Ever heard the phrase, “Out of sight, out of mind?” Too often, that’s how remote employees feel. But just because they’re not physically present doesn't means they should be left out of important conversations and culture-building activities.
Speaking from personal experience, I’ve seen what a morale damper it can be when colleagues perceive our company to be too “San Fran centric,” as one put it. Instead of being reactive, the best thing you can do is show you value each and every employee -- regardless of where they work -- on a consistent basis.
Here are five best practices you can implement right away.
1. Make communication seamless.
This may seem obvious, but it bears repeating: If you have remote team members, invest in all of the necessary tools to ensure that they feel connected. From HipChat to Skype or Slack and Asana, finding ways to limit the amount of email and also help everyone understand where a project stands will make their lives -- and yours -- much easier
However, simply having the tools available isn’t enough: It’s about using them. It’s not an all-hands meeting if all the hands aren’t aware and plugged in, which is the home office’s responsibility to make happen. Hold your team accountable to themselves and to each other, and find ways to incentivize collaboration and communication across offices.
2. Cultivate social interaction.
Ideas happen out loud. In a best-case scenario, your remote employees are working at satellite offices with other colleagues. But for individuals who are clocking in from a home office, the lack of conversation -- whether on work topics or not -- can limit perspective and squelch innovation. To improve the latter scenario, see if it’s possible to have your team member work out of a co-working space. Not only do these places offer access to conference rooms, a kitchen full of snacks and even a game room for that much-needed break, but they also help foster a clear distinction between home and office. If a co-working setup isn’t available, consider giving your team members an extra nudge to get out of the house (and resist the temptation of crawling back into bed) by sending them a gift card to a local coffee shop.
Alternatively, if you have the budget, consider purchasing a telepresence robot like the ones from Vgo or Double Robotics. These allow remote workers to have a physical presence in your office even when they’re miles away, so they can feel more connected. Even something as simple as engaging in office chatter can make a huge difference.
At one of my previous companies, when a team from another office was in town for a week-long project, they immediately set up an always-on video conferencing presence with their home colleagues. What made them great was that they didn’t allow distance to interfere with their ability to collaborate as a team.
3. Schedule regular visits.
Commit to flying your remote employees to headquarters at least once each year. Make their trip worthwhile in terms of business goals and company meetings (it should go without saying that the best time to host an offsite is when everyone is present) but allow time for team-building as well. Organize a happy hour, take them out to lunch and invite them to pinch-hit in the company softball league. On and off the field, make them feel like a part of the team.
By the same token, leadership must visit remote offices regularly. Don’t make these visits feel like inspection tours, but go for a few days, work remotely yourself and make sure your teams get to know you as more than a voice on a conference line.
4. Empower local involvement.
Find creative ways for your remote employees to become involved as a representative of your company. Industry events and local conferences offer opportunities to elevate the profile of your business among the broader community. Similarly, show your team that their region is a priority by offering to sponsor a Meetup or host a networking happy hour where they can serve as your brand ambassador. By facilitating their attendance at job fairs, encouraging them to speak at a school’s career day or sponsoring their membership to a professional organization’s local chapter, you’ll help employees understand that their presence makes a difference.
5. Model inclusive behavior.
At the end of the day, it all starts with you. Show your employees how to treat long-distance colleagues by checking in with your remote team members frequently, prompting collaboration and finding ways to include them even if it takes an extra step or a few dollars. It’s easy to continue talking with the people in the room if a call drops but model good behavior by making sure that everyone is able to participate before continuing. Once they see that you’ve prioritized inclusiveness, it will become part of your company culture.
Regardless of what you choose to implement, you must lay the foundation for a strong company culture that transcends physical location. By showing all employees that you value each and every person that represents your brand, you’ll set the tone for the months and years to come.