Depending on the industry, remote work is either the buzzword du jour or head scratchingly incomprehensible. Distributed teams allow for companies to break down geographical borders in their quest to find top talent, but it also means making accommodations that traditional brick and mortar businesses haven’t considered.
If you’re thinking about allowing your employees to work remotely, or you’re already developing a distributed team but think there’s room for improvement, here are a few digital daring dos to keep everyone happy and productive:
1. Get Creative When Cultivating Your Community
Establishing a centralized culture when your employees are geographically scattered is slightly different than chatting around a water cooler. It’s better, in fact. The Trello office manager sends a birthday cake to be delivered right to every remote employee’s home. Sometimes that means a wild goose chase to find the best cheesecake bakery in a remote part of the Midwest. But it’s totally worth it when the employee uploads a picture to Slack to share with the rest of the team.
Since remote culture ditches the break room, it’s also about making sure remote coworkers know each other—even if they’re not working on the same project. At Trello, our recruiting coordinator does this each week by randomly matching us up with another employee. We spend a half hour together, usually on a video call, getting to know one another. We then summarize our conversation on a centralized Trello board so that other team members can join in on our discussion by commenting on the card. The exercise has been a massive success, with countless remote workers reporting on how much more connected they feel for having an opportunity to get to know their coworkers.
2. Ditch Email
If your team is distributed, you are relying heavily on digital communication to accomplish everything. Pro tip: ditch email. I know! It sounds impossible. But think about how many times long email chains have gotten messy, convoluted, and effectively made you and your team less productive.
It may come as no surprise that at Trello we actually use Trello to discuss projects, comment on ideas, and keep everything transparent. Project management software can often be a great alternative to email—in fact, in Capterra’s Project Management User Research Report, a majority of project managers reported that project management software improved team communication—over final product quality, the increase in the number of projects meeting deadline, and overall customer satisfaction.
3. Make Their Office An Extension Of Your Office
Supporting remote team members means supporting their satellite workspace the same way you would at an HQ office. Supporting your coworkers with office basics, like a desk, a chair, and computer equipment is essential for them to create a comfortable work environment. Investing in their space also makes them feel invested in your company, even if they’re not physically present every day.
Providing remote workers with IT support for troubleshooting is also imperative. Their workspace is not on an island! They should not be burdened with a lack of resources for solving technical issues just because they’re working on their own. At Trello we use an IT Support board for technical requests. As a matter of fact, the IT engineer responding to the incoming tickets is a remote employee, himself!
4. Be Adaptable Across The Board. Period.
Technology is pretty good these days, but it isn’t without its mishaps. Relying on internet connections to have meetings with your team elicits fear in some project managers, but it’s actually a non-issue. The trick is to keep options open. At Trello, we are known to conduct meetings and interviews on Google Hangout, appear.in, or even Skype.
Speaking of cross-team communication: be considerate of time zones. It is reasonable to expect all employees across all time zones be working together for at least part of the day, which might mean some remote workers will need to keep slightly unconventional hours. But that also means understanding that not everyone will be immediately available when you need them. For example, Trello HQ is in New York City, but one of our remotes lives in Hawaii. He gets up extra early to be with his team in the morning, but he is also unavailable for part of the EST work day so that he can be a dad. There is never a hang-up. When everyone compromises a little, no one feels treated unfairly.
Remote work is not without its adaptations, but that doesn’t mean it has to be uncomfortable. If done right, there is a low risk of decreased productivity, communication challenges, or disparate culture—and a high probability of more productive employees who are happier, to boot.
Header by Abby Kahler
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