We all know that working as a remote employee has some great advantages — like working in your pajamas, and having a more flexible schedule. But being a remote employee also has the potential to be very alienating, which can lead to a big decrease in productivity.
As a leader of remote employees, I have found those who feel like they are an integral part of a team tend to be happier, more productive, and have more ownership of their positions. It is vital as a remote manager to give your team the tools they need to be successful and to lead by example.
Over the years, I have tried many different ways to keep remote employees engaged. Below are the top six tactics I have found that create a successful and enthusiastic virtual team.
1. Monday Morning Wake-up Call
Just like you want to start every day with a good breakfast — energized and ready to go — you should start each week with a Monday Morning Wake-up Call. Depending on your team size, this call will last anywhere from one to two hours. In this conversation each team member will review:
- Previous week successes. This is a chance for each person to share what they’ve done, what worked for them, and what didn’t. This gives you the opportunity to hear about the rest of the team’s work, understand what they’ve done, and get ideas from them.
- Upcoming week goals. Each team member will share what their plans are for the upcoming week. This not only creates a sense of accountability (“I said I would do it; now I have to do it”), it also gives people the opportunity to chime in if they have ideas on ways to help.
- Challenges/needs. This is probably the most important topic. Having each person explain their challenges and specific needs gives the group a chance to problem-solve together. This encourages comradery rather than individual people in individual places, working on their own projects.
2. Clear Expectations of Work
I currently lead a team that has members in California, Maryland, Honduras, Brazil, and Chile. With all the different time zones, it is important to have clear working hours so that team members are available to each other at least a few hours each day. For some, that will mean starting work at 6:00 am and ending at 3:00 pm. For others, that will mean working from 10:00 am until 7:00 pm.
As you know, working remotely gives you great flexibility in schedule. Depending on your position, you do not necessarily need to be chained to a desk in a home office. However, the team must be available to each other during specific hours. Setting that expectation up-front is important to make sure projects move forward.
3. Use Technology for Your Communication Needs
Find a way to quickly and easily communicate with each other. My team uses Skype instant messaging if we have a simple question that needs answering or for fast “water-cooler” conversations. The great thing about Skype is that it’s available as an app on your smartphone. If you aren’t sitting at your desk, you can still respond to a question right away. Some other tried and true instant message technology that can be used is WhatsApp (for your phones), Yahoo! Messenger, Google+ Hangouts, or Slack.
For bigger conversations (e.g. the Monday Morning Wakeup Call), a video conference system is crucial in setting your remote team up for success. First, it keeps people focused on the conversation. There is no multitasking when you know people can see you. Second, seeing everyone’s shiny faces each week helps to enforce the feeling of team. Make sure to use a platform that provides easy screen/document sharing and allows you to see all faces at once (not just the person talking). We use Zoom, but there are a lot of options out there!
4. Project Management Software
Remote employees work best when they feel like they are all in it together
Invest in an online project management software licenses for every person on your team (we use EasyProjects). This allows team members to log in and see at-a-glance what their teammates are doing. Rather than being voyeuristic, this is meant to inspire collaboration and teamwork. For example, one of your employees might be working on an initiative that another employee completed a year ago. Once he sees that, he can contact the team member and share his experience, documents and ideas based on past work.
Remote employees work best when they feel like they are all in it together — and this gives each member a chance to share his or her expertise.
5. Team Time
No matter how well you work together as a remote team, it is extremely important to find time to get together in person at least once a year.
Take time to celebrate the accomplishments of the previous year, and then get down to some serious planning for the upcoming year. Allow each team member to present their ideas and make sure to define success metrics that will hold you all accountable.
If possible, make time for some team-building activities. It can be something as simple as an evening at a bowling alley or a scavenger hunt in the town you’re meeting. Try to do something active, team dinners are nice, but getting people up and moving — with a challenge — creates great bonding time!
… let them go do the great work you hired them to do.
I saved the best and most important for last. The quickest way to demoralize a team is to micromanage because you don’t trust that they’re doing their work. With remote employees, a lot of people are concerned that they might take advantage of the situation and spend their day eating bonbons and watching Netflix.
Don’t fall into this trap. Give your employees the tools to do their job, create an atmosphere of teamwork and collaboration, with clear expectations of what constitutes success. Then let them go do the great work you hired them to do.
Like you, International Marketing Leader Stephanie Calcott understands that through technology, the world is shrinking. People no longer need to be chained to their desks in an office to be productive and effective. But exactly how do you keep your virtual team engaged? How do you foster teamwork when each member is in a different part of the world? Stephanie has spent the last decade leading remote teams. Through trial and error and a lot of video conference calls, she has learned the necessary tools and best-practices to create successful virtual employees.