Whether it is called flex-time, distributed, or simply "working from home," it's the dream of entrepreneurs to be able to be part of a remote team. For many, their ultimate goal is to be working from a tropical island, drinking out of a coconut as the waves lap gently on the sand. Unfortunately, for most, the perception does not match the reality.
However, for those left behind in the office, imagination can run wild. With their colleagues out of sight, it becomes too easy to fill in the blanks of their missing time with -- anything, really. Too often, this becomes a two-way burden, as the remote worker must now work harder to be seen, and the office worker must remember to be inclusive.
At Evernote, we had a distributed company, with office locations around the world mixed with remote (at-home) employees. Managing this required tact, as we could not simply have "quick discussions" at someone's desk, as that could leave out valuable input from someone who was not there face-to-face.
To that end, we came up with some great ways to encourage healthy team collaboration. Here are a few of them:
1. Set the culture.
I once worked with a salesman who had extremely high numbers -- he could close any sale. It turned out, he would promise anything that the client wanted -- whether we offered it or not, and then neglect to pass that information on to the development team. As this caused both sides to be unhappy, we had to let him go.
If you have people in one place, it's relatively easy to monitor how employees are speaking about your company. However, if they're in a satellite, it's easy for them to "go rogue." Having a strong company culture that is constantly reinforced ensures you are all speaking with the same voice, no matter where you are.
2. Start a shared chat.
As we were a 24-hour company, with offices around the world, employees were always working somewhere. I therefore created a virtual "water cooler"--where notifications were not turned on -- for people could come in and say good morning, and goodbye when they were signing off.
With the popularity of Slack, Telegram and other similar products, creating places for your employees to talk to each other is great. Make sure you enact policies around notifications and time usage lest they become overused.
3. Get creative with management.
While some jobs require you to have specific hours, many of the remote jobs in the world do not. One of my rules of thumb for managing remote workers has always been to tell people to get their work done on time, not dictate how or when they do it. One of my best employees was able to complete his full-day's workload from midnight to 6am every day -- no matter how much he had piled on him, simply because no one was bothering him.
Remember that each person on your team has their own sets of skills, and they wouldn't be there unless they were good at their job. If you try to manage someone remotely the way you would in an office, they will likely not be as effective -- or leave.
4. Bring them home.
Once a year, I ensured that we had a team get-together for everyone, so that they could meet face-to-face. No matter how much online meetings and talking online can substitute, you still need to be in person every now and then.
However often you can manage it, make sure that you build a teambuilding event into your schedule where your remote workers can become a close-knit tribe. This will help you to grow as a company faster than you've ever imagined.
Adding remote employees can seem like a big jump, but when you're ready to make that extra effort and make your team a success, you can do wonders for your business.