Today’s workplace has expanded beyond the physical walls of an office. Members of the same team can easily work from different countries and even across time zones. Satellite and flexible working has become more popular, with many organisations expanding their telecommuting policies. According to research conducted by totaljobs, one of the UK’s leading jobs websites, one in five workers feel more productive when they work remotely. Almost a third of workers say they would change jobs for one that offered telecommuting options.
But remote working and distributed teams do not come without their challenges. Collaboration between employees dispersed across different locations can be difficult. Even in a high-tech world where coworkers are just an email or instant message away, we can still feel disconnected from each other.
Leverage these tools and strategies to help your team work more collaboratively, no matter where your employees are.
Throughout your workday, you might jot down notes, ideas or action items in your notebook or on sticky notes. Writing notes by hand is more spontaneous, but it’s not always easy to find them later. Now that today’s office can be anywhere—your physical desk at the office, your kitchen table or even at the boarding gate waiting for your next flight—you might not always have your notebook handy.
And what if you need to find something you wrote down months ago? “We’ve found when people finish a notebook, they keep it. People have cupboards full of notebooks,” says Louise Jackson, who is the international product manager for Oxford Business Notebooks. “People keep all these ideas, thoughts and projects they’ve worked on, but they can’t use them because they can’t find what they’re looking for.”
The solution? Digitize those handwritten notes by uploading them to the cloud.
Jackson is also the product manager for SCRIBZEE®, an app that scans your handwritten notes from any specially marked Oxford notebook. Your notes are then saved to the cloud, where you can access them on any device. SCRIBZEE® is also compatible with the digital notetaking app Evernote for a seamless experience. The app even works to digitise anything you write on Oxford SPOT NOTES®, their smart sticky notes.
“We believe paper is a great way of developing your ideas and getting information out of your head onto paper,” further explains Jackson. “With SCRIBZEE®, you can give that paper digital superpowers.”
Even when working inside the walls of your office, you might rarely see colleagues who work on different floors or in different departments. Digital communication tools such as email or video chat are so effective, we’re less likely to find ourselves in informal discussions. Those spontaneous in-person chats, however, are where the real collaborative magic happens.
Make it more appealing for employees to leave their desks and work alongside others in collaborative spaces. Now that lightweight laptops take preference over desktop computers, it’s easier to take your work to a different location. At Oxford, employees have the option of working from communal areas that have comfortable couches and coffee machines, creating a more homely environment.
Consider building out an area in your office that lets people switch up their work environment and feels more casual. A more laid back area will invite more spontaneous interactions between employees. Think more living room-inspired furniture instead of standard desks and sturdy office chairs. Couches, comfortable chairs and side tables allow people to switch gears. If you have satellite employees or those from different locations who occasionally come into the office to work on-site, this will also give them a workspace to camp out.
Check out Staples's wide range of furniture solutions to create a similarly collaborative space in your own office .
When you have employees working from different locations or telecommuting, it’s especially important to occasionally bring the group together for face-to-face collaboration. This helps prevent people from feeling isolated. Depending on your budget and the size of your team, consider a quarterly, twice-yearly or annual in-person meeting or collaboration session.
This could entail bringing key decision makers together for a strategic brainstorm about high-level goals. It could also mean all-hands meeting with all employees where you share company news and do team-building activities to spark a more playful, innovative office culture.
To make the event feel more unique, plan it at an off-site location. “It’s important to go to a different place where people are not in the office and dragged down by emails,” suggests Jackson. This physically and mentally takes people away from their day-to-day work, allowing them to focus more on building real personal connections.
While bringing together distributed employees to brainstorm in the same location helps build team cohesiveness, collaboration shouldn’t end there. After the meeting ends and everyone once again disperses, you’ll want to keep everyone in sync to continue the conversation.
Make it easy for all participants to gain access to the notes and ideas that were shared in the meeting. “After a brainstorm, everyone wants the notes right away,” says Jackson. “If you can quickly share them and collate them, it’s a more seamless experience.”
You can do exactly that with the Oxford Smart Flipchart, which is also compatible with the SCRIBZEE® app. Simply take notes on the flipchart and snap pictures of the pages with your smartphone. SCRIBZEE® will scan and save multiple pages as one high-quality PDF file to share with the entire group. This way, everyone has instant access to the notes and can continue to build upon those ideas as a group, even as a distributed team.
As digital tools continue to shape our physical work environments, there are many ways you can adapt how employees communicate and collaborate. Being proactive in how you design workspaces, how you structure meetings and how you integrate sharing tools into your process can keep employees better connected, even when they’re far apart.
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