Business owners and managers seem to be split when it comes to having remote workforces. Those who are against it tend to believe that people need to be in the same office or location in order to cooperate effectively. That and they often believe that they can’t trust someone working hundreds or thousands of miles away with important tasks and projects.
But more and more employers are all for remote workers. According to this study by UpWork (formerly oDesk), 54 percent of the employers interviewed said that where an employee works from is not of great importance to them.
Certainly, there are both pros and cons that come with having a remote workforce. Remote employees tend to be cheaper, which is always a plus to control labor costs. Also, you don’t have to settle on the best candidate that lives in your area – you can hire someone who lives on the other side of the globe!
However, there are many challenges that come with managing people who are working from a distance. Communication can certainly be more challenging – especially if there is a big difference in time zones. The organization, project management, company culture, building trust and relationships; these are all common problems that people who have a remote workforce deal with on a regular basis.
One of the biggest problems is keeping remote workers connected and involved – making them feel as if they are an integral part of the organization.
But certainly, none of these problems are insurmountable. Here are five steps that you can take to establish and preserve a strong connection between yourself and your remote staff.
This may seem obvious, but it bears repeating: If you have remote team members, invest in all of the necessary tools/stacks to ensure that they feel connected. From HipChat to Skype or Slack and Asana, find the way to communicate with them that doesn’t simply involve emails.
Use tools that will not only allow you to develop rapport but also clearly define tasks so that misunderstandings and miscommunication are being kept to a minimum. Helping everyone understand where a project stands will make their lives – and yours – much easier.
If you’re using an employee scheduling software to keep track of the hours that your employees are working, make sure that you find one that supports easy and open communication between clients and lets you post messages and notify both entire teams and individual employees about important events and plans.
However, simply having the tools available isn’t enough: You need to use them and encourage your employees to participate.
It’s not an all-hands meeting if all the hands aren’t aware and plugged in, which is the home office’s responsibility to make happen. Hold your team members accountable to themselves and to each other and find ways to incentivize collaboration and communication across offices.
Make Time for Face-to-Face Meetings
Schedule regular visits.
Commit to flying your remote employees to headquarters at least once each year if at all possible. Make their trip worthwhile in terms of business goals and company meetings (it should go without saying that the best time to host an offsite is when everyone is present), but allow time for team-building as well.
Organize a happy hour, take them out to lunch and invite them to pinch-hit in the company softball league. It’s all about trying to make them feel like a part of the team.
By the same token, leadership must visit remote offices regularly. Don’t make these visits feel like inspection tours, but go for a few days, work remotely yourself and make sure your teams get to know you as more than a voice on a conference line.
If you simply don’t have it in your budget to do something like this, the least you can do is schedule video conferences regularly. Seeing someone’s face and allowing them to see yours is very important in the effort to make your remote workers feel as if they have a real relationship.
Also, make sure that you make a little room for relaxed discussions and chit chat during these face-to-face meetings every now and then. Talk to your remote employees about their lives outside of work and show them that you are genuinely interested in them as people, not just as workers.
Give Them a Say
Giving your employees more independence to make decisions is a win-win situation.
Instead of spending too much time juggling their shift changes, you can let them trade shifts among themselves. Sounds too risky? Think about this:
By giving your employees more freedom, you are acknowledging their maturity and responsibility when it comes to work-related decisions. Also, you will finally be able to “buy” yourself enough time to focus on the bigger picture.
You would be surprised by the amount of work you can do instead of wasting it on processes that can be automated.
Fortunately, there are tools that allow management to use the most accurate, real-time data to check on their workforce availability. With an option such as this, the employees are able to log in anytime, from any computer and set their availability so the management knows if they can count on them or look for another employee without any unnecessary delays in the process.
At the end of the day, your employees get the independence they need and you get enough time to finish important tasks and make it home for dinner!
If your overseas employees feel as if they have to wait a long time for your approval to make any kind of decision, they will likely get frustrated very quickly.
It’s up to you to empower them to make decisions on their own and take on leadership roles.
Get Them Together
We also recommend signing up your remote workers for access to a co-working space – if your budget can handle it. Even though they can’t be in the same room as everyone in your company, it always helps to be able to communicate and work in person with at least some people from the team.
According to this study by the Harvard Business Review, remote workers tend to thrive in co-working spaces.
While many employees prefer not to have to come into the office every day, just as many don’t mind having the option to do so when they feel like it and mingle with other people, just to get a break from the monotony of working alone from home every day.
Turn Them Into Local Ambassadors
Create opportunities for your remote workers to be active in their local community on behalf of your business. In addition to giving them opportunities to socialize, it’s a great way to make a remote employee feel empowered and valued as a full-fledged member of your team.
Ask them to represent the company at conferences in their area or to attend meetings with other businesses, potential partners or prospective clients. Encourage them to aid you in the process of finding and recruit new employees in their area if the need arises.
There is no better way to make them feel as if they are part of the team than to get the to represent your company in their community and fly your business’s flag high.