5 Ways to Build Rapport with Remote Employees
Our team of 28 remote employees is spread across 17 states, and we only come together as an entire company once a year. While smaller teams within the business get together more frequently, the majority of our work time is done via home offices, cafés, and coworking spaces.
We weren’t always a distributed team—it’s something we’ve transitioned to over the course of a few years. That period of time gave us the opportunity to learn what aspects of a distributed workforce would make or break us as a company culture.
Here are a few insights that have helped us bridge the geographic divide with remote employees:
A close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well.
1. Make it easy.
Much like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, employees require a basic set of services from their employer to feel secure and able to perform their duties. It’s important to ensure all basic services of an employer are just as easy to consume as a remote employee as they would be if an employee was onsite at the company’s headquarters.
A speedy network, overnight IT support deliveries (when a computer breaks down), and seamless onboarding to payroll and benefits are all ways to ensure remote employees don’t feel like second-class citizens.
2. Create a virtual presence: Out of sight but not out of mind.
We’re not in the same place or time zone, but that doesn’t excuse us from being attentive to our coworker’s needs. Since we can’t swivel our chairs around for a quick conversation, it’s necessary for everyone to keep an eye on their “digital presence,” which is how they’re perceived by others when working remotely.
Things as simple as agreeing on a common time zone in which to work (we use the Central time zone) are effective ways to keep folks present and aware of the fact that dozens of other people are relying on them to be around.
3. Define guidelines and expectations.
An employer’s expectations about when, where, and how to work can be burdensome for on-site employees. For remote workers though, practical guidelines for working remotely help employees make the most out of working from home.
For example, a small commute actually creates an important barrier between work and life, so something as simple as taking a 10-minute walk prior to sitting down at home to work helps clean the mental slate. Other tips such as the need for a distraction-free workplace and clear expectations about after-hours emails seem obvious, but these expectations reinforce the need to separate work from life at home.
4. Share life not just work.
Every Friday we have an extended daily stand-up with the entire company via videoconference. We take an extra half-hour to share a little something going on in each of our non-work lives.
Maybe it’s house construction, a bike race, or a family get-together, but this is a simple way for us to fill in the blanks of who our geographically dispersed coworkers are when they’re not cranking on software.
5. Make sure your remote employees see other humans.
No matter how much technology we deploy across our distributed workplace, we’re still humans at the end of the day. It’s not financially feasible to fly the entire company into town more than once or twice a year, but we can ensure we make the most of that time when we do—even if part of it is simply “working in the same place for a couple of days.”
Likewise, we’ve empowered every employee to fly anywhere in the country to be with another coworker or team during a tough period in a project. This is a small price to pay to ensure we use real, live facetime as the indispensable tool that it is.
Distributed companies are still a relatively new concept, and there will almost certainly be watershed moments in its development as an employer practice in the future. Even with a company like ours with 10 years of success under our belts, there have been times when a remote team has been really tough to deal with.
That said, the benefits surely outweigh the costs—and it’s the costs that we’ll continue to take into account as companies like ours continue to thrive in the digital age.
By Craig Bryant | June 21, 2016 | Categories: Build a Remote Team