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7 tips on how to manage and engage remote employees
The future of work is remote. But how do you ensure everyone feels heard and valued? Try these practical strategies from a CTO who's been managing remote teams for more than a decade
Remote meetings are becoming more commonplace. For a lot of people, meetings include team members who are spread out across the country, or even across the globe. Work is happening everywhere, and engaging remote employees is more important than ever.
The foundation of this collaboration culture is technology, and the marketplace is flooded with different tools like Slack, Google, Skype, etc., to facilitate productive and effective meetings when not everyone can sit down in the same room. Team structure varies greatly and managing a distributed team can be a challenge, even for the most experienced managers. How do you ensure that all team members are heard and feel included?
[ It’s not your imagination: Some meetings hurt your brain. See our related story: How to run meetings that hurt less. ]
I’ve worked with remote teams for more than ten years, including multi-lingual and multi-cultural teams. Here is what I learned.
1. Try a 100 percent remote approach at times
You are in an important meeting, and there are ten people in the room and a couple of employees attending via web conference. Chances are that the conversation will be held by those physically connected. If everybody is working remotely, nobody has an edge on the communication and relationship part. People will feel included naturally. Even if you have people in the same place as you are, consider creating an agreement with everybody to join via web conference, for example.
2. Video helps build deeper relationships
We are human beings, and non-verbal communication represents a significant part of our overall connection. Videoconferencing technology helps with this, increasing remote team engagement. It also prevents people from multitasking while attending remote meetings.
3. Reduce any additional barriers
You’d be surprised how many times I see people white-boarding and running exercises with Post-Its during meetings with people attending remotely. It’s hard enough to read a Post-It from across a room, let alone through a screen. These days, there are many new pieces of technology that can help with this, from interactive business whiteboards to online platforms like Mural that provide virtual walls and sticky notes for design thinking and other forms of collaboration.
4. Promote a culture of online collaboration
At CI&T, 100 percent of the internal documents produced are in the cloud. People can easily add comments and suggestions, regardless of their location. Instant Messaging has become a significant tool for online collaboration. It’s increasingly replacing face-time conversations, even for employees working in the same building. The good news is that there is a trend toward using digital touchpoints over analog/human ones.
5. Invest in infrastructure
If remote collaboration is a reality for your company, invest in the infrastructure and technology to ensure its successful implementation. The quality of your webcams, microphones, web conference platform, etc. matters. Proper setup of your meeting rooms can make the difference between a dynamic and engaging conversation or a frustrating experience for employees. You can go as fancy as you want. If you watch “The Big Bang Theory,” you’ve probably seen the Mobile Virtual Presence Device (MVPD) used by Sheldon in one of the episodes (we have one in our company, by the way).
6. Create etiquette rules – and follow them
It’s easy enough to find best practices and tips on working remotely. The tough part is creating a culture to follow them. Lead by example. If you are the meeting organizer, make sure there are no side conversations happening, that there are specific pauses to hear people online, that there are no delays, and so on.
7. Mix remote with physical interactions
When you have a workforce that is primarily remote, it’s important to maximize efficiency in a work environment. However, it’s also extremely beneficial to promote in-person meetings and workshops on a regular basis, even if you can only do it once or twice a year. Getting the chance to know the person behind the screen is extremely valuable for a successful long-term relationship.
Remote teams are a reality. From a business perspective, the possibility of attracting talent from different geographies, allowing people to work from wherever they feel most comfortable and productive, and assembling teams regardless of the employees’ location can be a game-changer in terms of results and scale. Creating a culture where remote people are heard and feel part of the team is an investment many companies should make sooner rather than later.
[ Want more ideas? Read also: 9 ways to fix awful virtual meetings. ]