Here are three things you can do to build that sense of camaraderie, keep your remote team members engaged, and ultimately boost your organization’s productivity.
Make Sure Your Company Culture is Inclusive of Everyone
This is hard for organizations that aren’t remote-native, i.e. everyone was working from the office at one point, and remote arrangements are a newer thing.
In those organizations, company culture is also not remote-native, and it evolved initially to accommodate the collaboration and communication of people who worked on-site. You can’t always copy/paste that culture to the work-from-home teams.
“When individuals or teams are spread across cities, regions, or time zones, the culture of an organization can make or break a firm,” Kristi DePaul writes at Remote.co. “These are the invaluable intangibles: the principles leadership upholds and propagates, how individuals interact with one another, the acknowledgement of employees’ accomplishments and their lives outside of work, and the emphasis on some professional priorities over others.”
Communication is the key here, although as Poornima Vijayashanker, founder of Femgineer, points out, distance might not be your team’s biggest communication barrier. “[W]hen it comes to communication, even in-house teams struggle with it. I’ve come across teams where people don’t know what the person who is sitting right next to them is working on!
“Hence distance isn’t the culprit. The culprit is a closed culture, where team members work in silos and don’t communicate about their projects.”
To facilitate this kind of transparent communication, it’s important to understand what tools work for remote teams. Chat apps such as Slack are great for group communication, and project management software can help you get visibility into what tasks people are working on so you (or other team members) can see instantly where you can lend a hand.
Look for Opportunities to Connect
You build a team spirit by getting people to do things together — as a team. Don’t make these work-related or mandatory, but definitely encourage your remote workers to do something together that crosses their geographical and time zone divides.
“It may sound trivial, but having a movie night will get people’s guards down,” Niraj Ranjan Rout writes for Remote.co. “It provides a space to talk about things unrelated to work. Choose a popular movie that everyone can watch on their laptops, and have a live chat running so you can have everyone’s opinion about every scene.”
Here are a few more ideas to help bridge that divide:
- Host a Secret Santa-style gift exchange at Christmas (or some other holiday), and even open gifts together on a video conference call.
- Encourage team members to volunteer in their communities. Periodically, get those team members together to discuss what their efforts and their achievements.
- Find ways to extend traditional office perks like on-site gyms or financial advice to your remote team members. For example, you could serve as accountability partners for each other’s fitness goals, and have a weekly call where everyone could report on their progress and motivate each other to keep going.
Invest in Your Remote Team Members
Sure, having a distributed team saves overhead costs because you need less office space. So, re-invest those savings into your employees.
Step 1 is taking the time to ensure your remote team members have the tools they need to succeed. This includes reliable communication tools, and even a stipend to help them set up a better workspace, or to ensure their Internet connections experience zero downtime.
Step 2 is to take some of the actions described above: Spending time finding ways to be inclusive.
Step 3 is to continually develop your remote team’s talent. Make it clear that you expect great work, and you’re willing to do what it takes to help your team members realize that great work.
Dave Nevogt co-founded Hubstaff to be a remote-native company that gives employees the chance to do good work and to grow. “We don’t go for affordable work,” he writes, alluding to the idea that some companies opt for remote teams solely as a cost-savings measure.
“We go for high-quality talent. Eventually, new team members become an integral part of the team and an important part of our lives after working with them for hours every day. Over time, we learn how many kids they have, what their hobbies are, and what they are passionate about.”
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Casey Meehan is a writer and business owner who likes to talk about everything under the sun — from writing music to entrepreneurship to investment strategies. He explores the latter by covering financial news and offer trading tips at his blog Stock Hax.