Over the last decade or so, the practice of working remotely has challenged the notion of employees working in the office at their desks, Monday through Friday, 8 to 5. There’s been no shortage of studies that show that, in most cases, the remote worker is not only happier, but more productive than his or her in-office counterpart. And there are advantages for the employer, too. Remote workers can be hired from anywhere, not just within geographic proximity to an office, and leasing expensive office space can be reduced or eliminated entirely.
But how does remote work translate to working with—and together as—a team? Given that vChief (the “V” stands for “virtual”!) currently employs 14 individuals working in 10+ different cities and is built on the practice of working with clients and their staffs remotely, I thought I’d share a few tips on how best to work with a remote team.
Communicate often, and by video when possible. In the absence of daily face-to-fact contact, good communication matters more than even. When more communications are written, it’s important to keep those communications clear and to the point. Instead of a long weekly staff meeting, think about shorter, more frequent check-ins that might cover the day’s highlights and questions, or a specific initiative. Video calls and conferences are ideal for unspoken communications that might otherwise be lost (i.e., reading facial expressions) and can help team members to feel more invested in one another. Zoom is our new favorite, especially for team meetings, while Skype and Google Hangouts are good options as well.
Leverage technology. In lieu of popping by a coworker’s desk to ask a quick question, use instant messaging programs like Slack or HipChat to manage these types of communications. You may want to establish some policies or procedures upfront about and how to use these and other forms of communication (like the good, old-fashioned email or phone call) and how to communicate in the event of an emergency. Keep these messages clear and concise. Longer-form communications can take place over email, and use Google Docs to work collaboratively on shared documents.
Maximize in-person time together. Though working remotely may be your organization’s norm, in-person interactions are still critical to working relationships, particularly early on. Many of our vChiefs meet with their clients in person during their phase-in to an organization, and when there are key meetings or events. Make sure in-person time includes both business and social interactions, particularly for those team members who will be working closely with one another. Meeting in person not only humanizes coworkers, but also presents an opportunity to brainstorm and collaborate in ways that can’t always be achieved online. Take some time together away from work, too. Sharing a coffee or a meal and checking in with one another when you’re together can go a long way to making you feel more connected when you’re back at your home office.
Culture matters. Impromptu conversations around the water cooler, staff lunches, and after-work happy hours may be a thing of the past when you’re working remotely, but that doesn’t mean you should give up on the idea of company culture. Not only does a strong company culture result in happier employees who are less-inclined to take their skills elsewhere, it also impacts a company’s bottom line. Take a couple of minutes to talk about what’s happening in your personal lives at the start of meetings or check-ins. Share family and pet photos and stories on Slack. Try a virtual lunch or coffee break together, or establish a friendly workplace game or competition. Life Meets Work offers a helpful list of more culture-building exercises for remote teams.
We’d love to hear from you other remote workers and companies out there. What other ideas, tools, and tips do you have for working with a remote team?