How do you keep remote employees engaged and feeling part of the bigger picture?
All of our team members are part of at least one mini-team and we have weekly team meetings to share information and ideas. AgileBits is a very flat organization where people are encouraged to take their ideas and run with them. We are also encouraged to do everything we can to make our customers happy. It is extremely empowering to not have to get permission from someone else to do what we think is the right thing.
One of our company core values is to make meaningful relationships, and another is to own your own experience. This means everyone in the company already values taking the initiative to be engaged and will reach out to others to make it so.
We collectively set company goals on a quarterly rhythm and use 7geese.com to connect individual goals to company goals. We use weekly meetings and job coaching one-on-ones to stay on track.
We recently started a company Readme with one-sentence updates from each group. We’ll see how that goes.
A remote workforce may need even more communication than a co-located one. We run daily challenges and promote lifelong learning through AdaptiveU, an online learning platform we developed in-house. We send internal emails to share our team members’ stories (of work, family, and play). And most importantly, we share our mission to change how the world works from the first day of training and try to infuse everything we do with that sense of “why.” On a day to day basis, we use software we developed to chat, share updates on what we are working on and meet over video calls. This really helps close the distance between employees.
In addition to promoting local outings and events, our CEO leads biweekly company-wide meetings with the team virtually. During these calls he and other executive team members address the “state of the union” and often open up the floor for employee Q&A. Additionally, our executive team travels and hosts these meetings from different cities across the globe for roadshows where local Appirians can attend in-person.
This is an easy one when you’re working with a small team. Everybody’s opinion counts and is worth discussing, and everybody has a stake in the features we roll out or the emails we send out to users. A culture of transparency ensures that everybody is always on the same page, and we all know what our goals are. A small team also means everybody has a hand in big events, whether it’s content going viral, an investor pitch, or a big marketing push. These are all big picture events, and we’re all very hands-on.
From a managerial perspective, this is one of the most difficult topics we’ve encountered as partners of the business. While there’s much more to this topic, in general we’ve found that intentional communication and meaningful feedback loops are incredibly important.
It’s easy to get holed-up as a remote employee, and we take steps to ensure we’re always checking in with each team member. Understanding each person’s unique needs and preferences can make or break how well they’re able to perform for the team as a whole.
Keeping remote employees engaged is definitely a challenge. You need to make an effort to check in with co-workers and learn about their lives and families. It’s a bit harder to make friendships remotely, but I’ve found that the bonds of friendship are very strong.
We have weekly full-staff meetings where local employees will come in to the office and then remote folks are on Skype. At least once a week the whole staff gets to check in and hear about what’s new. We also try to get the whole staff together in person at least once per year. It’s great fun to spend time with the whole team and their families; it feels like a family reunion!
Bitovi has three annual all-company events. We get together as a company three times per year to work together for three to five days each time. We work hard these weeks but also set aside time to have fun and hang out together. We always leave these weeks feeling re-energized and, as a result, more motivated. Past retreat locations have included Austin, Las Vegas, Chicago, and Amelia Island to name a few.
We have monthly meetings to communicate company updates, discuss and track progress towards our company goals, and conduct project demos.
On a more individual level, regularly scheduled (quick) project check-ins are conducted monthly with all project teams and one-on-ones are held with all team members every eight weeks. We also encourage a peer one-on-one program for team members to meet monthly and connect about anything and everything of their choice.
Lastly, our team has numerous Slack channels. We have channels for everything from #client projects and #general company information to #fitness, #music, #hobbies, #dogs, and #parenting to encourage interaction between our team members and facilitate the “water cooler” conversations in a non-traditional way.
We use quarterly OKRs (objectives and key results) to align everyone. Similar to Google, Netflix, Twitter and other companies we define them on the company level and from those we derive individual OKRs. One thing that’s a bit difficult to do and probably even more important in a distributed team is celebrating successes. Since you can’t just share some cake in the kitchen we use gifs and emoji cakes.
We have a monthly newsletter called Yours Virtually and the team takes turns to write in it from their perspective, and to share a little about their world, their life as a virtual assistant, and what works, and what they have had to improve upon! We have gotten really great responses from our team who feel more connected as a whole, and who can relate and learn from others’ experiences!
