Having a 9-to-5 job doesn’t always mean sitting behind a desk.
Remote workers have become increasingly common, with some companies rejecting office space altogether.
Opting for a 100% remote staff isn’t just a money saver, it also expands the talent pool a company can dip into and helps boost retention.
But maintaining a strong corporate culture and an engaged and productive workforce can be tough when you aren’t getting daily face time.
Communication needs to be clear and direct
Most conversations among remote co-workers tend to be done through email and Slack, which means there is no body language or tone to help interpret interactions.
At app automation company Zapier, employees are encouraged to assume positive intent with any communication. The company is 100% remote, with 200 employees scattered across the globe.
“We are in 20 different countries, and it’s different how we communicate across the world, so we put an emphasis on, ‘no one is out to get you behind your back,’” said CEO and co-founder Wade Foster. “If you see something that rubs you the wrong way, assume positive intent.”
Remote working means there also won’t be any impromptu meetings as you pass someone in the hallway or quick drop-ins to your boss’ office to give a progress report.
“You have to be deliberate about how you communicate, emphasize goals, and priorities,” said Eugenio Pace, CEO of Auth0, an authentication and authorization platform that has 60% of its workforce working remote.
Slack is a favorite communication tool among remote workers — it’s quick, takes away the pain of coordinating conference call times and can make communicating easier.
“Accents can be very strong,” said Christian Mairoll, CEO of Emsisoft, an anti-malware solutions company with 40 remote workers across the globe. “We tried doing voice meetings but it wasn’t satisfactory. It takes a little longer to type, but you are typing more consciously. It also creates a log of the conversation.”
Since there is no reading the room or sensing a shift in morale among leadership, transparency is important with remote workers.
At Auth0, all workers can access the key metrics, including sales and revenue figures.
“The watercooler conversations are compensated with a huge amount of information on our internal websites,” Pace said.
At FlexJobs, a company with 60 employees and 40-plus contract workers, all remote, the CEO holds a monthly chat with the team to review progress and upcoming goals, and employees are encouraged to ask questions. There’s also a monthly virtual lunch with a member of the people and culture team and usually someone from the leadership team that employees can join.
“This is as if we had a break room, you can sit and get to know people,” said Carol Cochran, FlexJobs’ director of people and culture.
Think like you do have walls
Simple things like bringing in lunch or hosting small parties to celebrate life events helps a team bond. And these gatherings don’t have to stop just because employees are scattered — you just need to get a little creative.
FlexJobs throws “virtual baby showers” where gifts, flowers and a special treat are sent to the parent-to-be and opened on a video-conference call.
“We ask: ‘What would this look like if were in a brick and mortar space?’” said Cochran. “Do we like what that looks like and is there a way for us to replicate it?”
Hire the right person for the remote job
Not everyone thrives as a remote worker.
“There is no one in the office to babysit,” said Foster. “We are looking for self-starters, who are innately curious and try to figure things out and solve problems.”
When it comes to managers, Foster added that they need to be good communicators. His managers hold weekly staff meetings to help bridge the individual to the company.
Onboarding also plays a major role in the success of a remote worker.
New hires at Zapier go through a 1 1/2 hour basic accounting course to provide an overview of how the company works, as well as other online classes taught by different experts about the various departments of the company.
Create a ‘watercooler’
Employee camaraderie plays a major role in productivity and morale, so give workers an outlet to socialize.
Designated off-topic Slack channels create an opportunity to have non-work-related conversations.
At Zapier, employees are randomly paired up once a week to hold a 30-minute video chat.
“There is no formality involved,” said Foster, who also participates in the conversations. “You want to know your teammates. At some point, you will work with these people to solve a challenging problem. If you have a bit of a rapport and know the human side a little it helps you be more effective to solve the problem.”
Get everyone in the same room occasionally
Retreats that gather the entire staff together for a few days can bring an immediate infusion of morale and team building.
“There is an energy to being physically together in the same space,” said Cochran.
Some companies do entire staff retreats, while others opt to spread it out and gather teams together throughout the year.
All the employees at Zapier just returned from New Orleans in January where they reviewed and celebrated the last six months of work and looked forward to the next six months.
Don’t forget the small things
A virtual high five doesn’t quite carry the weight of an in-person “thank you.” Showing appreciation to employees and also letting them have an outlet to highlight good work can increase employee morale and productivity.
Auth0 employees can flag a co-worker’s good work through a tool that allows them to write a note of praise that appears in a Slack channel and on TV screens in the lobby of each of the company’s offices.
At the end of the year, FlexJobs employees have a holiday video lunch where the company picks up the tab for everyone’s meal.
The company has also tried other fun activities over the years, including a cookie exchange and Secret Santa gift exchange.
“We try not to get married to anything, as you evolve and grow, so will these programs,” said Cochran.
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