Not every organization is built to handle remote workers. Even some tech companies (notably, Yahoo) can’t hack it. But over the past 15 years, we’ve employed pretty much every possible variety of on-site and off-site contractor, intern, part-timer, and telecommuter. Then, two years ago, we decided to move our headquarters from Seattle to Charleston, South Carolina, while maintaining a team in Seattle. This forced us to think even more purposefully about how to maintain a sense of teamwork, our productivity, and a consistent customer experience.
Here’s how we did it:
Choose the Right Technology
Find the right tools to provide a sense of community. Use an intranet platform to share resources, keep a centralized calendar (Google works well), and present a consistent customer phone experience using an online system such as RingCentral.
You’ll also need some sort of digital watercooler. Our team uses HipChat to support real-time conversation on everything from customer support issues to sports banter. Google+ hangouts are another great way to keep the lines of communication open. The tool you use is less important than the fact that you make space for those off-topic, relationship-building discussions.
Keep the Human in Human Resources
Remote teams are often working across time zones. This can be a bonus for customer support, since you can offer coverage across a longer time frame each day, but team members need to be sensitive to work boundaries for staff in different time zones.
Even remote teams need to gather in-person every once in a while. Schedule all-hands meetings or host lunches at a central location, so that the team can share face-to-face. Our whole company is looking forward to a big off-site celebration this fall.
When you have a mixture of in-office staff and telecommuters, it’s even more important to manage by clearly stated goals rather than to measure work hours. If everyone knows what the mission is, and has the authority to carry out their assigned tasks, you don’t need to waste time checking up on people.
Remote teamwork can be an effective asset if you put the structure in place to manage people correctly. By giving your team the flexibility to work where they are most productive--whether that’s from home or from the office--you create an atmosphere of mutual respect and teamwork.
Does your company include remote workers? How have you tackled the unique challenges of this arrangement?