Work is becoming increasingly flexible. Some predict that by 2020, half of the U.S. workforce will be remote.
But remote work is hard to get right — especially if you have some team members in-house and others spread across the country, or even the globe.
The trouble is, it’s nearly impossible to decide that part of the team will work remotely in a certain manner, and then magically make it so. What you can do, though, is create an environment that encourages experimentation and builds processes that work for each individual involved.
Successfully keeping your remote and headquarters teams singing the same tune is determined by an eclectic mix of management practices, adopting the right technology, and a willingness to adapt on the fly. Sometimes building a successful remote team can feel like jumping off a cliff and assembling a plane on the way down — though maybe not quite that extreme. Thankfully, there are some things you can do to keep all of your teams in sync.
Six ways to keep your remote team on the same page as HQ
To ensure your local teams don’t feel left out, make sure your company programs and operational processes function for HQ and remote workers alike.
- Share all announcements transparently.
A key rule of remote work is that no one should miss out on something because they’re not in the office. If there are any company-wide announcements, try to ensure remote team members hear the news at the same time the HQ team does, and avoid it trickling out via hearsay.
- Replicate office perks for remote team members.
Some companies have amazing office perks, with Google and Facebook being two of the most well known. Try replicating perks for remote team members to ensure they feel the love as well. For example, if you have a weekly team lunch catered, you could order food to be delivered to your remote offices or allow workers outside of HQ to expense lunch that day.
- Respect work hours and timezones.
When you have team members spread across timezones, it’s important to respect their working hours and make it clear that you don’t expect them to be online 24/7. This is a great way to cultivate work-life balance and make them feel valued.
- Regularly check in about health and wellness.
Sitting at a desk all day isn’t without its issues. Many companies offer health and wellness programs, and these should be extended to remote workers, too. Frequently check in with remote team members about their health, work setups, and how you can make things as smooth as possible for them.
- Celebrate together.
When a big project is completed and everyone in the office is grabbing a slice of cake or a beer, make sure remote team members can join in too. In addition to ordering food and alcohol for their office, some companies have virtual happy hours so team members can share a drink together. For especially big celebrations, consider flying members of the team in for the event (if your company budget allows for it).
- Create clear documentation.
Clear, accessible documentation is essential for any team. Remote workers need to be able to access company resources 24 hours a day. It’s extremely easy to share documentation using cloud-based apps like Dropbox and Google Drive or by creating a private company wiki.
Focus on wholeness
Successfully integrating your remote team with the rest of the company requires more than setting up inclusive operational processes — you also need to consider taking a human-centered approach to designing your office culture.
When you sit next to or in the same room as someone every day, you naturally learn about them beyond their work persona. You get to know the whole person — their hobbies, quirks, and personalities.
The role we play at work is only a small part of who we are. Even in the office, people can leave a lot of who they are at the door. As Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield explained, "We believe there is a widespread feeling that people are meant to check a lot of stuff at the door when they arrive at work. Some of that makes sense, but there's a risk of having people feel diminished or unable to contribute fully—that's the part we hope Slack can have a shot at correcting."
Wholeness means bringing all the elements of who we are to work — our passions and strengths, our side projects and relationships, and our partners and kids.
In addition to using chat apps like Slack or Skype that enable everyday conversations outside of email, encourage your teams to get to know one another better. During new-hire introductions, one-on-one manager meetings, and team meetings, ask questions that aren’t related to what the person does for the company. Create Slack channels or discussion threads where employees can share their interests and passions from outside of work — ideas include cooking, cycling, movies, music or anything else that is a shared interest across teams.
Sometimes remote work can feel isolating. If you have some of your team in-house and some remote, allowing workers to embrace their whole selves can help forge stronger relationships and keep everyone on the same page.
Home in on culture
Culture is defined by everything you do — from the biggest decisions to the smallest. And strong culture is essential for success with remote workers.
One great example of a culture-driven workplace is Buffer, whose employees are encouraged to act on their values every day. As a completely remote team without a physical office, Buffer’s “Have a bias toward clarity” value is a particularly important part of their culture. Paying extra close attention to details like over-communicating and clarity are key for keeping the entire team on the same page.
Culture takes time to form, but keeping it top-of-mind and considering how you can embrace certain behaviors to benefit the team can be a great starting point. When it comes to implementing great culture, creating a list of values and sharing them with your team isn’t enough. Culture must be lived every day throughout the whole company — from top to bottom.
If you haven’t worked in a remote environment before, it’s hard to appreciate and anticipate the unique needs of your remote staff. Visiting your non-headquarters locations can help you give you the perspective you need to make sure the company processes really work for each member of the team.
At Managed by Q, we bring all of our new hires outside of New York to our NYC headquarters for a few days as part of onboarding. We also view ourselves as “a company without borders” where employees across the organization have the opportunity to visit our offices around the country.
If you’re not able to do in-person office visits, try to keep your local teams in mind. Before setting up a company-wide meeting or announcing a new perk, ask yourself if people in your other offices can participate. The key to keeping everyone in sync is making sure everyone is considered and included, regardless of their physical location.