Letting your employees work remotely can create a workforce that feels happier, more valued, and more productive.
These positive outcomes, however, depend on keeping employees connected to the workplace. According to Tiny Pulse, one major drawback to a remote team is that remote workers have less of a relationship with their coworkers. Remote teams may not have to worry about long commutes, but they do have to contend with isolation and disengagement.
Therefore, business leaders with remote teams should understand that productivity and engagement go hand-in-hand. Rather than making sure employees are always online or not running errands, they should consider how to keep employees motivated by the company’s mission and ethos.
Companies should take a two-pronged approach when working to keep their remote employees engaged and productive, focusing on both communication and culture. For the most part, technology can help create stronger lines of communication; culture depends on understanding how to inspire, establish trust, and build a company brand.
Here’s how businesses can approach both sides of this important issue:
For remote teams today, communication relies heavily on investing in the right digital tools, as well as knowing when to bring people together:
Collaborate with workplace management apps
Settle on a task, project, or workplace management app that meets your team’s needs. These apps often serve not only as collaborative tools but as a place to meet and discuss progress and goals.
Collaboration isn’t just how teams come together to work on a project. A recent Stanford study showed that “the cues of working together” can inspire people to continue working on a challenging task, with greater motivation—and even apply that inspiration to unrelated tasks weeks later. Essentially, collaboration inspires better individual work as well.
Use chat throughout the day to keep in touch
Chat tools are now standard even within non-remote offices, so using them while working remotely is a no-brainer. Chat apps have come a long way from the days of AOL Instant Messenger, and many of them double as a means to collaborate as well. They can be used to share documents, upload files, conduct video conferences, and more.
Encourage your team to utilize your chat tools throughout the day, even if it’s just to catch up and see how the weekend went. Slack (one of many essential business apps of the modern era) has become the new office water cooler, and it’s okay to gather around it to discuss fun plans as well as deadlines.
Make plans to video conference consistently
When it comes to making sure everyone is on the same page, nothing beats a face-to-face conversation. If your remote team is remote enough that regular visits to the office are a tall order, set up a schedule to video chat on a consistent basis—as much as once a day or week.
These video chats are less about holding people accountable, and more about checking in on their well-being and having honest conversations about where they stand with their workload. You can also use this time to share important information and make big announcements.
Creating a positive culture and environment is something every business strives for, but we tend to forget remote workers when it comes to the culture equation. Here’s how to build a culture for and with your remote team in mind:
Schedule in-person adventures
Even employees working in far-flung locations should be able to commit to one or two annual visits to the office—or better yet, to join the team on a company getaway.
When scheduling these in-person meetings, remember that the goal is to provide value to your team. It should either be paid time off for your employees to relax and connect with each other, or a retreat centered around developing strategic goals or learning from experts in your field. Don’t just bring people together to do what you normally do—that’s what working remotely is for.
Continue to grow and learn as a team
Training and development don’t end when employees are hired and onboarded, and the same is true when thinking about a remote team. New tools, techniques, and methodologies are available all the time, and you should give you remote team the chance to avail themselves of new learning opportunities—even if that means encouraging them to sign up for virtual classes or to attend events in their own communities.
Publicly recognize good work
One of the problems with overseeing a remote workforce is that it’s easy to get lost in your own tasks and responsibilities, without acknowledging the good work that others do. Keep team members aware of the accomplishments of others, and give people the respect and recognition their good work deserves. A shoutout via chat channels, a company-wide email, or an announcement during a video conference is a great way to inspire everyone on the team.
Focus on what, not when
When you build a remote team, you do so accepting the fact that people will not sit down at their computer at 9 a.m. and leave it promptly at 5 p.m. One of the main draws of remote work is that people work differently, and might be more effective early in the morning or later in the evening. Set your weekly or monthly goals and worry more about what’s accomplished than when exactly it gets done—as long as it’s done on time. Your team will thank you.
Define and convey purpose at every opportunity
When the day-to-day issues and occasional doldrums of the job get people down, purpose is what will motivate them to keep working. Purpose is also the incentive to collaborate, and collaboration (bringing us full circle) makes us more productive.
It’s easy to forget the company’s larger purpose when you’re working by yourself. Take every opportunity to convey each remote worker’s purpose—how their role helps the company achieve their quarterly goals, and how the company achieving those goals, in turn, builds them up as well.
Whatever your company’s purpose is, make sure your remote team knows it. That will be infinitely more effective in getting them to work happier and harder than micromanagement ever could.
Remote work may be the way of the future, but only businesses that understand how to motivate their remote workforce will be able to take full advantage of the practice. Teach your team to communicate openly, and use those lines of communication to impart the company culture, and you’ll be ahead of the curve.
Eric Goldschein is a staff writer at Fundera, a marketplace for small business financial solutions. He covers entrepreneurship, small business trends, finance, and marketing.