Why work remotely? Studies show that your employees want to. According to a survey by Global Workforce Analytics, telecommuting has risen 79% between 2005 and 2012 and now makes up 2.6% of the American work force, or 3.2 million workers (and growing). If given the choice, 79% of U.S. workers say they would like to work from home at least part of the time; 87% of federal employees say they want to.
Research also shows that working remotely positively influences your team’s productivity. In an internal study on the benefits of working from home, travel company Ctrip reported to Harvard Business Review that their call center remote teams were happier and more productive.
“People working from home completed 13.5% more calls than the staff in the office did—meaning that Ctrip got almost an extra workday a week out of them. They also quit at half the rate of people in the office—way beyond what we anticipated. And predictably, at-home workers reported much higher job satisfaction.”
How can managers adjust processes that work for in-office employees? We break it down below.
1. Fine-tune your communication
“We like to live by the mantra that ‘Communication is oxygen.’”- Chase Livingston, Automattic
Communication is key for the success of any organization, but within a remote team it’s imperative that the lines of communication remain open. One of the benefits from working in an office are the serendipitous collisions and organic conversations that influence our creativity and process. In fact, Marissa Mayer cited the lack of natural communication as a key influencer in her work from home ban in 2013. How can companies that have globally distributed teams recreate this virtually? Technology.
Teams like Pivotal Labs have had success using Google Hangouts as a video conferencing tool for remote teams. The Good? Easily paired with Google Calendars, you can seamlessly create standing events for regular meetings like daily stand ups and weekly check-ins. Google Hangouts also shows you attendees in each room, so you have the same transparency of existing conversations as you would have in an office.
Sqwiggle helps you keep track of teammates by taking periodic snapshots of the user. How does it compare to Google Hangouts? Sqwiggle positions itself in the corporate market by having file sharing capabilities, instant video (where google hangouts and Skype take minutes or longer to dial in or arrange), chat functions, and a dedicated support team to handle any questions that you may have about the product.
Incorporating a chat tool like Slack can help increase team communication and camaraderie. Assign rooms for each team like “Marketing” and “Engineering” to limit cross communication clutter. Bonus? Slack integrates with Giphy, so you can cheer up teammates with a click of a button (or keystroke).
Jen Lepp, Head of Customer Service at web hosting company A Small Orange, agrees that good technology can help your team communicate.
"It's incredibly important to have software that allows you complete visibility into what your employees are doing, and what they are working on. Without the right customer support software that gives supervisors visibility into what their employees are doing, and gives other departments and colleagues visibility into who's here and who's available to help, remote work can be exceedingly challenging."
2. Be more organized
The Help.com team is incredibly visual. In our engineering room, you’ll notice a makeshift agile board made of a white board and post-it notes. When a user story is updated, the post-it moves along the board. Remote teams can easily recreate this process online with the following project management tracking systems.
Without getting into the intricacies of the Atlassian giant, JIRA is best summarized as a complex project management tool. Often paired with its sister product, a knowledge base called Confluence, JIRA is great for teams who want one product that does everything.
Trello is great for teams who want to track projects with a simple agile board. The remote team at Zapier uses it to organize multiple projects across all departments. When asked why they chose Trello over other project management tools, Zapier’s Danny Schreiber responded:
“I'm not sure we choose Trello over Asana and Jira, but we definitely quickly came to like it. I say that because when we started using it, all we needed was a simple tool like Trello—something to list tasks, collaborate on them and track their progress. As our team has grown from 4 to 25 over the last few years, so has our Trello account (and our number of boards!). And, of course, we've set up several helpful Zapier integrations with Trello that have tied it into our workflow.”
3. Be transparent
One of the most important things a manager can do in any office is be transparent with their team. Weekly meetings and performance reviews are a great way to keep the lines of communication open between each person. With remote teams, a walk to your local Starbucks or bakery may not be possible, so how can you create a similar open vibe?
Meetings and Performance Reviews
The team at Automattic encourages constant communication between each team. Happiness Engineer Chase Livingston, explains that the communication, and the review process, isn’t all that different when remote.
“Each team generally conducts performance reviews about once a year, with the team lead leading those, obviously. Many team leads also do weekly check-ins with their team members, some are scheduled/set times, others are more freeform, and happen organically throughout the week. Those are generally done via a Slack DM conversation.”
Similarly, A Small Orange handles performance reviews like any company would. Jen Lepp, the head of customer service at ASO, elaborates on the process.
"Performance reviews at A Small Orange start in our Quality Assurance Department, where our Q/A Team audits employees twice a year. They accomplish this by reading a random selection of tickets and chats, or listening to a random selection of phone calls, and rating that employees' performance through a variety of expected metrics, adherence to procedures and expected resolutions, and whether that employee represented (and how well they represented) the culture of ASO to the customer. This report is given to the employee's Supervisor as well as passed on to our Training and Development Team to ensure that the employee gets any additional training or help they need or that the department responsible for all our training and documentation can spot any trends or gaps in what we teach that may have caused the employee issues.
The Supervisor always meets with the employee by video call if possible, or by phone if that isn't possible for some reason. Verbally or physically connecting with employees, not just during performance reviews, but frequently throughout the year is imperative to create that bond between an employee and their boss (and by extension with the company)."
4. Build a strong culture
Culture is more than the ping pong table sitting in the back room. It’s the people who make up your team and the conversations that happen every day. If you have a globally dispersed team, use that to your advantage to create a unique tradition.
Do you have swag that everyone gets during their onboarding process? Perhaps include a fun prop like a paper crown or a mustache. Encourage your team to take it to an area that symbolizes hometown pride or a particularly photogenic spot and take a picture. Upload your team’s collection to your blog or team page to showcase your company’s travels.
The team at HappyFunCorp created ShoutOuts, a feedback platform that encourages employees to compliment one another. In an article with Fast Company, HappyFunCorp co-founder Ben Schippers said that within a few months of testing, they’ve found that including everyone in a daily email roundup of ShoutOuts improved engagement, even if some workers sent fewer compliments than others. Increasing re-engagement has been a key goal.
Many remote teams have found success in getting together a few times annually to boost morale and get to know the people behind the screen. Some use a portion of the money saved from what would be office expenses to travel to fun, exotic location. The team behind Zapier gets together every six months to track progress and have a little fun.
“Our bi-annual retreats accelerate team bonding and provide us valuable time to reflect on the past 6 months and evaluate what we want to get done in the next 6 months. And then there's also the chance to break up into small groups and knock out a bunch of small projects—a few dozen—over the week we're together.
Working closely helps everyone to get to know their teammates better and understand their personality, which isn't easy to pull from a text conversation. Then the next time you have a chat with a teammate in Slack, you might be laughing out loud because you can imagine the person's sarcastic voice and accompanying facial expressions in your head. Though it's just for two weeks per year, in-person time pulls us closer together.” Danny Schreiber, Zapier
If you don’t have the budget for a long trip - don’t worry. There’s still a lot you can do to pull your team together. Zapier suggests trying to package an in-person meeting with a valuable event. Have a conference coming up? Take advantage of the opportunity!
A Small Orange encourages face-to-face interaction as much as possible. ASO will foot the bill for a dinner or coffee once a month for employees who are local to one another. Similar to Zapier's retreats, ASO team members also get together for company-wide Town Halls, where directors present info on their departments and updates on what's coming up.