Sharing how the company is going and being fully transparent when it comes to growth and financials has allowed our team to be and stay really engaged. We have a clear mission and goals – and in turn, this allows employees to see what impact they’re making to the company. I think it’s really important to share the vision, direction and bigger picture often – the ‘why’ at the heart of what we’re doing so everyone can interact with it. Startups can often be chaotic so having a strong purpose and passion around what you’re building helps with clarity and purpose.
It’s very important for new team members to feel connected to their coworkers, so a new hire buddy is always assigned to them from the start. Getting these new team members engaged from the moment they’re hired is critical. Higher levels of connection with their peers leads to higher work engagement, and work buddies really help with this process. They’re available to answer questions or just have friendly chats with new team members, which can make a difference between whether a new hire gets engaged in the company culture or feels distant. There are also frequent team meetings and company events that draw everyone together and help facilitate those personal connections.
Communication and information sharing are key. Dell has developed and actively supports an Employee Resource Group (ERG) called Conexus that champions a flexible work community by creating a collaborative work environment. Participation in the group gives our team members an outlet to share their experiences, questions, and success stories, and provides valuable resources.
In addition to our communication channels, our kick-off meeting goes over all of our retainer clients and the new projects we’re starting, as well as our premium plugins. Our team is always up to speed with everything happening internally, what’s the progress on all projects and side activities that they can participate in – coding or marketing a premium plugin of ours, being able to transfer to a more interesting project when possible, and suggesting improvements to our process or suggestions for some of our long-term projects.
Most managers have a mix of head office and remote workers in their teams, and work hard to ensure people feel included and communicated with. All large meetings (e.g. that a whole division or the entire company is invited to) are filmed, as well as being available via video conference so people can participate live or watch later. Conversations are kept online as much as possible so people can contribute regardless of where they are. And every Christmas Collis Ta’eed (Envato’s CEO) hand writes the cards that accompany gifts the remote team members are sent.
First of all, we invite new colleagues to our headquarters in Cologne for the onboarding process. Then we have weekly team meetings which the colleagues working remotely can join via Bluejeans. Also, we invite everyone to the office twice a year for our summer and Christmas events. In addition to that, we encourage employees to attend conferences and meet with their colleagues but also to network with their peers. The remotees can also keep track of what is going on by visiting our internal forum, where all our departments update the team regularly.
We do this in lots of ways that aren’t too different than if we were all in the same office. We have company-wide, all-hands meetings; weekly questions to the founders; and lots and lots of large Slack channels (for work and fun). Additionally we do things like company newsletters where we profile employees, play company trivia, compete in March Madness, and have health-month competitions—similar things you’d see in an office environment.
Our leaders are continual learners in what good leadership truly is. Ultimately, we keep ourselves moored in our mission, the continual development of a warm and thriving culture, and in helping people enjoy work and grow. Intentional communications is paramount. Daily video conferencing is a must. We have fun. We work hard at connections.
We strongly believe that face-time is critical to keeping our remote team happy, engaged and productive. Many of our team members are in sales roles, and the work can be frustrating and isolating because there are so many factors that go into closing the deal that are outside of their control. We meet once a week, not necessarily for team members to report on their successes, but for them to seek input from the team wherever they need help. We work collaboratively and creatively to identify job seekers that might be a fit for a certain business client. We let team members vent about difficult clients and frustrating situations. The meetings go on for longer than they need to, but we know our team greatly benefits from this type of interaction and support. Once a quarter, we meet in person, but we do not discuss the day to day work drama. Instead, we discuss corporate goals and financials. After devoting some time to food and good company, we also dedicate an hour to a professional development topic where everyone contributes.
We do a lot of remote fun-time activities to help our remotes enjoy the jovial parts of our office culture. We have remote beer bashes, play remote trivia, have a once a weekly optional all company remote meeting just to chat and hang out with one another, and we even give our remotes vacation time when our HQ employees are out of the office taking part in one of our traditional New York based summertime excursions.
We make our communication better by having daily calls and hangouts between team members. We get the entire team together at the GitLab summit once a year. This year we are going to The Netherlands, so we’ll also attend Oscon. We recently made birthday hats to sing happy birthday to a member of our team. We meet for drinks when we have co-workers in the same city where we are at.
