One of the greatest perks of living in an increasingly connected world is the ability to work remotely. Multiple studies have confirmed that employees are, on average, more productive when allowed to work from home (though it is not entirely certain what is responsible for this increased productivity). Employees do not have to worry about commute times and employers can spend less on office-related expenses, sometimes abandoning the traditional office structure altogether.
But working from home is not without its downsides. If you are managing a remote team, you might struggle with the clarity and frequency of your communications, or your team members might inherently feel disconnected from one another.
Thankfully, there are some strategies you can use to improve those team dynamics and capitalize on the benefits of remote work without suffering from the weaknesses.
One of the best things you can do for your team is arranging periodic in-person meetups. Communicating in-person allows people to experience the deeper nuances of communication, like tone and body language, and allows them to form stronger bonds with each other. It is important to capitalize on this dynamic if you want your team to work well together and be happy in their own environments. If your team only works remotely part of the time, you probably won't have to worry about this – your coworkers will see each other when they come into the office. Otherwise, you will have to make separate arrangements.
One convenient way to do this is by finding a coworking space in your city, so you can all have a productive space to work and interact with each other, without sacrificing a day's worth of productivity. You could also choose a coffee shop or even a park – especially if you are interested in a more personal engagement.
If your team members are distributed throughout the country (and beyond), finding a local spot to meet up is not feasible. In these fringe cases, you could fly your team into an annual gathering to touch base with each other in person or rely on video chats to replicate the dynamics of in-person communication.
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Next, you will need to work on improving your in-team communications since they can take a hit when you move to remote management. The best approach here is to solidify your expectations proactively, so there is no room for ambiguity, and document those expectations so everyone is familiar with them.
Take note of expectations in these areas especially:
- Availability: First you should define your expectations for your employees' availabilities. If they are working from home, they may not adhere to a strict schedule, or they may take breaks to handle personal responsibilities during the workday. If you expect them to be on call during certain hours, like 9 to 12, you need to proactively set this expectation.
- Appropriate mediums/channels: There are dozens of communication channels available to modern workers, but that isn't always a good thing. Between email, phone calls, texts, video chats, instant messages, and project management software, it's easy for workers to get bogged down with notifications and for messages to be lost in transit. Clarify which channels should be used on a regular basis, how they should be used, and what an effective/appropriate message looks like for each platform.
- Appropriate response times: You may also want to clarify appropriate response times; if someone gets an email, how fast should they respond to it with an answer? If their status is online, how fast do you expect them to respond to a question over your instant message platform? Clarifying these expectations early gives you precedent to take action if an employee repeatedly neglects them.
- Frequency of communication: Communication is not just about responding to questions. It is also about making updates, confirming details, and providing further information. Though it may be hard to objectively document, it is a good idea to set expectations for how frequently the team communicates with each other – and encourage more frequent interactions when possible.
Isolation can be a problem for remote workers, especially if they are new to the game. In addition to the work you put into arranging meetups and perfecting communication, it is a good idea to have frank conversations with your staff members individually to ensure they are not going stir crazy. Help them find public places where they can work, like coffee shops or libraries, and encourage them to maintain an active social life when possible.
Making your team remote can be a massive benefit for your business, but if you neglect the potential downsides, they can compromise that benefit. Spend more time encouraging interaction, within your team and between your team members and other parties, if you want to improve your communications and keep morale high.