The rise of the remote worker is seemingly unstoppable, with more than 1.5m Brits now working from home. While this increased flexibility can do wonders for employee work-life balance (not to mention the reduced overheads from having fewer bums on seats in the office), one major downside is the difficulty of creating a unified company culture and ensuring that your team really is a team. So how do you help your office-based staff and remote workers feel like, and (more importantly) act as, a cohesive group?
1. Communication is key
Simple as it sounds, communication lies at the heart of this conundrum. We’re not just talking about talking here; communication with remote workers means having a genuine two-way dialogue and a ‘my door is always open’ mentality. When there is a physical barrier to communication presented by geographical distance (and perhaps different time zones too), you need to work extra hard to keep the conversation alive and kicking. Bosses should lead by example, making a point of being in contact with remote workers on a regular basis and demonstrating their importance to the business.
Communication also means listening to your out-of-office team. Invite their feedback and ask for ideas on how you can facilitate even better working practices. Home-based workers will have a different perspective on your business and their insights could be invaluable for improving areas such as customer service or people management.
2. Tech tools
This could mean using a variety of tech tools to enable quick and easy communication. From online live chat to Skype calls, shared calendars and task managers such as Asana, there is a mind-boggling array of options available to you. Apps are another area to explore, with no shortage of choice in the B2B sector. Whether you want to share resources or create an easily-accessible hub for company communications, apps like Presenter and Communicator can be a real boon.
The key is to find the right mix for you and your team, which everyone can access from wherever they are (which may not be straightforward if remote workers have bandwidth issues). Whatever tools you choose, ensure that they are distributed democratically to avoid any feeling of ‘them and us’ – there’s nothing worse than a remote worker finding out that everyone in the office has a fancy new piece of kit yet they’re still struggling with an outdated device or ancient software.
3. The importance of structure
When people aren’t in the office regularly, it’s easy for them to become ‘out of sight, out of mind’. To stop remote workers from slipping into the background, make sure you have a structure in place which keeps them very much ‘in the room’. For instance, if you hold a weekly company meeting, get them to join in via video conference; if staff are asked to produce a weekly or monthly report, ensure that remote workers do the same. Share deadlines so that everyone is working to a similar timetable and make a point of keeping remote workers in the loop. In a team everyone needs to know their role and feel that they are making a contribution, so don’t let those working from home fall off the radar.
4. Involvement and recognition
With this in mind, remote workers must be involved in as many company activities as possible, even if they’re not physically present. If you have a mentoring scheme, include them; ensure that they are given the same opportunities for training and development as other staff; conduct regular appraisals and don’t forget to publically recognise their achievements. So, if you have an employee reward scheme, feature staff on your social media feeds or enter your staff for industry awards, treat remote workers as you would your office-based staff.
5. The personal touch
This matter of equal treatment extends to other areas too. If you have office traditions such as celebrating colleagues’ birthdays, team bonding sessions, awaydays, baby showers or even things like a company book club, try to include remote workers wherever possible. Even if they can’t be there in person, make a fuss of their milestones and invite them to participate in group activities so they feel included and valued.
6. Face-to-face time
When all’s said and done though, there is no substitute for spending time face-to-face with your remote team. Whatever the geographical (or other) limitations, make an effort to get your home-based workers to join you in person once or twice a year at least. Make the most of the time you have, scheduling in some social activities as well as work, to enable everyone to get to know each other better.
Humans are tribal creatures, so by bringing your team closer together they’ll flourish professionally and personally, for the greater benefit of your organisation.
We are adept at developing tech solutions which solve business problems, and we’ve helped many companies to create a more cohesive culture. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’d like our input.