According to research compiled by San Diego-based Global Workplace Analytics, 3.7 million employees work from home at least half the time. The remote workplace trend continues to grow as employers seek ways to reduce costs, drive employee engagement, and attract talent from a global employment market.

While there are innumerable benefits to offering remote workplace options, employers face some challengesnamely, concerns that managing a remote team is frustrating, time-consuming, and unsuccessful. When nearly 70 percent of the U.S. workforce is disengaged, it’s difficult enough to foster a strong sense of collaboration, innovation, and teamwork with employees who come into the office.

How can you build a shared purpose and engage a workforce that’s distributed around the globe? Here’s how:

Unlock your big idea.

As a leader, employees look to you to communicate the “big idea” or purpose of the organization. With a clearly defined purpose, work becomes a source of fulfillment and joy, rather than a place to simply check in and earn a paycheck.

When Joel Gascoigne created Buffer in 2010, his vision was simple: to find a more efficient way to share on social media. It didn’t take long for his one-man operation to grow, along with the company’s vision to build the simplest and most powerful social media tool and to set the bar for great customer support.

Today, the 100 percent remote company serves more than two million users and employs 60+ people across four continents and 30+ cities around the globe. That kind of success doesn’t happen without first knowing your big idea and then effectively communicating it to your virtual team.

Start uncovering your big idea by exploring these questions:

  • What’s the significant challenge or problem we’re trying to solve?
  • Why is it interesting?
  • Is it interesting enough for others to get behind (myself included)?

Consider making your big idea exploration a team process. Involve key employees and leverage the group’s collective wisdom to develop a powerful vision (yes, you can do it virtually). When you’ve identified what drives you and your organization, others will see it and become excited about it.

Connect your big idea to what matters…to your people.

One of the biggest challenges remote teams face is virtual distance. Virtual distance, according to Dr. Karen Sobel Lojeski, is the measure of what’s lost when human beings are translated through a machine. Most leaders underestimate the impact of virtual distance, not realizing that the more people rely on technology to communicate, the greater emotional detachment they experience.

The good news is that you can lessen the impact of virtual distance by connecting what matters most to employees to your big idea. That means giving your employees what they need to move forward, specifically:

  • What to do
  • How to do it
  • Why they should do it

This doesn’t mean that you need to spoon-feed or micromanage your remote workplace employees. It simply means you must equip them with the information they need to do their work and the motivation to foster enthusiasm around that work. And it all begins with what and how you communicate.

Ask these questions to craft messagesemails, IMs, texts, intranet content, video conference speaking points, or other toolsthat inspire your team to act:

  • Who am I trying to reach? A message sent to your management team will likely have a different tone than one you send company-wide. Think about how your message will resonate with your people.
  • What action do I want them to take? Decide what you want the recipient to think, feel, or do as a result of receiving your message. When you’re clear about the action you want the other party to take, your message will be more focused, clear, and compelling.
  • When should I communicate? For instance, if you send emails between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m., you may be sending an unintended message about your company culture. Of course, if your team is dispersed around the globe, this may be unavoidable. Consider using tools like Right Inbox to schedule emails during times that work best for your team.
  • Where and how should my message be delivered? Most people defer to their preferred mode of communication, which may not be suited for every scenario. Email is good for simple, unemotional communications. But when the topic is complex or highly emotional, a phone call, virtual conference, or person-to-person meeting (if you can manage it) is more effective.
  • Why am I sending this message? People, especially remote workers, are overwhelmed with incoming communicationsfrom emails and texts to blogs and social media. In a remote environment, there’s a tendency to err on the side of over-communication, which is okay. Simply seek to communicate with a purpose in every message you send and recognize that in some cases, less is more.

As a final note, it’s important to remember that communicating with your remote team isn’t just about the words you use. A well-edited, perfectly-crafted email can only get you so far. The most powerful communication is demonstrated by who you are and what you do. Walk and talk (or write!) what’s important to the organization’s success, and you’ll be on your way to leading a successful remote workplace and team.

michele richardsonMichele Richardson is an internal communication expert on a mission to build workplaces where people are led by passion and purpose. Her programs get executives clear about how to communicate a new vision, how to get employees focused on achieving purpose-driven objectives, and how to position their organizations for growth. Follow her on Twitter or reach her through her website at