Keep Your Team Together in a World of Working Remotely

In a tight, competitive hiring climate, many employers have begun holding out remote-working as a carrot to attract and keep employees. So how do you remotely manage communications, productivity and logistics — and keep your company culture alive?

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Man Working Remotely

The world of work is changing dramatically. Going and gone are corner offices and 9-to-5 work days. In many workplaces, some employees work on site, others pop in via video, and still others share “hot desks” or text in from co-working spaces. According to a Global Analytics survey, 80 per cent of employees want to work remotely part or all of the time.

Remote working has big advantages — and big worries. In fact, a major fear for employers is the loss of control once they open themselves up to hiring remote workers.

And that fear is not unfounded — when you hire remote employees, you do lose that in-house contact, be it the simple water-cooler exchanges or the regular in-person conversations that make it so easy to stay up to date on what’s happening.

The Right Tools to Communicate

Keeping communication channels open is therefore a must, so it’s important to find the tool that works best for your team — and it’s likely not email, as threads are unwieldy and difficult to sift through in the event you need to go back and look for a detail or an attachment.

There are numerous project management tools available, from Trello to Wrike to LiquidPlanner, so ask around and do some research to find the one that fits your business model. Slack comes up again and again as an excellent tool to keep teams connected on projects they’re partnered on and to store the documentation that goes along with them. Teams can create specific channels to talk about their own projects, but all channels can be made open so others can see what’s going on around the company.

Dyspatch, a Victoria-based production platform that boosts enterprise performance in transactional email, has an office of 15 in San Francisco, one remote worker in Chicago and two in Duncan. Slack is their go-to for staying connected.

“Our employee in Chicago, he’s part of the product team,” says Noah Warder, Dyspatch’s director of operations. “There’s a product channel where he and his two team members, who are both in Victoria, will … talk about what’s going on, what projects are happening, who’s responsible for what, and ask for any clarification there.”

Similar to Slack is Asana, which Dyspatch uses to handle task and project management. Team members can make notifications and comments, add tasks and direct materials to other team members.

“If you’re checking your Asana inbox on a daily basis, you get all the updates that happened the day before on your projects,” says Warder. The moment wires get crossed, Warder’s team will hop on a Zoom call.

How to Meet When You Can’t Meet

While project management platforms work to keep teams in flow, they’re not the best option for when wires get crossed — or for keeping company culture on track.

Engaged HR owner Denise Lloyd, who employs a full-time remote worker in Vancouver and allows local employees to occasionally work from home, begins every week with a Monday-morning Skype meeting with the entire team.

“We have a camera and a microphone and a TV in our boardroom,” says Lloyd, “and so [our Vancouver employee] is on the TV and is a part of that meeting just like anybody.”

“Videoconferencing enables us to take the emotional pulse of others on our teams in a way that email, software and even the telephone just can’t.”

RAVEN Trust executive director Susan Smitten uses GoToMeeting to gather her staff and contractors in a video conference every Monday morning. Having experienced incredible growth over the past few years — RAVEN is an Indigenous peoples’ legal defense fund to
protect their constitutional rights — Smitten realized she needed a way to ensure everyone was aligned.

“There was a clear need to have a cohesiveness to all of the objectives and tasks that we were trying to accomplish,” she says. “Much like a phone call, videoconference is direct. We can achieve the weekly agenda of eight people within an hour.”

After each meeting, Smitten says, there’s a better sense of people’s energy. If people notice that someone on the team feels particularly stretched or stressed, the team can adapt.

RingPartner is a pay-per-call marketplace based in Victoria. Its team numbers around 30, with three or four people working remotely. (In a bid to entice great workers to stick around, RingPartner introduced “core hours” in 2017, where employees must clock in between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.; after that, it’s up to the individual to figure out where in their personal schedule the rest of their workload fits.)

Local and remote employees alike are always present for RingPartner’s daily 10:07 a.m. meeting over Zoom. (Setting the meeting for a weird time actually means everyone shows up on time, says CEO Todd Dunlop.) For example, one of their developers lives in Kelowna, but she stays an active part of the team by attending the 10:07 meeting, and then meeting with the development team afterward.

“So they have a rhythm,” says Dunlop. “That communication has been really consistent, which I think has helped with it being as successful as it has been.”

Get in the Mindset

The most important issue for any employer is finding the right person to fit the job. Given the cost of living in Victoria — and your ability to pay a competitive wage — you may not find that right person if you restrict yourself to an in-house role.

“If you want to work with the right people who are called to [the work you have available],” says Smitten, “then you have to meet them where they are.”

There’s also the newly emerging research about how we work best. Maybe you read
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, in which author Susan Cain debunks the myth of true creativity being a product of constant collaboration.

Perhaps you’ve also read the findings from Harvard researchers that the open-concept office reduces meaningful face-to-face time. And hot-desking, where nobody has their own space? Just don’t. Studies show it correlates to an increase in relational strain, a sense of marginalization and greater distraction.

Whatever your office plan, employees often experience frequent interruption from other employees looking to bounce ideas around or find quick answers. Letting people work
remotely even some of the time can create more efficiencies.

When he introduced RingPartner’s core-hours structure, Dunlop recognized that the flexibility in how people manage their work time adds value and balance to the realities of modern life.

“Be it a generational thing, or because you have other commitments,” he says, “you find [people thinking], ‘You know what? I’d much rather do my tedious work at night, because I can just get it done in an hour, versus it would take me three hours if I were surrounded by people.’”

With that in mind, one of the mental transitions employers must make is to understand that the work is about the outcomes and the results you’ve assigned — and whether you’re getting those results.

“And if you are getting them, then it doesn’t matter where they sat while they did that work,” Lloyd says. “Was it in a coffee shop? Was it in their home office? Was it in your office? It doesn’t really matter as long as you have measurable things that they’re supposed to do, and that they’re doing those measurable things.”

Make expectations clear, communicate regularly and focus on your employees’ outcomes, not their activities. Then go forth and be productive!

This article is from the April/May 2019 issue of Douglas.