While we aren’t big on meetings, we do have a regularly scheduled Monday meeting where we go over any admin items and talk about the big initiatives for the week. We make sure everyone has a good idea of what others are working and focused on. It also serves as a way to get ‘face time’ with everyone. As a remote team, it can be easy to lose touch with other team members who you don’t work with frequently, so this regular check-in makes sure that everyone can see each other’s smiling faces.
Also, because it is harder to have a ‘company culture’ remotely, we do things to keep people engaged on a personal level. We recently added new perks to our benefits package that includes Netflix, Spotify, magazines, newspapers, and race entries. This shows that we are a fun group and gives us things to chat with each other about to engage on a personal level. It’s also nice to have perks like good streaming radio when you are often in an office by yourself.
At Goodway, we don’t treat our remote employees any differently than if they were in an office setting. They can’t be seen as exceptions or special cases. They should have the same expectations put upon them as if they were in a traditional office setting. In a physical space, it’s much easier to establish the basic rules of the office. With a virtual workforce, this can be more difficult, but it’s absolutely necessary to have firm rules of conduct. For instance, working remotely is not the same as flex time. If an employee is going to be away from their desk, they need to notify a supervisor, just as in a traditional office setting.
We also sponsor two all-company events a year, where we bring all Goodway employees to one location for meetings and face time with co-workers. These meetings are crucial for helping employees to really experience the fact that they are part of a greater organization.
- Provide strategy document annually to keep the team focused. We also use this document to assist team members in shaping quarterly goals which show team members work /roles contribute to the overall strategy
- Monthly team meetings used to provide updates on different areas of the business
A great remote team depends on a very strong culture to bind everyone together and make sure they don’t feel isolated and disconnected. Sometimes, that feeling of connection comes from a motivational leadership message, an inspiring call-to-action, or simply a weekly roundup message where the whole team chimes in and catches up. Just as with a non-remote company, setting a clear vision is really crucial so that everyone knows the direction the team is heading in.
But you can’t create a culture solely by leading. A very part of employee engagement comes from other employees. Those little initiatives here and there which bind people together and the small teams which form around causes and side-projects are really important. We’ve tried to shift the leadership of Hanno away from coming from ‘the top’ and instead, to distribute decision-making and responsibility right across the team so that everyone feels empowered and engaged with where the company is headed. Again, that’s not a technique that’s exclusive to remote teams, but I feel that the ideas behind ‘responsive organizations’ can be particularly valuable when implemented in a remote team.
We have done three company retreats so far, and plan on doing at least two a year. Every time we do them, Nick, our CEO, communicates our mission and values, our progress, and areas where we can do better work. You get a strong feeling in the room that everyone is on the same page. People are up to speed in what every department is doing, what their goals/projects are for the next few months, and what success looks like when it all comes together.
Each team—engineering, support, marketing—shares written updates with one another on Slack. Each team shares what they’re working on, what projects shipped, data to show growth or areas we need to improve, and more.
We also do Friday Fikas—one-on-ones with a random team member where you get on a video call, drink some tea or coffee, and get to know one another.
Goals for the company are clearly defined at the meetings during our retreats, in memos, product updates on Slack, or through the team manager.
It’s really all about creating intentional communication to ensure everyone is “in the loop.” We also have a Director of Employee Happiness whose job it is to listen to employees’ concerns, answer questions, and help create solutions to any challenges or roadblocks. It creates an atmosphere of trust, which is an important part of our team culture.
Nearly all of our meetings are conducted through video chat. The face-to-face time helps people connect with their team members and build rapport. We’ve got some incredible project managers that lead weekly team scrums to check in on project progress and make sure everyone is aware of deliverable expectations and timelines.
Our video chats extend to company-wide meetings, such as our weekly lunchtime stories (where a team member shares highlights of a recent project with the rest of the company) and our monthly virtual happy hours.
Every week I put out in our General (all company) Slack channel the “NodeSource Executive Brief To Everyone at The Company™”. The title is a bit cheeky, but that’s the point. All hands, weekly meetings are sometime boring and routine, but ultimately necessary. So we cover topics every week in the brief, such as the state of the products we are building, open source community participation, sales pipeline, etc. but the part that people really like is the “Did you know…” section. This section is specifically allocated for learning something new about someone at NodeSource – the human aspect. Our most recent addition pointed out that Sara, who runs Marketing, loves to cook and specializes in certain sauces. Those little things matter a lot to reclaiming the human side of work that are lost in distributed companies.
