Remote working is great – right? But do you know how to help remote team members stay connected? Building a remote team helps companies to cut office costs and find talented staff, letting employers recruit from a much wider talent pool. Staff love it, too. According to some surveys, remote working is regarded as one of the most valuable perks a company can offer. For many of us, working remotely saves time and money, bringing freedom from commuting and office distractions. As a result, more and more employers are offering staff the option of working from home. A number of innovative companies, such as Buffer and 10up, have even gone fully remote, giving up their offices altogether and building remote teams with staff working from any location they choose around the world.
While there are plenty of positives to working remotely, if you want to help your remote team thrive, there are some key issues to take into account. One important consideration is how to help your remote team cope with the isolation that can creep in if they are working ‘home alone’. After a while, some remote workers can start to feel socially isolated and professionally out of the loop, missing regular input from friends and colleagues. If not addressed, that feeling of isolation can have an impact on staff well-being and productivity. It can be a particular problem if only one or two people in your team are working from home, while most of the team are meeting up each day in person. Luckily, there are lots of things you can do to help remote staff feel part of the team.
Build Remote Into Your Recruitment Process
A lot of difficulties can be avoided by making sure you consider whether someone will be a good fit for remote working at the hiring stage. Traits to look for include someone who is self-motivated, independent, enjoys taking responsibility for getting work done, and a good communicator. Be clear during the interview process about how your team works together, and how remote team members fit into that picture.
Get Your Team Communications Right
Good communication is vital when you aren’t regularly meeting in person. There are two parts to this – tools, and how you use them. There is now a huge choice of online tools to help your team stay connected, many offering free or low-cost options. Most fully-remote teams quickly ditch email as their main form of communication, preferring online social and task-management tools such as Slack, Asana, and Yammer. These text-based tools offer an informal, easy way to keep team-mates talking and sharing ideas, much like they would in the office. Another option is Sococo, which uses avatars to create the feeling of a virtual office.
Most teams also like to mix in some ‘virtual’ face-to-face time, using tools such as Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom or Appear.in for quick and easy video calls. When there are tricky issues to discuss, a phone or video call is usually a better way to resolve things than a stream of text messages. If you’re working across time zones, simple tools such as World Time Buddy can help with scheduling meetings, and knowing who is online when.
Once you’ve got the tools sorted, you also need to consider how your team will use them. For example, some teams like to start their day with a check-in (often called a stand-up), where everyone – whether they are working remotely or not – dials in to share a few quick thoughts about what they’re working on that day. That can help remote workers avoid the feeling of working away in isolation, unaware of what the rest of the team is up to.
You might also want to agree how and when your team communicates. For example, if you’re in different time zones, do you expect remote team members to work overlapping hours and respond immediately to messages, or are you happy to work asynchronously, with team members online and working at different times?
When a new remote-worker joins your team, it’s worth taking the time to explain your communication tools and processes, especially if they are new to remote working. And from time to time, reassess how your communication tools and processes are working (and get feedback from the team). As teams grow and change, something that that used to work well may need tweaking. Getting communication right can go a very long way to helping remote team members stay in the loop.
Build Habits That Bring Remote Colleagues Into the Team
If you’ve only got one or two remote team members, try to build a culture that’s mindful of those who are working outside of the office. Make sure they are included in relevant meetings (even if it is a little bit of extra hassle to set up video calls.) Little things can help remote staff feel included. If you use online tools like Slack, something as simple as a quick “Hi, how was your weekend” to a remote team member can make them feel connected and welcome. If you celebrate birthdays in your office, don’t forget remote team members.
You can also try to find ways to connect in the real world. For example, if your team is going to a conference, you could use that as a chance to schedule some time to meet socially with remote colleagues. Some fully remote companies invest some of the money saved on office space in hosting large-scale company get-togethers, to give team members the chance to bond and work together in real life.
Help Remote Staff to Build Their Networks
If your remote team members are based a long way from your office, you might want to help them to connect to other networks that can give them a more local work community. For example, are there networking events they can go to? Or maybe there are online groups for their sector or industry on Facebook or Slack where they can connect with other people working in the same role?
Consider Paying For Coworking Space
Working remotely doesn’t have to mean working at home. We are in the middle of a boom in coworking spaces – that is, shared office spaces where you can rent a desk from anything for a few hours to five days a week. Initially popular with startups, many larger companies are now renting coworking space for their remote team members. There are lots of options in most cities, catering to everyone from huge corporate teams to solo freelancers and creative types. Just to give one example, UK company NearDesk offers flexible pay-as-you-go coworking in many towns.
Things are slightly trickier in rural areas, where there may not be a coworking space nearby. You could encourage your staff to try a Work Jelly (yes, that’s really what it’s called). Work Jelly is an informal, free coworking day, often held monthly. There are jelly gatherings all over the UK – you can find the nearest on the UK Jelly website. Another option could be joining myworkhive’s ‘virtual’ coworking community, where a group of us ‘meet’ each day to work and network, sharing tips, ideas (and the occasional cat gif).
Train Your Managers on Remote Issues
Managing a remote team member brings a few special considerations. A supportive line manager can really help remote staff to feel that their particular issues are being considered. For example, anyone who manages a remote team or remote employee needs to know about your organisation’s remote working policy, which should cover things such as which home-office equipment your organisation will pay for, health and safety issues and so on.
Trust and goal-setting are also key. Managers need to set really clear work objectives, as remote staff are often judged not on the hours they are in the office, but the work they are delivering. To perform well, they need clear deliverables and timeframes, and to know that they are trusted to get on with the job.
Encourage team managers to make sure that remote team members aren’t forgotten when interesting projects are allocated, or when training is being planned. If a remote colleague can’t make it to the office for training, there are loads of online courses covering most topics.
Encourage Remote Staff to Step Up
There’s a lot you can do as an employer to ensure your remote staff don’t become isolated. But it’s also important to encourage your remote employees to take action to help themselves. For example, encourage them to speak up if they feel they are becoming isolated, let them know it’s an issue you take seriously and want to help with. Make it clear that they are full members of your team, and you welcome their input and suggestions. Just because they aren’t in the office, doesn’t mean they can’t lead on a project, take part in training, and have a great career within your organisation.