While many remote workers enjoy the freedom of working on their laptops while sitting poolside—or anywhere else—the everyday reality of managing a virtual workplace is far more complex than it first appears. Managing multiple channels of communication and maximizing limited opportunities for collaboration present two of the biggest challenges for remote teams.
The man behind global collaboration software company, Gmelius, has a passion for collaboration and has made it his mission to help teams streamline collaborative efforts, whether working together in person or remotely. That’s exactly what Gmelius is designed to do.
“The important thing is not the place, but really the task and the project you're working on.”
Founder and CEO Dr. Florian Bersier confronts remote workplace trials daily. His background in cybersecurity, digital economic research, and project collaboration comprises a solid foundation of experience necessary to steer a company vested in shaping the future of virtual work to success. Although he describes Gmelius as a “small” company, today they count more than 10,000 teams as partners—or “Gmelians,” as Bersier calls them.
Based in Geneva, Switzerland, Gmelius employs teams from around the world. The company has what Bersier describes as “a nice hybrid scheme,” with local employees and some from nearby France who choose to work in the physical office. However, “there is nothing compulsory about in-person office hours,” Bersier emphasizes.
When asked for his definition of “the virtual workspace,” Bersier responds enthusiastically, “you can actually work in any place.” His intensity never flags as he details parameters that help sustain the freedom of remote work and also ensure productivity. He describes it as a mix of processes, tools, and habits put in place to ensure the replication of office synergy across a variety of locations.
While Bersier’s infectious energy could easily inspire someone to transition their company to a virtual workplace, some key factors require serious contemplation prior to taking that leap.
Obstacles to Managing Remote Teams
“The task is the most important.”
Bersier relates from firsthand experience with Gmelius on issues that hinder managing remote teams. Some common obstacles include:
- Difficulty replicating casual conversations you might have in office spaces
- Coordinating work with people in different time zones and locations
- Lack of communication
- Forgetting to mention small, but vital, details to team members
Regardless of location, when managing a virtual workplace, Bersier asserts that communicating well-defined tasks is the ultimate goal. “The task is the most important. Then tools help you replicate the processes you will have to implement to ensure the same amount of productivity as if you were in an office.”
Steps for Overcoming Obstacles
Once people understand the tasks and expectations of their roles, and have the tools to support their workflow, the final element of successful remote teams is alignment. Trying to get a team’s buy-in on a project is hard enough in face-to-face settings. As Bersier states, “Having an alignment across different teams and teammates, whether you are in the office or remote, is vital. It’s also vital to make sure you have the necessary tools to keep everyone connected.”
“Trust good people to do good work.”
For those expecting details on employee surveillance and time-tracking apps, this post will be disappointing: Gmelius uses an alternate management style. Rather than micromanaging, Bersier exhorts managers to “trust good people to do good work.” He evangelizes the importance of human connections and fostering their growth. Connecting with coworkers, Bersier believes, is the key to successful collaboration and communication for all work environments, not just hybrid or remote.
Bersier believes the difficulty in recreating casual, “water cooler” conversations via email is the biggest obstacle in virtual workplace management. Instead of building camaraderie in person, we must work harder to connect with team members for alignment on later projects.
“These casual conversations are important to the survival and future of the company because these conversations can form the execution of different processes needed for the team to work efficiently and productively.”
Working remotely often means greater physical distances among team members, but many companies also remain divided by department, function, or status. Remote workers must be mindful of cultural and departmental differences to ensure clear communication across continents, external businesses, and even cross-departmental messages.
Steps for clear communication:
- Assess each team’s needs to ensure they are met in a timely manner.
- Verify that clear, reliable plans have been established for key tasks.
- Create clear, well-defined descriptions of key projects, roles, and expectations.
“At Gmelius everyone knows they need to keep some time every day to meet with teammates. This is where you will build impressions, relationships, and plans that can help move projects forward. We try to keep the virtual workflow organized and consistent, but it’s definitely a process you need to push to become habitual.”
Ensure a Positive Remote Work Environment
Remote team managers face the daunting challenge of developing clear plans, fostering connections, and selecting tools that support team goals. But, to paraphrase Bersier, such tasks function as choreography to the music of purpose. As he suggests, “It’s important that people adjust to different factors, including family issues, economic issues, and more.”
“A key factor for keeping a positive work environment is not focusing on how many hours you work but what work you do with those hours.
In other words, remember that we work to live, not the other way around. This high-level perspective gestures at Bersier’s expertise as a Ph.D. in Complex Systems. In general, systems provide codified processes for reaching goals. Understanding the reason behind a system gives it purpose, answering the question, “why should I care?” When teams understand their purpose, they develop a sense of ownership in their work.
“We have to find ways to regroup and get a sense of team pride. I leave time in my schedule for others to come communicate with me on different issues. I help them evaluate what needs to be done so we can all be successful and keep the connection between teams strong.”
“We really try to push for everyone to have some human connection despite working in a virtual environment.”
