4 Critical Lessons Learned From Working With a Remote Team
Here at LMG, over half of our team is remote either part or full time. While it can sometimes be tough to not have our entire staff together in the same place, opening ourselves up to remote work has allowed us to keep some of our most valuable and talented people on board. In the past, regularly working remotely was an obscure concept to us, and only granted out of tenured privilege or absolute necessity. But now, we’re even considering hiring some new individuals who would start as remote employees, simply because the level of talent we’re looking for is not always available nearby. Through this season of change for our agency, we’ve learned some valuable lessons about communication, expectations and what not to do to maintain culture and an efficient workplace.
1) Get everyone in the same place regularly.
Two years ago, when we only had three remote employees and only one of them out of state, we made a point to pay for our out-of-state developer to come to town monthly. She only moved a few hours away, so it was an easy drive for her, and we typically would schedule critical training or team-building while she was in town – things that make more sense to do in-person.
Now, with team members in three different time zones, it’s a little more difficult to get everyone together. But we’ve made it a point to do it at least once a year. Bringing everyone together gives them an opportunity to strengthen relationships, reinforce our company mission and values, and just spend time growing together. Without this connection, I believe our team would not be as successful as we are today.
2) Utilize technology.
Even though we’ve had folks in different places for years now, we’ve only just recently started video calls through Skype for team meetings. Being able to see everyone together again has made a huge difference in re-establishing the culture we want for our team, and has helped our remote employees feel more connected to those of us here in the office. Outside of those meetings, we use Slack and GroupMe for inter-office chat and company-wide announcements – which helps to ensure that our remote team isn’t forgotten about in the flow of information.
Something that I want to start getting better at is using video chats more often for those times when a conversation warrants a phone call, for a scheduled internal meeting with a remote employee, or for a time when I would normally just holler at someone to ‘come here real quick’ – instead of using chat. If it’s important enough that I would want them sitting in front of me, then I should hit them up on Skype. There are a few more logistical details to work out before that’s my norm, though.
3) Don’t forget about small talk.
Something that our COO Coby does really well is talking. Out of nearly everyone in our office, he probably checks in with our remote employees the most, and he makes sure that each time he does, the conversation starts with a bit of small talk – the kind of interaction that those employees miss out on the most by being isolated to a home office. It’s important to remember if you have remote team members that they don’t get the benefit of saying “hi” in the hallway, or being a part of the recap of the kids’ soccer games from the weekend – unless someone deliberately makes it a point to include them or relay that information to them. One of the biggest drawbacks of being a remote employee is that it can get lonely – so make sure they still feel included with some small talk when you can.
4) Trust that they’re working hard, but don’t forget to check-in.
When I was first considering letting someone work remotely, it was a little tough for me, because I was unsure how to guarantee that they were going to get everything done that I needed them to. But after some trial and error, and a little faith, I believe our current system works pretty well most of the time. If you let someone work from home I think that you’ll find in a majority of instances, that person is going to be able to get more done in less time, with a more consistent result. While yes, there are some distractions in a home office, the right person will be dedicated to the role and will know how to manage his or her time effectively, while also benefitting from a generally quieter environment with fewer in-office distractions such as noisy chatter or overheard phone calls. You may even find that they work more than they would if they were in the office because of the benefit of continuous focus time. (That being said, make sure they don’t burn out because of it!)
It’s important to understand how to gauge the success of your remote employees. How much time are they logging each week? Are they accomplishing the goals and milestones set in place for them? Are the clients they’re working with complaining about them? Are they still trying to add value to the rest of the team or the company with new ideas or solutions?
If you are a business owner with remote team members, what other tips or takeaways do you have? What could you do better to keep those folks engaged? Hopefully, you’ve read something in this post that sparks an idea you could employ for your team, or helps you if you’re struggling with the idea of remote employees.