The remote working setup isn’t too far off from becoming the new norm. While there are still some hurdles to overcome, teething problems to solve, and reluctant CEOs to convince, working over the internet from anywhere in the world will become a default option sooner or later. And what will happen then?
Well, we’ll see a greater level of flexibility, but also a loss of old-fashioned office camaraderie. When you see colleagues in person five days out of the week, you get accustomed to being around them, and you get to learn the quirks and foibles that end up bringing you together.
Take that away, and you can end up with reduced productivity and a less enjoyable working experience for everyone involved— but it’s entirely possible to make use of the remote working model while retaining many of the benefits of office culture. Let’s see how.
Give your team communication options
With a functioning virtual team in place, you’ll of course be using software to allow work to be delivered, but you might not be taking advantages of all the tools that make it easier for people to effectively work and socialize together.
Think about all the options that are open to you: not just text chat, voice communication and video conferencing, but also the sheer variety of niche implementations. Basecamp has a different feel to Google Hangouts, which in turn has little overlap with Slack.
We all have personal preferences when it comes to platforms, and if you want to engender the possible crossover from ‘work associate’ to ‘trusted friend’ then you need to recognize that no amount of cajoling will make your dry intranet a social hotspot. Why not get your team involved in your social media? Give them guidelines, but let them express themselves. It will show the personality in your company.
Regardless of which solutions you use, be sure to allow your team some spaces in which they can communicate privately. Don’t worry about them plotting against you— if you’re a good leader, you’ve nothing to fear from their discussions, and allowing them to speak freely to each other will make them more relaxed and bring them closer together.
Make sure everyone knows their worth
Out of sight, out of mind, and it can be really easy for a remote employee to feel disconnected from the goals of the business they work for. Even more so than in a typical working arrangement, they can be left to feel like nothing more than a cog in an indifferent wheel, and nothing kills motivation faster than believing that you don’t really matter.
That’s why taking the time to give your workers as much positive feedback as you can (when warranted, of course) will pay dividends in the long run. They’ll be reassured that they mean something to the business beyond the extent to which they tick their assigned boxes. Try to sandwich negative feedback with positive comments, as it really helps keeps spirits up.
Giving positive feedback also has the effect of lessening the paranoia employees can develop as a result of not knowing where they stand relative to their colleagues. In general, making your team members feel secure in their positions will make them considerably more comfortable and thus inclined to open up and deal more freely with their peers in the business.
Find opportunities to meet
The immediacy and tangibility of in-person contact can never be replaced by online interaction, no matter how advanced your setup, but just a small amount of it can have a significant effect on how people interact. That’s why you should really try to invest in providing it.
If your team is dotted all over the world, then it won’t be practical to bring them all in for an after-work drink every Friday evening, so why not look to gather them up once every six months, or even just every year? If you can find the budget to fly everyone to one location and give them a solid chance to converse in the old-school way, you’ll find that it will really bring them together.
And why not get your team involved in the planning of the event? They can help decide the location, plan the activities, even arrange additional meetups alongside it if they want to. That will take a lot of work off your plate and get them interacting even more. It’s a win-win.
Encourage collaborative projects
Some forward-thinking companies like to encourage joint ventures in an effort to get their employees to feel more invested in the future of their businesses, and you can use that kind of side project to bring people together. One such project I’ve seen used well involves creating a low-budget online store and splitting the profits.
Since anyone working remotely will be comfortable using technology, it’s perfectly viable to assign that task for your employees to work on between other things. It isn’t even all that complicated to build an ecommerce website through a user-friendly system like Shopify or BigCommerce, and it allows for a neat division of tasks.
One person can write the copy, another can handle the visual design, another can choose all the products, and so on (since highly-rated SaaS providers tend to provide strong knowledge bases, they’ll be able to figure things out without your help). They’ll expand their skills, learn one another’s strengths and weaknesses, and ideally end up functioning more cohesively.
And if anyone on your team happens to be giving any thought to breaking away to pursue a secondary goal, you might just be able to keep them by showing them that your business model can grow to accommodate their ambition.
It doesn’t have to end at projects, though. While the execution is hard to get right, finding a way to bring in fun virtual activities can work really well if you nail it. If you’re working with a tech-savvy and somewhat-youthful bunch, why not challenge them to some team-based gaming? A few rounds of fighting robots together might be just what they need. Technology needn’t divide people— used correctly, it can be highly effective for fostering collaboration.
Team culture is so important when it comes to building and growing a company, and it isn’t something anyone can take for granted, particularly when you’re using a lot of remote workers. Take these tips, invest in bringing your employees together, and you’ll see the long-term benefits that follow.
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