Running a recruitment business, I get to speak to a lot of founders of startups who more and more are looking to employ remote-based workers, people not based in the office. Opening your business up to remote workers means that you suddenly gain access to a whole host of skillsets and expertise that perhaps is missing or in low supply within the commutable catchment area of your office. However, I often hear concerns that “it doesn’t work,” that unless you have your people around you, they won’t be engaged, won’t foster the company’s culture and values, or perhaps won’t even do a full day’s work.
The answer to these fears and objections lies with you, the employer, and how you approach the employment and engagement of talent that is not based on site, and often not even based in the same country. Consider these key components to ensuring a healthy and successful relationship with your team, wherever they’re based.
Culture is always a big topic for businesses, whether that’s establishing it from the outset or ensuring it’s maintained as you scale. The important thing is that your staff are bought into it, contribute to it, and espouse it in their daily work life. Therefore, when employing remote workers, you cannot afford to skip this part of the interview and onboarding process. With each interview, you should already be discussing your values and culture and assessing your candidates for how good a fit they are and also, what they can add to the culture. After all, a company’s culture is arguably created and maintained by the people who work there.
When you’re interviewing remote workers, be sure to talk about the work culture and let them know what’s expected from them in terms of how they perform their roles and communicate with colleagues (which we’ll come to next). I’m not going to go into what components make up a great company culture here, but things like open and honest communication, respect for each other, and commitment and passion for the work itself will most likely all feature. Provided you can see these attributes in each candidate you employ, you’ll soon realize that it doesn’t matter whether they’re sitting next to you or in a different time zone, they’re still going to have what it takes to be a valued employee and member of the team.
The most important component to get right when employing remote-based workers is communication. Nothing will make people feel more remote and removed from your business than lack of communication, and there are a number of types of communication you need to consider.
First, video calls are essential, and the selection of platforms available, whether for one-to-one or team meetings, has never been greater. I’d recommend having team video conferences each and every week; one on a Monday is a great way to kick off and set out the week’s objectives, and then a wrap up on a Friday to celebrate successes and head into the weekend on a positive note. Encourage everyone to participate and talk through their aims and challenges, so that remote workers feel included and can get the support of their teammates, even though they aren’t sitting in the same building as them. Also, be mindful of time zones and make sure you arrange these for a time that everyone can attend, without inconveniencing people.
This doesn’t mean that you get to forget about all the days in the middle though, especially if you have deadlines or are working under pressure, everyone should have someone to check-in with who understands what they’re up against. This can either be you as the employer allocating availability slots in your calendar for catch-up calls throughout the week, or else promoting the use of video calls in the business if someone remote has an issue they want to discuss (it’s always nice to see a friendly face).
A lot of my clients make use of apps such as Slack in the workplace, which is an awesome way for everyone in the team to be connected throughout the day, whether discussing projects, sharing information, or just having a chat. In a former life, I was a Document Editor with Deloitte and spent most of the day with headphones in so I could cut out any distractions in the office and focus on the work. Even then, we used to use Messenger in the office, and being able to quickly ask a colleague a question or arrange a beer after work without needing to leave the desk saved so much time and felt like you were all sitting round the same desk.
Also, why not have fun with it? If everyone is working hard and meeting targets, you could break for a lunchtime quiz every month with a prize that all workers, whether office-based or not, are eligible for. By using tools such as Slack, it also helps your office-based team to understand a remote working mindset and breaks down any misconceptions your current employees may have about someone who is hired to work remotely.
Annual company meet-ups, team away days, or quarterly meetings are a great way to bring everyone together to bond and build on the community and culture you’re fostering. Of course, not all remote workers are in another country, they could just be a few miles away but have roles that don’t require them to be in the office and therefore saving you costs on overheads. If this is the case, be sure to remember to invite them for any after-work drinks or team events and encourage them to also take the initiative and schedule things themselves. Depending on the size and locations of your team, you could give people the responsibility of being a “social secretary,” and rotate it so everyone gets to organize social events and feel included.
Another approach you could take, depending on how it lends itself to your particular business, would be to have team members share responsibility for tasks and thus breed a culture of collaboration. Even though each person may have a seemingly autonomous role, e.g. marketing, sales, finance, product, tech, etc., each function of your business is intrinsically linked and as a Manager you should be able to find a way for people across functions to work together. For example, if your Product team is remote but their work is informed by the Sales or Marketing team, why not have them work together to present their progress back to you or the rest of the team in your weekly team video calls?
So now you have your remote workers signed in to Slack, participating in weekly video calls and attending team events, as well as collaborating on projects, you’re doing pretty well at fostering an inclusive workforce and will soon see that any geographical barriers that may exist do not translate to the workforce.