As originally published in the American City Business Journals.
As more and more businesses incorporate remote workers into their team, the question we’re forced to answer is how we can best keep these employees connected.
“Connected,” of course, has two meanings: technical and cultural; having the right tools in place is useless if you don’t make your staff feel like part of your team, and warm fuzzies are equally as useless if your team can’t actually work together effectively.
So, let’s take a look at what you should have in place to keep your remote workers happy and productive.
1. A thoughtful onboarding process.
Bring your new hires on-site for their first week (longer if you can swing it). Immerse them in your culture, and introduce them to as many other members of your team as you can during that time. Set them up in a buddy system so that they go back home with at least one solid connection to help get them ramped up.
It’s important to wrap your arms around your new hires no matter where they’re working, but this is especially important to those who will be isolated from the rest of your team.
2. An “all-access” work platform.
Do your remote workers have a completely different work experience than your office-bound staff does? Do they only have access to part of your system? Is it a daily struggle for them to log into your network?
If you want to call attention to the fact that some of your employees are on the “outside,” that’s a sure-fire way to do it. And beyond any issues of ostracizing your remote workers, they won’t be able to work effectively, either.
This is where the cloud can make a huge difference – with something like Virtual Desktops or another easily-accessed cloud solution, all of your staff will be logging into the same system, and will have the same level of functionality no matter where they’re working from (or what sort of device they’re working on).
3. Collaboration tools.
A consistent work experience is a critical first step, but that alone isn’t enough to set your remote team up for success. How do they stay in touch with the rest of the company? Collaborate on documents? Engage in the more light-hearted “water cooler talk” that is so critical to building relationships?
Tools like instant and video messaging help unite a wide-spread workforce – and you’ll get a whole lot more work done than if you are limited to email communication.
Depending on your needs and workflow, you can meet this need with individual packages like Skype for Business (Lync), Google Hangouts, Zoom, and Yammer or you can get an all-in-one package like Slack or Microsoft Teams to centralize and enhance your internal communication.
4. Consistent company-wide interactions.
Bring video conferencing into play on a regular basis. You can have all the collaboration tools in the world, but there is no substitute for seeing faces and all of those nonverbal cues that enrich our communication.
Our company has a regular interactive end-of-the-week video call (using Zoom!) to chat about what happened and acknowledge members of the team who did outstanding work. This might not be practical for your company, but make a serious effort to bring your team together into one virtual space.
5. In-person gatherings.
At some point you need to bring your entire team together in the flesh. It doesn’t have to be frequent, but it needs to happen and it needs to be meaningful.
Set them up in a hotel close to your offices and squeeze them into your space. If you can dedicate time to team-building activities, excellent. If you can sponsor some sort of happy hour, that’s great, too. If you can’t manage either of those, encourage everyone to socialize with one another throughout the day and after-hours.
Ultimately, while we can’t erase the line that separates our in-office staff and our remote workers, it’s our responsibility as business owners to blur it as much as we possibly can. Even if you’re offering your existing staff more teleworking flexibility, take care to maintain as much closeness (again with the dual meaning here) as you can.
In the end, your people and your bottom line will thank you.