-downs, the excitement, and boredom that comes with making your own schedule and setting your own priorities while also focusing on larger, common team goals. We’ve implemented different tools and technology into our small but global workforce to empower our team members individually and as a whole.
We use cloud-based tools to address the challenges that come with collaborating across locations and time zones – Slack, Trello, Dropbox, Zoom, Calendly, Google drive, and, of course, Xtensio. These tools don’t make our culture, but they do help us adapt workflows to ensure that everyone on the team has access to the information they need, when they need it. But the challenges from working remote have also given us the opportunity to design and build Xtensio with virtual teamwork and global collaboration in mind.
From our experience, tools that reduce friction in the way we communicate and the way we share information, whether it’s ideas, deliverables or optimizations, are ideal in increasing our team’s efficiency, productivity, and performance. Here are some of the main features we look for in tools to help refine our remote work processes:
Privacy and security are the main priority. If a tool doesn’t promise complete privacy and security, we can’t risk using that software to store important data and information that comes with daily business. And your organization most likely can’t either. We use tools that are trusted, safe and secure. And we’ve built Xtensio’s cloud-based solution with that in mind. Xtensio is cloud-based and hosted on Microsoft Azure – one of the most secure and reliable cloud servers out there.
Simplicity and transparency in communication and real-time collaboration are key. When you are working with people you may never see in real life, across time zones and distances, it’s important to keep things as simple as possible when it comes to communication. We look for tools that provide seamless communication across these borders. Slack allows us to message each other whenever and wherever we are. Trello keeps projects organized and on track. Dropbox houses all of our design graphics. Xtensio is where we create and host all of our basic mock-ups, living docs/presentations, reports, marketing, and sales material. Because these are cloud-based tools, we know that everyone can easily collaborate from wherever they are by simply logging in or accessing a link.
Enabling employees with instant access to the information they need is a priority in getting the work done. By using cloud-based tools, we’re able to ensure that everyone on our team has access to everything they need to get their job done. This requires reliability and flexibility in organizing the information we need to share with the team. Slack, Trello, and Xtensio are great tools for organizing our projects and workflow. We’re able to create, share and manage important business information and trust that everyone’s changes automatically save and everything is instant in sync across all devices. The importance of controlling access levels to information is also important as projects move between different phases.
Tools that enable brand consistency make remote work WAY easier. When everyone is spread out, it can be super easy to get lost in the details. We like to use tools that promote brand consistency to make things as easy as possible. With Trello, we know we can easily duplicate, copy or merge cards so everything is one place. Dropbox makes it easy to keep all of our branding assets in one place and ensure that everyone has access to the correct versions. And Xtensio makes it easy to create professionally branded marketing and sales collateral with the help of the shared team style guide, custom templates and ability to reuse information.
While preventing the spread of a new virus is a major benefit, there are many other benefits of remote work.
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Research from publications like Fortune, Gallup and the American Psychological Association, shows that, overall, remote work increases job satisfaction, performance, and loyalty among employees, along with less work-stress or burnout. We have experienced these benefits first hand at Xtensio.
Remote work is healthier for the whole team. Obviously, self-quarantine is a major subject of interest during the Coronavirus threat, and one of the most favorable reasons for remote work right now. But working remotely reduces the risk of employees catching and spreading any infectious disease when they’re feeling the symptoms, from the common cold and flu to the novel Covid-19.
Mental and emotional health are seldom mentioned next to physical health, even though their impact on employee performance is just the same. Remote work takes away the stress of office life. It cuts the commute time in big cities. It gives a chance for people to work from rural areas, close to nature, or while traveling. Or it simply provides the ability to be closer to family or pets. Most virtual teams, Xtensio employees included, are happier working from home.
Remote work increases team efficiency. With fewer interruptions and more time to focus on significant problem-solving or creative work, it’s not surprising that, according to Gallup, employees who spend 60 to 80 percent of their time working remotely complete more tasks in a workday. Even more so, remote work increases team efficiency and fosters collaboration and communication between colleagues that normally couldn’t work together. The distance encourages more focused collaboration, leading to more targeted productivity and team results.
It’s cost-effective for both the employer and the employee. Office space and its operation costs can really add up for the employer. Especially for early-stage companies, it is a big relief to not have to think about the lease and focus on building the company. Working from home often allows employees to save on commute or healthy meal costs.
More time to have a life outside of work. At Xtensio, we’ve been a remote-first company from the start. This has given us the flexibility and agility to brace the ups-and-downs of being a bootstrapped startup while giving our team the flexibility to raise families, complete degrees, travel (or not) and, generally, make time for other goals and hobbies outside of our professional careers.
It encourages and enables diversity. Remote work provides a unique opportunity to bring diversity to your organization. Employers can hire geographically and demographically distributed talent regardless of their physical location to both reduce overhead expenses while fostering diversity and collaboration. At Xtensio, we currently have employees in the US, Tibet, Greece, Turkey, Pakistan, India, the Philippines, and Mexico. This gives us the unique opportunity to work with people who we would not normally collaborate with and we generally do a better job at collaborating both despite and because of our geographical, cultural and demographical differences.
The future of work is in harmony with the physical world.
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While working with a distributed team has been tough at times, ultimately it has made us more resilient. Recent developments have fortified our decision to remain as a distributed team. Threats like the coronavirus, natural disasters will continue to present challenges for many businesses that run from a company office. But these events also give us a unique opportunity to rethink how we work and how business is done in the 21st century. Perhaps rather than the traditional office job from 9-5 and the occasional flex-schedule or remote work, the emerging public health crisis will be the nudge corporations need to update policies, practices, and workflows to support and encourage a different way of working. This is an opportunity for businesses to adjust to our physical world’s natural rhythms and flows, by letting go of the machinelike discipline and control over the human workforce.