From widening your talent pool beyond local levels, to saving money by eliminating the need for a traditional office — implementing a remote workforce results in a number of benefits. However, virtual teams do come with their own distinct set of issues. For example, without face-to-face contact, some remote employees may begin to feel isolated and become disengaged from their work. Fortunately, organizing and maintaining a happy and productive remote team is as easy as following three straightforward steps.
When managing a remote team, nothing is more important than building trust. Both supervisors and employees must be able to rely on each other, having confidence that the other party will accomplish the tasks they agreed upon. Though it doesn’t always comes naturally to everyone, working in a remote environment calls for us to readily give our trust to others.
Nancy Lockwood of HR Magazine likened trust to a partnership: “Employee-employer and employee-employee relationships must become partnerships, that is, carefully maintained transformational leadership environments.” To put it plainly, remote teams have to share power. Now, this doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be a general leader — because there absolutely should be — what it means is that the supervisor needs to adopt a “monitor and mentor” approach to managing, instead of the old “command and control” method.
You have to trust your employees and treat them like the adults they are. Give them autonomy and let them make their own decisions. Whatever you do, don’t micromanage. Not only does this tend to destroy employee confidence and engagement, it’s not effective in helping struggling employees get back on track. After all, if they can’t succeed unattended in a hands-off environment, babysitting them isn’t going to make much of a difference. Have faith in their abilities and let them prove their trustworthiness to you. You hired these people, so trust your judgment and their efforts. Once you do, you’ll see the relationship flourish.
Promote Open Communication
Second to trust in remote organizations is the importance of communication. Crystal clear communication is key to success. One way to achieve this is to think about how information travels around an office. There are brainstorming sessions around the whiteboard, informal discussions in the break room, company updates and employee commendations at monthly meetings, and so on. This knowledge will aid you in choosing one or more communication tools that will work as a vehicle for these various types of conversations.
When selecting communication tools, remember that more isn’t always better. Having too many communication methods can become chaotic. The last thing you want is for constant notifications and prompts from assorted programs to become a distraction. After all, these channels are meant to encourage productivity, not hinder it. You can avoid this communication overwhelm by giving each tool or platform a specific purpose. This way, your employees will know how to best get in touch with teammates depending on the situation, and there will be far less wasted time, frustration, and missed connections.
It’s crucial to keep your remote employees up to date with any and all news regarding the company. When workers are informed about the goings-on within the company, they feel in the know and excited about the future — both of which are important aspects of engagement. Aside from company matters, remote work can also leave employees unaware of what’s going on with the rest of the team, or even feeling like their own work is going unacknowledged. You can prevent this disconnect and and boost team morale at the same time by publicly recognizing individual and group accomplishments..
Finally, good communication also involves weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly one-on-one check-ins with your employees. Use these meetings to create goals and guidelines for work and accountability, and to chat about any issues they may be coming across. One-on-ones are perfect opportunities to encourage engagement and give them incentive to contribute their best work. Make sure they feel as though they’re a part of something and emphasize your open-door policy, letting them know that they can come to you with both professional and personal concerns. When employees know that they can discuss a problem with you, they feel far more secure — ultimately building greater trust.
In remote teams the physical distance between employees isn’t as important as the psychological distance. Bridging that distance by building camaraderie can be difficult, but if you put your mind to it, you’ll definitely see a substantial payoff.
Start by building a “virtual watercooler” and encourage team members to actually talk to each other on a regular basis. You can do this by creating a chat specifically for non-work related topics, or by pairing them up at random each week for a 15-minute call to talk about anything. Bring team members together for face-to-face interactions (video conferencing) as often as feasible. By giving employees an opportunity to have conversations, you allow them to find areas of common ground and ultimately build an underlying layer of trust in each other.
Another fun and fantastic way to promote relationships is to pick a designated time each week (or month) to play a game or do some good old-fashioned show and tell. Here are a few ideas:
- Play group trivia
- Play an online party game
- Do a virtual scavenger hunt
- Watch a movie and discuss it
- Form a book club
- Sing karaoke
- Share your favorite YouTube video (work appropriate)
- Share pictures of your pets
- Share your favorite gifs
- Share pictures of your most recent creations, such as art, food, crafts, hobbies, etc.
Employees will look forward to this time, and you’ll see new connections forming weekly!
Unfortunately there is a downside to relationships — conflict. Even remote employees have their fair share of scraps. When it comes to resolving conflicts on a remote team, Firm of the Future recommends scheduling a videoconference. By having a face to face conversation, employees can take notice of body language and tone of voice. This will help to avoid misconceptions and anything else that might make the problem worse.
It may seem like remote teams are harder to manage than their in-office counterparts, but in reality, they’re just different. Though it takes a more concerted effort to build trust, encourage communication, and form healthy relationships, it’s well worth the work in the long run. Besides, we’re rapidly approaching a future where the majority of employees are remote, so it’s better to adapt sooner rather than later.
Guest Contributor: Liz Greene is a writer, marketing professional, and full blown pop culture geek from the beautiful City of Trees, Boise, ID. When not stalking the aisles of her local Ulta, she can be found shoveling down sushi while discussing the merits of the latest Game of Thrones fan theories. You can follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene, or check out her latest post on Three Broke Bunnies.