Bersier proudly celebrates every success at Gmelius: “People need positive feedback, so let them know they’re appreciated.” Bersier encourages teams to praise each other, no matter how small the win, with company Slack channel: #YAY.
Positive feedback and human connection have become increasingly important for so many remote workers in a post-COVID world. As Bersier states, “remote and hybrid work is not the same [as before the pandemic]. We must change the way we perceive work and our roles.” He is skeptical of those who romanticize the idea of “going back” to work as if walking through office doors can erase the collective trauma of a global pandemic. “It’s BS. So many people are deeply affected . . . it’s different and there’s no going back.”
“At Gmelius we give our employees the choice of working remotely or working in the office. This can help solve some issues we are facing . . . a lot of our workers live across different borders and the social economics are different for each country, and all this while facing COVID-19. It’s beneficial to have flexible opportunities for employees whether they are in the office or remote.”
Less Is More
Putting employees and their needs before work tasks may require adjusting some SOPs. Complaints of multiple meetings and too many messages carry serious implications. Bersier’s work philosophy mirrors Gmelius’s goal: to eliminate or automate the tasks that take time away from your real work and streamline processes using a single source of truth for tasks and communication. “Busy-ness” is not the same as business.
On Minimizing Meetings
At Gmelius, Bersier keeps meetings short: 30 minutes max. Team members prepare individually before coming to meetings. “Meetings are for alignment. They are important for the reflection of the team and the individual. Everyone shares what they have done to make sure everyone is on the same page.” Attendees receive a synopsis of discussions and action items afterward.
- Before: “Follow some sort of guideline of how the meeting will run. It should be finalized well in advance to ensure everyone in the meeting has access to the information.”
- During: “Don’t just read the agenda! There needs to be proper discussion. Without communication and open discussion, the meeting would hit roadblocks.”
- After: The host should share an overview of the information covered. This helps track deliverables and ensures clarity. It can also help the company assess whether meetings are productive, or need to be reconfigured.
On Minimizing Tools
“It’s important to minimize tools because the more tools you have, the more dispersion you have, and the harder it is to find the right information for your team. The tools need to be unified so all members are using the same sources to access and input information.”
Email Is Here to Stay for Virtual Workplace Management
As a self-described “email fanatic,” Bersier believes email communication is essential to the success of virtual workplaces, and declares it particularly well-suited for certain formal purposes. “For formal responses, email is irreplaceable. Without it, it would be very difficult to bridge the communication gap between companies.”
Florian’s Fast Inbox Fixes:
“An inbox by nature is ‘noisy’ so I try to keep my email as small as possible. We need to ensure only the important conversations are visible in the inbox.” His suggestions:
- Restrict the number of contacts allowed to email the primary inbox directly [for shared inboxes]. All other emails go to other inboxes.
- If an email takes less than three minutes to respond, do it right away. This prevents emails that need urgent replies from multiplying and decreases your messages. It also keeps the inbox uncluttered.
- Restrict yourself to checking your inbox only a few times a day. This ensures every notification goes to the right device and is in the correct place when you’re ready to work on them.
Transitioning to a Virtual Workplace
Gmelius CEO Dr. Florian Bersier advises that in order to transition to a remote environment, organizations must ensure everything is extremely well planned. He cites the need to prepare: “The main difference I’ve noticed is companies will go from something that isn’t very formalized to something that is very formalized. You need a sense of transparency and clarity. And you need to prepare for the transition.”
He concedes that not every team will be able to transition to a hybrid format. “There is definitely a trade-off. Not everyone's the same. It’s important to give freedom of choice to the employee. When you work remotely there needs to be trust and transparency in your team.”
In a well-planned virtual workplace, planning, transparency, and trust follow one another in logical succession. Good planning creates greater transparency, and that transparency encourages the growth of trust among your teams and management.
It's also important to create a clear picture of how a virtual workplace will function. The transformation of an in-person workplace into a remote environment is challenging to replicate—visually—but planning at this level is paramount for success.
“This has to be defined so we can manage the overall operations in a way that is necessary for the success of the company. By switching to a virtual environment we also need to change the way we see the future of the company.”
“It’s a common misconception that switching to a fully remote workplace will be easy and carefree. If you want to be truly successful you need to be pragmatic about the transition.”
At the company level, you will need to:
- Take a step back to reflect: Where is the business now? Where do you want to go?
- Have some tough, but necessary discussions about resources and expectations
- Re-enforce old and new policies: these structures offer support in uncertain times
- Make sure everyone feels supported during the transition
The Future of Gmelius
“Companies will always need applications. [At Gmelius] We find it very important that during your operation you get access to the information as smoothly as possible. Gmelius builds a deep integration between these applications to ensure all [your company's] information is connected to all applications and platforms. We want to constantly integrate the systems so you know you can get the information needed at the right time.”
Overall, Gmelius offers an example of successful virtual workplace management. While going remote offers many advantages, it also presents many hardships. Luckily, Gmelius offers the solutions for overcoming such obstacles. By implementing the tools, features, and analytics that Gmelius provides, your team can make a seamless transition to the virtual workforce.
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