Using social media to improve communication for remote workers

A recent poll conducted by LinkedIn found that more than a third of respondents (36%) work remotely every day while 32% work remotely at least once a week. Only one in ten reported that they never work remotely and another 11% responded that they work remotely “only when they have to”.

Whether working on the go or as a permanent flexible working arrangement, more and more employees are logging hours away from the office. Yet many still face barriers to efficiency when working remotely.

When asked what the biggest barrier to efficiency is when working remotely, the most common answer was “I can’t see what others do” (32%). The second most common complaint by remote workers was that they are unable to attend meetings (24%).

When remote employees lack of visibility into their team members’ work, or are excluded from team meetings, communication suffers. As a result, common problems include duplication of work, uninformed decisions and breakdown of trust.

Any business that wants to improve efficiency between workers sitting across the room or around the world needs to implement tools that enable web-based collaboration, transparency and trust. Modern, mobile project management that borrows from social media tools is one solution that many businesses are embracing.

CEOs and IT managers are often afraid of overuse of web-access technologies in the company network. This aversion applies above all to cases where – in line with the ‘hands-on’ web 2.0 ideology – users have independently brought these new forms of communication into the network, thus avoiding any direct regulation and control.

But particularly in these cases the advantages and disadvantages of the social media must be clearly weighted. All too often the most familiar social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are at best seen from a marketing and PR standpoint. But the real-time communication and collaboration benefits of social media are an important component of communication within the company.

Taking the most productive applications of these technologies and leveraging them in your organisation can present huge advantages for remote workers because collaboration and visibility are enhanced. The social media aspect can also help companies open up access to information that will streamline processes.

For example, important information held at critical moments by only a single team member, who at that instant is currently on a business trip, rarely gets considered in a project. Or, one person can easily pick up on a conversation directed towards someone else. Through direct, Facebook-style communication, which is also possible using mobile devices, everyone involved knows far more quickly and directly who holds what information or who can help in case of indecision.

Opening up communication in a project leads to the same benefits as when people work closely together physically. One person can easily pick up on a conversation directed towards someone else. This type of unplanned communication enables project members to take initiatives, share knowledge and feel that they are part of the bigger picture. Furthermore, making information more accessible by all project team members encourages feedback and builds trust in the team.

In this day and age, when nearly every employee works remotely some or all of the time, there is no reason communication, visibility or access control should suffer. With web-based technology and collaboration tools that borrow from social media, any business can remove the key barrier to efficient remote working.

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Johan Zetterström is CEO at Projectplace. Prior to joining Projectplace, he served as General Manager, Nordics at Salesforce.com. He started the Nordic business from the ground up and he was also responsible for Benelux and Russia.