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Remote work has its benefits…and its drawbacks.
I don’t miss commuting to work. At all.
About seven years ago, I was working at Facebook in Menlo Park, California. Every day, I’d drive from my apartment in Oakland. Most days involved three hours in the car. The worst days were more like four. I really don’t miss that.
I was thrilled to join the team at Zight (formerly CloudApp) (a remote-first company) in 2016. From there, my longest car ride was a five-minute trip to drop my kids off at school. And getting that extra time with them is a huge perk.
But I, like many others, am getting a little sick of remote work. Sitting in our bedroom offices might be convenient, but it’s not fun. Remote work, intentionally or not, has led to heavier workloads, isolation, and anxiety. 44% of employees said they were more burned out in 2021 than they were in 2020.
There seems to be a tribal, gladiator-style rivalry between the “get back to the office!” crowd and the “stay remote forever!” crew. No matter where you stand, you can recognize that the workplace has radically changed. It’s only been two years, and our way of working hasn’t fully caught up to the way things are structured in the modern workplace.
We’re all disconnected. We’re trying to figure out ways to work better together, but there’s nothing in the remote world that’s filling the creative and personal gap of in-person interactions. The most successful companies will be the ones that find new solutions to reshape their work environment and help their employees enjoy work again.
No one has all the answers, but we have to try. Company leaders have to build a more prescriptive and proactive hybrid culture – and we can’t forget to have some fun.
Here’s how I’d address some of the most common challenges:
Problem: “I feel like I’m stuck in a Zoom prison.”
Ever look at your calendar and just groan?
It’s hard to leave your home office, and if you go into the office, you’ll probably spend most of the day in a conference room anyways. That’s what I call a “Zoom prison.”
Solution: Define what actually needs to be a meeting
I would never suggest that you get rid of every synchronous meeting; that’s not practical. But think of how many times you hop on a “quick call” that ultimately could’ve been avoided with some creative, asynchronous communication.
Could you pre-record a product demo video for customers that answers every major FAQ? If a customer is experiencing a bug, could you send an annotated screenshot that points them to the remedy? Internally, could company-wide updates be condensed into a weekly podcast that leadership prepares for on-demand viewing?
These are just a few of the ways that our team is utilizing Zight (formerly CloudApp) to reduce the number of meetings for each employee while still effectively sharing information in greater detail.
Problem: “I’m feeling burned out.”
Remote work has saved the stress of commuting. However, driving while listening to a podcast or sitting on a train with a book can be therapeutic. Many people seem to take those commuting hours and put them towards work – starting earlier and finishing later.
Solution: Institute more aggressive shutdowns and turn-off points.
Research from the Mayo Clinic shows that you’ll lower your chance of burnout significantly if you spend 20% of your time doing what you love. Give your employees some time to chill out and pursue their passions! Consider, no matter how crazy it sounds, forced vacations and PTO to help people unplug.
Problem: “I can’t make new friends in the office.”
We’ve lost a lot of the spontaneous things that used to make the office fun: water cooler chitchat, impromptu bump-ins, unscheduled deskside catch-ups, etc.
New employees, especially, don’t have the same chances to make meaningful friendships in the workplace.
Solution: Make coworking a priority.
There are ways to get creative to help combat isolation and give remote employees the chance to bond with others. Companies that are re-allocating a budget previously used for one central office location can test out new solutions.
Much of the world is still longing for those social and personal interactions, especially with colleagues and friends. Not only did the work shift to a primarily virtual setting, but so did our social interactions. Take the metaverse, for instance; people are still craving a more personal connection, even when it happens remotely.
A recent study from Brigham Young University found that workgroups that played video games together for 45 minutes were more productive and that gaming together translated into working skills, such as collective problem solving or working together to accomplish a joint task, while building a friendlier connection amongst teams by bringing out a different side of their coworkers not traditionally seen in an office setting.
Problem: “I miss having fun with my coworkers.”
We’ll probably never get back to the days when the entire office is filled to 90% capacity. There have to be new ways to get the bulk of your organization together, in one place, for morale-boosting and team-building activities.
Solution: Organize big-ticket company outings, twice a year.
Most companies, I imagine, have shrunk their rent budget significantly over the past few years. Leaders need to re-allocate these funds, rather than view them as a money-saving opportunity.
I envision a shift, where a company’s event budget swells from the runoff of a shrunken office budget. There will likely be new companies that emerge as a sort of “AirBnB of Office Retreats.” Every six months, companies can get everyone together, outside of the office and their homes, to have some fun and talk about their vision of the company’s future.
Not every leader can control the things I outlined above. The most important thing, however, is that HR teams and company leadership shift their mindset towards the workplace environment. Most companies have taken some steps to adjust to the hybrid model, but we’re lagging behind on opportunities for engagement, creativity, and relaxation.
Employees will always come and go, but the best organizations will keep their talent because they remember that sometimes, amidst it all, work can still be fun.
Working remotely has its benefits. If we all make an effort, it can be even better.
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