There is no doubt that the traditional workplace has changed in a major way in the last few years. About half of companies now have remote workers. This means that managing a team looks different from what it ever did before. Facilitating the best of what a team has to offer, the synergies, the camaraderie, the collaboration, looks and feels different. It is sometimes difficult.
Those who manage remote teams are learning how to keep teams engaged and motivated, even as they work in isolation. Here are some of the techniques they are employing to keep their employees on track.
Regular Touch-Base Meetings
Working in the office made it easy and natural to casually ask questions, double-check information, and get feedback from colleagues. That ease made collaboration and the sharing of ideas more convenient. Managers who want to keep the teamwork going need to create situations in which employees have the chance to talk informally about work.
Scheduling a daily touch-base meeting , set up not to accomplish a specific task, but rather just to get aligned on the day, is vital. These daily meetings should be short and predictable. Every team member should know that this meeting is where they will be briefed or reminded about the big picture for the day and have the opportunity to make comments or ask questions about things the team is working on. To be clear, this is not a time to get into the details about how to accomplish a project, but rather a time to discuss teamwork in general.
Practice Great Communication
In-person, co-workers can hear each other’s voice inflections, see body language, and generally understand more of the intent behind what someone is saying. Communicating through a computer screen takes away all those context clues. It’s really easy to misinterpret someone’s tone when you read a text or email.
The solution is to take zero shortcuts when it comes to communication . Don’t rush the email. Write in complete sentences. Avoid shorthand and abbreviations. Make it clear that if anyone has any questions, they are welcome and encouraged to ask. Thank employees who take the time to verify and clarify instructions.
Working from home might feel, to some employees, like they are always at work or that there are no boundaries for when to send emails. Being connected 24/7 should not make the team feel obligated to be available for work 24/7. Clearly communicate what the expectations are for when employees should be sending messages and also the timing of when they should be responding. For example, employees should respond within 3 hours of receiving a message between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., but have no obligation to respond outside of those hours.
These rules will help the people communicating information and receiving information. They have the added benefit of building trust among team members and of making employees feel appreciated by the company.
Give Them the Right Tools
Technology tools that help the team work as a team are the most important investment a company can make when it has remote employees. It’s not a place to scrimp. Companies are wise to look into software hosting services that allow any computer from any location to share desktop features, access to software, and the ability to work on shared documents. A good software hosting company will also provide security from hacking, cyber-attacks, and guard logins.
Having the right technology is so crucial that it should be a regular topic of conversation among teams and managers. Managers should regularly poll employees about how their current technology is meeting or not meeting their needs.
Focus on Big Picture
Even when everyone worked in the same office, managers understood that employees all have their own personalities, challenges, and styles. The era of working from home only adds to those differences. Not only do workers come to the job with their own personal uniqueness, but they now also bring their home lives to work, literally.
Some employees may live in areas with inconsistent internet connections. They may have pets, relatives, roommates, or alternative living arrangements. Their living space may not have the capacity for a dedicated workspace. They may live somewhere where getting some quiet or privacy is a struggle.
The way managers can combat these special needs is to shift the focus of work towards goals and deadlines, rather than pacing. Managers need to be more flexible. It’s not even possible to micromanage remote teams, so why try? Does it really matter if an employee is going to be distracted by his kids getting off the bus every afternoon as long as he puts in the time and effort to get his work done on time?
Remind the team why they are doing what they are doing. Understanding the purpose of the work is a huge motivator and will drive better performance.