By Gareth Platt
The idea that remote working automatically creates disengaged employees is simply a myth. Probably started by someone with no experience of working outside the traditional office.
Far from leading to sloppy and half-hearted teams, remote working can be the gateway to an inspirational company culture. With proper planning and organization, it can create a genuinely empowering experience for all employees.
Each remote company is different, so, if you’re planning to go remote (or are just getting started) you’ll need to create a bespoke vision for your organization, taking into account its people, its industry and its core ethos. But the following tips and hacks will get you off to a flying start, no matter your company’s circumstances.
1. Communicate like an office
In fact, this is under-selling the point. You have to communicate more than a traditional office. If you want to build a cohesive culture while scattered across various locations, it’s vital that you remain in constant contact with one another.
Make sure everyone installs a top-quality messenger application (such as Slack) and each team within the company creates a dedicated channel, to discuss projects in real time. It’s also worth creating separate channels for fun stuff, like sharing pictures of skateboarding cats, to create the sort of break area you’d have in a physical workspace.
In addition, you should invest in a company-wide project management tool, and use it to co-ordinate day-to-day office tasks. My company uses Asana, and we have a rule that every ‘to-do’ item, no matter how minor, requires its own dedicated task with a specific recipient and delivery date. That way we can all see one another’s progress and help one another in a quick, constructive way.
2. Rip up the old hierarchy
If you build a remote team with the old company organogram, you’re doing it wrong. The stuffy old corporate hierarchies simply have no place in the distributed world.
In a physical office, people need to be managed, so it’s logical to create a tiered structure with various levels of seniority. In remote companies, this doesn’t apply; everyone is (or should be) trusted to organize their own working days. In a way, everyone becomes their own manager.
So it’s a great opportunity to build a new kind of enterprise, one built on trust and democracy. A great way to start is by implementing a single, company-wide pay rate, which is something that’s really worked for us. Another option is to get rid of specialist project managers and rotate the leadership of each project, selecting the best person for the job based on their personal skill set.
By treating your employees the same, and doing away with those corrosive corporate ladders, you’ll encourage everyone to think like a boss and take a role in collective decision-making.
3. Optimize your meetings
Virtual meetings may be the only time your team members speak to one another during the working week, so it’s vital to get them right. This means using a reliable video conferencing tool (Google Meet is our favorite) and really plan your meetings to ensure all attendees are fully involved.
Create a clear meeting agenda before the call and send it to every attendee. Then, during the meeting, make sure every second is optimized. If you feel someone’s taking too long to make their point, give them the hurry-up. And if someone raises an issue which isn’t relevant to all the attendees, tell them you can arrange a separate meeting to address it.
Again, rotation of responsibility can really help here. If you share the organization and leadership of meetings around the company, everyone will start to think more proactively about what to discuss, and it’ll help build a culture of empowerment.
4. Give regular feedback
It’s vital that your people know you’re always monitoring their work. But not in an oppressive, Big Brother-esque way; you need to show you care about them without breathing down their necks.
One way to do this is to hold regular feedback sessions with each employee. But instead of simply giving your own views on their work and attitude, get the opinions of their day-to-day teammates; this will strengthen the idea that yours is a fair, democratic company, and enable you to make genuinely constructive observations – even if you don’t have regular contact with the person you’re talking to.
If possible, you should try and create a bonus scheme, so the feedback has positive implications. Instead of dreading these sessions, team members will come to relish the idea of being rewarded.
5. Build a growth path
Following directly on from the previous point, we can’t emphasize enough the idea of investing in your people. If you run a remote ship, it’s doubly important to show the crew you value them.
Invest in a company training program, one which involves various career development paths with dedicated learning sessions, so your team can choose what works for them. If you can hire external experts to run the sessions, so much the better.
This might seem an expensive overhead, but your people will be grateful for it – and it will only enhance the impression that yours is a vibrant, progressive company which maximizes the possibilities of remote work.
Gareth Platt is a writer and editor who has worked for The Wall Street Journal, The Sunday Times and VICE magazine, among others. He is currently working with Mobile Jazz, a fully remote software startup whose clients include AVG, Airbus and Skyscanner. You can find more about Mobile Jazz via their website or their new culture book, which has received nearly 100,000 downloads.