10 tips for unifying your remote workplace

Technology has made telecommuting increasingly common for businesses large and small. Human interaction and collaboration needn’t suffer, though. Try these approaches.

How do you reach your telecommuters?

The remote working environment has become increasingly common at many startups and small businesses, and even at larger established companies, as the benefits become greater and the talent pool becomes larger.

With the number of remote workers steadily growing, so, too, are the challenges of making your team feel cohesive and connected despite the distance.

As someone who oversees other remote workers, I’ve found that there are times when the team starts to feel out of touch with what’s going on at the company, its goals and its results. To ensure that every remote worker feels a part of our team, I’ve learned the importance of using these tactics:

1. Always keep communication lines open. When you work in an office, you see your co-workers every day. However, virtual team members can’t just bump into each other regularly. That’s why it’s vital to use platforms enabling the team to chat together. We leave chat lines open through Skype and use video conferencing through Google Hangouts. Even if it’s just for a few minutes or involves a catch-up on life, remote workers know they always have someone to look to when they yearn for that social connection.

2. Use screen-sharing and collaboration tools. Though it can be easy to sit down in an office and show off your project work to date, it’s a lot harder to explain things to a virtual team. Tools such as Join.me, TeamViewer and Skype offer screen-sharing capabilities so that I can show my team what I’m working on, or they can show me a problem that would be difficult to describe. This has made it much easier to know what everyone is doing and to solve issues within minutes. It also helps to work in Google Drive or Dropbox so we can add to and edit each other’s work on the fly.

3. Establish a formal project management system. It may seem easy to handle everything by email and just have everyone keep track of their own work, but in reality, many deadlines are missed and balls get dropped. Once I had enacted a formal project management system for the team, team members were more organized and were confident about their responsibilities. With the project management system, our freelance writers can now see what content is in the pipeline over the next few months so they can make themselves available. This has kept our top talent engaged and committed.

4. Standardize processes. Because I often work virtually, I know how easy it is to rely on my own way of doing things. Though this makes sense on an individual level, it doesn’t make everyone feel connected and part of something bigger. We put standardized processes in place so each team member knows how to submit work, including in what format and to which team member, which has improved workflow and fostered a sense of working together in a physical office.

5. Create work schedules. A major benefit of working virtually is the flexible hours, but it’s still important to have some semblance of a schedule. I ask the team to let me know if there’s anything coming up in the week when they might be away from their desks for a long period of time. That way I don’t bug them, and I can know when to expect work from them. Other team members can plan their time so it syncs with everyone else, especially if anyone is in a different time zone.

6. Do quarterly reviews. For team members to feel that they’re an integral part of the company, there must be a review system in place to track how they’re doing and how they feel about being on the team. It’s good to check in and make sure they’re still feeling good about their work. This is also an opportunity to find out whether they’d like to take on more tasks and responsibilities.

7. Pay well. The best way to retain great virtual talent is to make sure they are rewarded accordingly. Remote workers are often not full-time employees, so there’s room in the budget to give them a bit more than if they worked in the office. It’s competitive out there with so many companies turning to freelancers, so those who are paid more will remain loyal and maintain their high-quality output.

8. Convey company culture through video. One of the most difficult things to get across to a virtual team is your company culture. Our company has made good use of video to inspire and share thoughts on what it means to work here. The video-conferencing tools have also helped all the virtual staff get involved in our culture, get to know the leaders and see more of what we’re like as a company. This helps them feel more involved and understand their role in the business.

9. Establish meet-ups. Either twice a year or quarterly, we try to get our remote team together to meet in person. When our CEO travels to a city where we have a virtual staff member, he makes a point to connect with them over lunch or dinner so they can get to know each other better. These face-to-face meet-ups are helpful for creating more personal connections and stronger bonds among all team members.

10. Add a personalized touch. When the company’s communications and actions show a personalized touch directed solely to them, it makes a virtual team member feel more connected. This can be a “thank you” for their contribution, recognition in a team newsletter or a special gift on their birthday. It shows that “out of sight, out of mind” doesn’t apply to them. The company recognizes and appreciates the value they bring to the organization.

The above tips can help you in connecting and motivating remote staff-without killing your budget.

Murray Newlands is an entrepreneur, investor, business advisor and a contributor at Forbes.com and Entrepreneur.com. He is co-founder of Influence People. A version of this article originally appeared on BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious young thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.

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