5 keys to cultivating a productive remote staff

Smart technology and soaring office rental costs make telecommuting increasingly attractive for employers, and employees see it as a top perk. Here’s how to keep everyone connected.

5 keys to managing remote workers

Remote working has gone mainstream.

Forty-three percent of employees have worked remotely at some point in the last year, though some companies are still resisting this trend. IBM, for example, recently reversed its remote working policies. Will (and should) others follow IBM’s lead?

Research suggests that remote employees produce better work and stay more loyal to their employer. “Flexibility” is consistently rated a top workplace perk—sometimes higher than cash. Transitioning to a remote policy comes with its own challenges, however.

Follow these five tips, and you’ll be well on your way to cultivating a happier, more productive remote workforce:

1. Stay connected.

When you work remotely, you’re removed from the human interaction common in an office. Things can feel lonely, especially in a company that mixes full-time remote with full-time office workers. More than half (52 percent) of full-timers found their colleagues treat them unfairly, and two-thirds (67 percent) claim colleagues don’t support their priorities.

That’s why you must provide tools and policies that foster communication.

Your team might use conferencing tools such as Skype and Google Hangouts to help remote workers feel more in touch with your team and to avoid the issues of asynchronous communication such as time lags and misunderstandings. However, most communication should be text-based. Whether it’s in Slack, an email, a document or even a knowledge base, text helps keep everyone on the same page.

2. Document everything.

Consider Gitlab’s 1,000+ page employee handbook. It covers everything from their company mission and product roadmap to its policies and processes. Yours doesn’t have to be a massive employee handbook; a simple microsite, knowledge library or even a document will suffice. What’s important is that you have a structured source of information and guidance that every employee can access.

This approach is particularly useful when it comes to onboarding. In offices, onboarding might consist largely of verbal instructions. Having a fully documented process means that new team members needn’t take copious notes or stress out about remembering it all. The wealth of information is recorded and always available for reference.

3. Work across different time zones.

Being able to work from anywhere in the world is one thing, but working whenever is a different challenge altogether. Normally, people in an office measure productivity by how long each team member spends at their desk. With remote teams, being at your desk is replaced with being online.

The most crucial part of building a remote team is hiring self-directed workers—”managers of one.” You want someone who’s capable of building something from scratch and seeing it through. Finding these people frees the rest of your team to work more and manage less. Essentially, you must build a culture where you can trust team members to get stuff done.

4. Organize company retreats.

You don’t have to go it alone all the time; top remote companies such as Automattic and Zapier hold an annual all-hands retreat. Because you don’t see everyone daily, it’s fun to have everyone around for a weeklong excursion so you can chat and learn about one another beyond your on-screen avatars.

What about the cost? A typical remote team saves tons of money in office space rentals. So, spare no expense on the annual gathering. What’s even more costly is having a remote team that doesn’t work well together.

5. Set boundaries.

Though working in the office has its distractions—loud conversations in the hall, a sudden impromptu meeting—working from home has distractions, too, such as constant email and Slack messages. Every remote worker must deal with these, and they can seriously hamper productivity.

Zapier came up with an ingenious way of dealing with this: “tree time.” Anytime someone needs peace and quiet while they work, they message others the words “tree time.”  No further explanation is needed, and no offense is taken.

Daniella Nerea is a freelance writer and content strategist based in Bristol, U.K.

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