As more and more organizations have transitioned from in-person to a distributed workforce, many have eagerly sought out new tools that enable employees to communicate, collaborate, and remain productive while physically distant. When the Covid-19 pandemic first unfolded, many companies adopted a "more is better" approach to remote-friendly technology adoption--adopting a hodgepodge of tools almost overnight.
There are several problems associated with a "more is better" approach--especially when it comes to distributed work. As more disconnected tools are added to your toolbox, technology debt increases and teams lose clarity in terms of where important information lives and which technologies house which types of information.
Now is the time to think carefully about which tools will help your teams collaborate effectively when physically distant. Here are three questions you should ask before investing in a remote work tool.
1. Does it support asynchronous communication?
Sahar Yousef--a UC Berkeley-trained cognitive neuroscientist--told me about the biggest pitfalls newly distributed work teams encounter. She told me that the biggest challenge associated with distributed work is relying too heavily on synchronous communication.
She says the most effective distributed teams rely predominantly on asynchronous communication. While synchronous, or real-time, communication platforms such as Slack are valuable, your distributed team should rely primarily on asynchronous communication.
When you're evaluating remote-work tools, ask yourself: Do they have notification or "do not disturb" features that enable your team members to maintain flow and deep work without missing a beat? Do they support high-quality search so that your team members can discover and access important communication threads? Do they minimize back-and-forth communication by supporting features such as status updates and priority tracking?
2. Does it support cross-functional work?
Teams vary in how much cross-functional work they engage in. Some teams work in a silo and can get by with tools that are tailor-made with their team's preferences and work styles in mind. But, chances are, your team works cross-functionally with other teams.
Carefully consider whether prospective tools are conducive to working with other teams. Do prospective tools support multiple work styles? Do they support multiple use cases?
Also, consider whether the tool will be embraced by both engineers and salespeople. Engineers and salespeople are often two of the most vocal--and distinct--groups in an organization. If you've found a distributed work tool that both these groups embrace, chances are you've found a tool that will generate a positive ROI and won't be relegated to a line item within an already stretched technology budget.
3. Which integrations does it support?
A major pitfall associated with reliance on workplace technology is context switching. When working remotely, it's easy to succumb to a rampage of notifications. Each notification takes a toll on our productivity. Research by colleagues at Loughborough University found that 70 percent of all emails received are opened within six seconds of their receipt.
Every time we succumb to an email or other notification, we need to reorient ourselves back to what we were doing prior to being interrupted. We lose the context of what we were working on. Research has shown that it takes an average of 64 seconds to reorient ourselves and resume work on the original task. These seconds quickly add up and inhibit you from doing your best work.
One of the most effective ways to limit context switching is to invest in remote work tools that support a wide range of integrations. If your teams rely on Slack, Google Drive, or Dropbox to collaborate, you should prioritize remote work tools that integrate seamlessly with these mission-critical platforms.
Having the right tools to power your distributed workforce is key to success. But don't underestimate the human aspect of technology implementation. Implementing any valuable tool requires change management. It's well worth the effort to invest in establishing norms, documenting best practices, and learning and development. Ask prospective technology vendors for assistance. The best vendors will support you with the resources required to set your teams up for success.