When I started Zen Media as a fully remote company 11 years ago, the whole idea of not working in an office almost seemed to be otherworldly in the eyes of many. People would ask me, "Where's your office?" I'd reply with, "In the cloud." And they'd inevitably say, "Oh, is that uptown?" 

Yeah... way uptown. 

Now, with efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19 forcing a lot of businesses to move their teams from in-office to fully remote, perspectives surrounding remote work have transitioned from novel to normal seemingly overnight.

But this has left some companies scrambling to figure out how to keep employees that they saw in person every day engaged, now that they're all in a virtual environment. As someone who has been at the helm of an entirely remote team for over a decade, here are my top tips for managing a remote team.

Bring in an Outside Speaker

As a keynote speaker, companies that originally booked me to speak in person are now transitioning our plans to a webinar or a livestream, to help offer their teams actionable insights and strategies that would help them advance their work and performance.

I also know that some of my speaker colleagues have done the same thing. And, in fact, businesses can likely find a lot more available speakers they might not have had the opportunity to book before due to scheduling conflicts.

Providing ongoing education and training that helps employees develop their skills and expertise is essential for raising employee happiness and team morale. Bringing in an outside speaker who can provide valuable coaching can help keep your team engaged and excited about their work by giving them the career-boosting education that they seek.

Send Snail Mail

Don't underestimate the power of sending your team something that shows them that you truly care, value their work, and have their best interests and well-being at-heart.

For instance, with Easter not being quite the same this year, I wanted to bring our team and their families a little more cheer. So I sent our employees goodie baskets that I put together for their kids, and I'm happy to report that they were very well-received.

Need some ideas for what to send your remote team to show your appreciation?

Here's what I'd suggest:

  • A care package

  • Your favorite book

  • A simple handwritten note or greeting card

  • Health kits (soaps, hand sanitizers, vitamin-C packets)

  • A gift card to their favorite local restaurant that offers delivery

Play the Long Game and Get Your Team Involved

This means creating content that you may have been putting off for a while. Record that video. Update your blog. Set up that livestream. Design that infographic.

With online usage surging in the wake of coronavirus stay-at-home orders, this is that time to play the long game, and get your team involved in this process. Let them write a blog, produce a video, or even take over your social media feeds for a day. Making them a part of your content creation strategy can go a long way in making them feel as if they're making a valuable contribution to the long-term success of your company.

Set Up a Hotline

Consider setting up a hotline for your employees that's there to help them with anything that they need.

You can even combine your hotline with the outside speakers strategy I mentioned earlier, and allow your team members to schedule office hours with these experts. This gives them a one-one-one opportunity to connect and have a Q&A with them.

Create a Spotify Playlist

Creating a collaborative Spotify playlist for your team is a fun, interactive way to get them engaged. Choose music that's fun, speaks to your people, or provides a hat tip to some inside jokes that only folks on your team would understand.

And you don't even have to limit it to just music. You could also add podcasts, poetry readings, audiobooks, or even vintage radio dramas.

Right now, it's very much about creating and curating, and that's how you're going to drive momentum -- not just right now, but in the long term.

Keeping your remote team engaged means going the extra mile to make your interactions with them personal, honest and heartfelt. And during this critical time, remember not to push too hard. Because everyone could use a little more gentleness right now.