We have different means to make sure our company members feel part of the bigger picture. Everyone is involved in quarterly meetings where we update about bigger plans and financial status. This transparency allows everyone to know what’s going on in the company.
We also have one-on-one feedback calls with team members where we can give feedback about performance, talk about goals, and listen to suggestions. On a more informal level, we are all part of a Google+ group, open to post any info or photos members would like to share, from WordCamps attended to a babies being born. And, yes, we even celebrate birthdays online.
In all, we are a big team that cares about one another and works efficiently together to achieve the goals of our support/development/marketing teams, as well as those of the company.
We have weekly all-hands meetings that we conduct via video chat. This gives everyone a chance to hear what’s going on in the company and in other departments, get introduced to new hires, and learn about what we’re aiming to accomplish next. We also use a really great micro-bonus tool called Bonus.ly, which gives everyone the ability to send peer-endorsed bonuses and is a great way to recognize specific accomplishments in a way that’s visible throughout company.
We encourage everyone to talk about what they’re doing on Slack, and to be transparent about it. For example, a developer can stay in touch with what a producer is discussing with a client. A producer can monitor a discussion between developers on their project. The only things that warrant privacy are sensitive HR discussions. Otherwise we put it all out there for everyone, and anyone can add their voice to the conversation.
In addition to regular team group video conference sessions, as in our daily scrum meetings, we meet as a company once per week which we call our weekly team “tagup.” During the tagup, which is led by our CEO, leaders from each key department in the company will give a brief overview of important news from their team. We strive for transparency, and people are encouraged to ask questions.
Additionally, we have regular “meetups” where we get teams together in person.
Each team that is working for a client takes responsibility for all the issues: financial stuff, agreements, customer relations, etc.
Thanks to our policy, people work on big projects, they are responsible for really important stuff, and they can live whenever they want, while with standard companies they might have had to move to a “bigger city”.
We give our team members flexibility. Just because they were hired for one particular job doesn’t mean that they can’t do other things that interest them. For instance, we just hired a blog manager who is very excited about social media. She has some pretty cool ideas that we want her to run with.
Most importantly, we have a mission that everyone believes in and is working towards.
Each quarter, we set a “theme” for the company that everyone uses to set their individual quarterly priorities.
Each month, we send out team-level recaps discussing what each team is working on and the results.
Each week, we send individual check ins by email with what we accomplished that week, what we’re prioritizing for next week, and where we need help.
We are all very communicative. We have on-the-fly Google Hangout video calls when needed, and we have weekly meetings set up to go over project details and wins. We also have an annual off-site meeting where everyone gets together for 3 days at a fun location and gets some quality face time!
We have a whole team in charge of teacher community in China and the U.S. that keeps our teachers informed through the portal. Emails from this team, as well as social media run by our social media manager, Ekitzel Wood, do the rest.
Ekitzel does a great job updating our social media—especially our Facebook page and our Instagram account—with the most interesting stuff coming in from teachers. Our teachers are so creative, with teaching tips specifically geared towards Chinese kids. They also make fun stuff like cupcakes and knitted versions of our mascot, Dino. By sharing these, our teachers have a strong sense of community—even though it’s all online.
Our team is very passionate about what they do. We’re just so incredibly busy and the information security space is quite exciting so everyone is focused on getting things done.
In our team meetings, we chat about where the business is and where we’re headed which gives a sense of the bigger picture.
We’ve evolved a lot on this one. It started as a quarterly Google Hangout where everyone got together to watch a presentation on progress made and where we’re headed together from the global level. Then as the team grew, we switched to a pre-recorded video since it was nearly impossible to get everyone to the Hangout.
And for 2016, we’re looking to both increase the frequency of these (to monthly) and use Hangouts on Air so that people who can make the live meeting can give feedback and talk through anything, and everyone else can still enjoy the recorded version on their own time. We’ll then take any further discussions from anyone to a room on Slack.