At The Penny Hoarder, our staffers work in-office, even though many of us could do our jobs remotely. It's not uncommon for digital media companies to employ a remote workforce. Coming from a freelance life before this job, I worried I'd lose my mind with this typical 9-to-5 habit.
But I quickly came to appreciate the subtle benefits of working in the same place as my team. It was enough to make me wonder -- with admitted condescension -- why wouldn't every company open an office?
Of course, remote teams come with benefits, too. We've heard about the boost to productivity. You'll save money on office costs. You can hire the best talent, not just those willing to live in your area. Conversely, you can be based anywhere.
So, I get it. But if you're going to manage a remote team, beware these valuable business benefits that are easy to lose -- and look for creative ways to incorporate them into your team's remote work style.
1. Serendipitous collaboration.
Our CEO, Kyle Taylor, talks often about the value of serendipity in a shared office space. Those are moments when people from different teams strike up a conversation about a project at the coffee machine or in the elevator, for example, and those spontaneous interactions yield a new idea or innovation.
Those moments don't come easily with a remote team, where your conversations are scheduled, and there are no trips to the watercooler.
How to mimic it with a remote team: Bring your team together when you can, through retreats, hackathons or staff meetings to give them ample face time.
In the meantime, facilitate unplanned connections by getting creative. Use something like the Slack app Donut, which connects people who don't communicate often. Group coworking calls could also open the lines of communication.
2. Comprehensive communication.
Sure, remote communication tools are phenomenal. You can call, email, video chat, screen share, direct message...
But what about those brainstorming meetings where you bust out the big whiteboard, and everyone takes turns jotting ideas and sketches? Or those few minutes when someone stops by your desk to point to the exact spot on a graphic where they need a logo?
Mimic it: Start with establishing a video-always-on culture (or, if you must, a rule). Even on bad hair days. That face-to-face communication could be 34 times more effective than a text-based conversation.
Also use tools that facilitate real-time collaboration, such as Google Docs, Redpen and Slack.
3. Effective and efficient meetings.
Oh, conference calls. You've got tech issues, disconnections, frozen video, lost links, apps to download, extensions to install and that one guy who always forgets he's muted when he starts talking.
Plus, in my experience, meetings scheduled via conference call tend to go longer. Probably because it doesn't seem worth all that hassle for a 10-minute chat.
In person, everyone walks in the room, and you start talking. That's it.
Mimic it: Use the simplest conferencing service you can find to make it easy to use, even for quick chats. Google Hangouts Meet is great if you're a Google Suite team. Appear.in is perfect and easy for smaller teams.
4. A focused environment.
Studies have shown familiar environmental cues can automatically trigger your brain to ignore distractions and focus. This could be why it's so easy to work and ignore dirty dishes in the office sink, but your kitchen must be sparkling before you can get any work done at home (just me?).
An office tells employees it's time to work. And you can control your office design to encourage focus with quiet areas, dim lights and white noise, for example.
Mimic it: Include tips for setting up a home office in your onboarding process, and offer a stipend to get set up. Or, even simpler: Send a welcome package to new employees. A coffee mug and a mousepad with your company logo can be easy triggers to get them into work mode.
5. The commute.
Hear me out.
I love two things about my commute to work. First, I listen to podcasts. The average American commute is 26 minutes each way. That's nearly an hour per day to educate yourself through podcasts or audiobooks. Do you do that on your days off?
Second, I live near the office, so I walk. That's an easy 15 minutes of activity twice per day. This doesn't apply to every office worker, but it's great for many of us.
Mimic it: A stipend to cover the costs of membership to a coworking space is an easy way to get remote workers out of the house. You could support similar wellness goals through a free gym membership and a learning stipend, as well.
Don't leave any of these activities to chance.
Once you roll them out, build them into your company's habits by including them in onboarding, reinforcing them with team activities and incentivizing them. You could enact a Friday afternoon yoga hour, for example, enroll teams en masse into online training or add (fun!) quizzes to your tech training.