In an ever more globalized world, geographical dispersion of employees is slowly becoming a common thing. Whether you are sitting in London with your team working out of their homes in Seattle, or you’re in Sidney, discussing your weekly schedule with your developers pulling an all-nighter somewhere in Europe, one of the biggest questions posed is: how do you make this relationship work across the globe? How do you create open lines of communication based on trust? What tactics to use to make workers feel comfortable and still maintain a quality business?
Start with a structure
First of all, it is necessary to point out that the management of remote workers does not differ much from managing any other group of employees. Of course, remote work has its specifics, but they can be overcome with cultivating a positive dynamic and keeping a proactive approach to your workers. As the manager of an up-and-coming business, clear line of communications must be one of your prime priorities.
Expectations from your workers and ground rules must be established in advance. In order to set up a system where everyone has a sense of involvement and understands that they are accountable, you must set periodic goals- monthly, quarterly or yearly, which will be the internal way of tracking how successfully the business is running. Another fine line that must be set up is the metrics of how employees will be treated according to their performance in the structure you have set up. Remote workers must feel that they are treated equally and fairly.
Keep it in check
Very often, managers of online teams quote breakdowns of coordination between their online staff, even though their team consists of real experts who most certainly had a clear-cut picture of what they wanted to achieve. An interesting study by Catherine Cramton, a professor from George Mason University, deals exactly with distributed teams and their internal dynamics. According to Cramton, humans work well in teams because they’ve managed to adapt to changing social environments. By constantly observing and synchronizing our actions to match those of the group, we’ve managed to survive in the past. One of the key conclusions in this regard was that distributed teams fail exactly at this point: there is a general lack of a common vision and informality in communication, which always leads to breakdowns.
For this reason, a manager must work in a parallel way – maintaining the structure of the business, while at the same time complementing this with socialization with the workers, and encouraging them to do the same.
Practical ways of achieving this can be through utilizing different communication methods strategically, for example:
- Watercooler moments – Use chat services, such as Slack or HipChat to promote bonding and socialization.
- Keep the team in check through email, which you can use to maintain clarity about preset goals.
- Use Skype for difficult one-on-ones, because you can convey a much larger amount of information if you actually hear and see the person you are communicating with.
Nurture internal cohesion
In order to remove obstacles related to working in a remote environment, it is very important to have an insight into how your business is developing and share this with your employees. The keyword here is sharing. To present your bird’s eye view to the team, you can tell them how their work contributes to the overall objectives that you have set. Some managers clearly set landmarks such as “boost sales 30% in the next quarter”, and then communicate individual tasks to their team.
If you want to track the progress of your workers, you can always use some kind of remote worker software, that will seriously simplify and automate the process and let you focus on benchmarks.
It doesn’t have to end here, given that there are many hacks that you can use to better your internal cohesion. Use screencasting software to share results among your staff easily and quickly. Also, it works incredibly well with troubleshooting. Useful time and attendance software, coupled with a vibrant chat platform can be a great way of motivating people and boosting productivity. Another great thing about this kind of software is that the responsibility of entering information into it is up to the workers themselves. This gives them flexibility and a sense of independence, a feeling of being in control. Focusing on your own work without having to micromanage and worry about the work process is another benefit of this type of software.
Trust is key
When working in a traditional office space, it is easy to see if anyone is having a bad day, or when someone needs assistance in some regard. This is impossible through online communication, unless there is a foundation of trust and if all lines of communication are open. This is not an easy task, due to the major focus of many companies on productivity and achieving goals. No matter how daunting it might seem at times, it is important to take additional effort with remote employees. Have every videoconference start with topics you would usually talk about at work – kids, today’s news, weekend plans. Work towards creating a bond of empathy within your team, because this kind of business is maintained through a spirit of camaraderie.
In order to create a common context and shared identity among your remote workers, visit them regularly. There are no clear guidelines on how often you need to see them, but seeing people face to face sets a different tone and gives people a more material sense of what they are working on. The benefits are many, starting from building a more in-depth and stable relationship to actually sensing the environment that your workers come from, and seeing how it is to work from distance. Meeting your workers on a yearly basis can build incredible energy and give you an opportunity to share common visions much better. Diversity is your resource, and with a good basic structure and a culture of transparency and trust, it can give you a much-needed impetus to achieve more.
Emma Miller is a Sydney based writer with a degree in marketing. Interested in digital marketing, social media, start-ups and latest trends. She’s a contributor at Bizzmark blog.