By Krish Chopra, co-founder of United Medical Rotations.
Working remotely is like being on an island: It's great for execution, but on our team, everyone needs to know they have a cell phone to the neighboring island. One TINYpulse survey even indicated that 91 percent of remote workers feel more productive than when working in an office. However, when your team is remote, it's critical to emphasize relationship development.
It's not enough to "be available" or have weekly calls with them to check in on the work. Aside from the obvious - using group messaging applications, such as Whatsapp or GroupMe, we use these steps to make sure that we're continually getting to know our team.
Daily 'Jam Sessions'
We spend hours on the phone and on video conferences (Skype or Google Hangouts) to replicate an in-person environment. It's common for us to be on the phone for 60-90 minutes, even if we're not actually speaking. Simply by being on the phone, it allows us to have quick discussions, think out loud and replicate the environment of working in a conference room.
If you're having a group conference call or Google hangout, encourage small talk. Don't get down to business right away. In our hyper-productivity driven society, this might sound odd, but use the phone calls to encourage your team to slow down and chat. Jam sessions also allow us to address disagreements quickly. When you report to an office daily, you can't avoid issues. If there's a disagreement, most likely it'll be addressed the next day during lunch or sometime throughout the day.
When you work remotely, it's really easy to avoid it. And once small disagreements fester, trust will eventually diminish. Jam sessions are our method of virtual conference calls.
As a founder, owner and leader of your company, visiting your team shows how vested you are in the relationship. Coffee shops are a great place for these monthly meetings, as it helps offset the cost of travel and most coffee shops have good Wi-Fi.
If your team members are under four hours away, you should see them at a minimum of twice a month. They should come to you and you should come to them. Set these expectations early, especially with new hires. For our most recent hire, we clearly stated that we would meet two or three times a week, and as trust builds, that number would decrease to twice a month.
If your team is across the world, it's another story. I recommend you visit at a minimum twice a year. Given the time zone differences and potential poor access to Wi-Fi/technology, it's a greater challenge to consistently communicate with each other. We have three members in the Philippines who continually need support, so we take two separate two-week trips. If that's too much, have each founder/partner take one trip each. You can also turn it into a mini-vacation. It may even be an extra tax deduction.
Monday Morning Team Calls
If you were to walk around any office on a Monday morning, the only conversation you would hear would be about each other's previous weekend. My Monday mornings consist of phone call after phone call starting at 8:30 a.m. The goal of each call is to plan the week, but I dedicate the first fifteen minutes to catching up on each other's weekends and lives. Here's a tip: Don't ask how their weekend was. Ask them what the best part of their weekend was.
Asking Your Team to Do the Same
This is by far the most important. You may understand how to continue developing relationships with your team, but you are also only one person. The impact you can have is great, but you'll start to see that your team's relationships with each other aren't as strong.
Recently, we've been urging our team members to develop relationships with each other and have jam sessions independently so they have the opportunity to collaborate and get to know each other. Many different applications and software can help alleviate the challenges of remote productivity. Slack comes to mind as it's made tremendous headway in the startup community. But even with platforms like Slack, we've found that nothing offers more ROI than phone calls, video conferencing and occasional in-person visits.
Krish Chopra is the co-founder of United Medical Rotations, a clinical agency. He oversees operations and business development.