Leading up to Christmas I posted a blog on Embracing your remote workforce – with tips on how we have encompassed a team who are not all physically located in your offices. It was topical for us at the time having licensed Sococo a tool to provide our team with a virtual work place vs engaging on a transactional level (ie: encouraging ongoing dialogue and interaction) and I had just read Remote.
Since then I have met businesses who are growing into another city (predominantly Wellington based companies growing into Auckland or Sydney) or have engaged development resources who are located elsewhere in the world. Remote working is an important topic for us so I ask everyone I meet with a remote team member how they embrace their remote workforce? and am continually surprised at the response – via email, phone, skype/google and “dialling them into” the occasional meeting. All of which in my mind provides a transactional interaction not an ongoing social construct the likes of yammer or slack provide to replace the water cooler type conversations and sense of community.
Sometimes I over-think these things so I have taken my amateur investigation a step further and have spoken with some of the team members of these other companies and asked them how it’s going. Most respond with ok not great, all feel there is a mothership / remote worker divide, they miss out on loads of communication that takes place verbally, feel like strangers when they are located in their own companies offices, have suffered from miscommunication due to the nature of all comms via email and some are starting to resent the only contact they have from their employer is a daily to-do list or productivity focused call.
I know we don’t have it right yet – so am always looking for more insight into creating a cohesive team no matter their location. We fly our Auckland people here as often as is practical and I go visit them whenever I can. None of this, nor the technology, no matter how informal replaces just having a laugh in the office so we are looking at augmenting our current stack with TV screens or one that moves around the office to provide an even more engaging experience – check this telepresence robot out.
Today I read a fantastic blog on being a successful remote employee, it contains these 1o tips – I have augmented the list of tips with my own thoughts in italics:
- You need a team and manager willing to work with you remotely – totally agree, this has been a key piece of feedback I’ve heard from employees of other companies, their manager treats them like an after thought, or their manager calls them for 10 minutes a day vs engaging with them throughout the day as they would with co-located staff.
- Be willing to learn new stuff – poor Barry has been our remote worker guinea pig, and had to try new tools to see which work, it’s been tedious but an important part of getting the mix right but if we can’t get it right for him imagine trying to scale.
- Define success based on specific goals – this is something we do as a company already, people know what they are here to do, have objectives set by the customer or ourselves and are otherwise self managing which is why we feel we are well suited to embracing remote workers – we’re not clock watchers or micromanagers.
- If you can’t see me online it doesn’t mean I am not working – this is a hard one but completely true. We are a culture driven organisation and a strong part of that culture is communication and community so being online is necessary but there are times people need to focus, in an office they would shut themselves in a room or put their headphones on, updating your status online achieves the same effect.
- Get to HQ regularly – in our experience this is important for ingraining culture and values and to establish strong working relationships, it’s an expense companies need to accept when they employ remote workers and as the blog indicates an effort remote workers need to make.
- Your manager and your team must communicate your value and be your champions in your absence – again this was a consistent piece of feedback I have had from people who feel isolated from their company working remotely from them, that they are sometimes blamed, or that fiefdoms exist they can’t penetrate, that kind of behaviour is naive and makes me wonder why the company employed remote workers if they can’t provide a level playing field for them.
- Be willing to compromise, go the extra distance and try again – like with the technology tools we have had a bit of trial and error on running team meetings so everyone has the same experience both onsite and remotely, we’re not quite there yet but collectively I am proud of our team for persevering and trying to make this work.
- Make clear agreements with your manager and team members … and keep them – I had one manager tell me they thought their remote workers went to the beach all day, I asked why this was a problem if they were achieving all they had agreed to achieve and their objectives, he had no comeback for that question but I think there is a nervousness on the part of traditional managers to trust people they can’t watch.
- Communicate A LOT, clearly, repeatedly, usefully – it must be hard working with people you can’t sit down with over lunch or a cup of coffee so replacing that social connection is really important, there is a risk as indicated above if there isn’t an ever-present means of communication that the remote workers will only be remembered by their team members when something goes wrong, not ideal for anyone.
- As a remote worker you will miss out on …. – yep that’s the reality of it, you miss out on the social and networking side, the sense of community and belonging. We try by brining my macbook to drinks so the others are there via video but it’s not the same, everyone in the team owns this issue so everyone needs to work on keeping the remote employees connected.
In a growing business it will become more and more important to us to be able to scale based on the skills we require vs the location of those skills. Finding the right people who are able to work remotely from HQ will be hard but an important step so I will continue with this quest – if you have had a brilliant experience and got the secret sauce would love to hear from you! until then think about the experience your remote team have on a daily basis. Happy sharing, Vic.