This article is included in Entrepreneur Voices on Strategic Management, a new book containing insights from more than 20 contributors, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders.
We’ve heard it all before. Remote workers are picking up steam at unprecedented levels. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost one-quarter of employed people perform some or all of their work from their kitchen table, home office or back porch. And, fewer business leaders question that virtual work promotes cost savings, ramps up performance and deepens employee retention.
But, a major question remains: How can we onboard new offsite talent to ensure they stay the course, perform according to corporate values, produce as expected and integrate well with other distributed team members? Perhaps some of these unresolved and persistent issues explain why companies like Honeywell and Charter Communications have banned work-from-home options. But, there are many, many businesses starting out with a virtual model from Day One, in addition to companies that have started to incorporate remote team members into their organizations. For these reasons, it’s important to keep the conversation about virtual workplaces alive.
At BELAY, where I serve as COO, we have nearly 60 full-timers who work from home, along with a multitude of contractors who do likewise across the U.S. As you might imagine, I’ve learned lots of lessons about hiring and holding on to remote teams over the years. And, I know that early experiences, onboarding and training can really make a difference. Here’s how:
1. Aim for consistency -- from Day One.
When all new employees are onboarded together, their introduction to the company begins from a basis of common understanding. And, from this accord, they grow closer to the business, and to each other, through the shared experience of orientation. New employee training can be delivered remotely, yet still remain a collective process. Self-study programs, inclusive of videos, online communities, digital assessments and more, give newcomers an opportunity to engage in content, communicate with others and learn at the same time.
2. Love technology.
Technology is a virtual company’s best friend. We depend on it for security, cloud-based collaboration, daily communication, project management and more. But, it’s also the must-have in the toolbox for a company with remote employees. Not only do technologies support business needs, they also enable visual communication, promote auditory engagement and even allow for employees to test new skills, such as serving as presenters during online meetings and events.
3. Know when to pick up the phone.
Virtual teams rely on technology and embrace its capabilities for connection, access and collaboration. But, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that back-and-forth emails mean the message -- whatever it may be -- is not getting through. Someone needs to pick up the phone or get on a webcam meeting. Online dashboards and communication platforms have their place, for sure. However, old-fashioned, timeless talking cannot be replaced. Speaking with each other -- and seeing one another, even if remotely -- clarifies matters, prevents missteps and resonates with so much of what still works for us as real people.
4. Get together -- regularly.
There’s no absolute one-size-fits-all standard about how often teams should meet in person. But, it helps to ingrain face-to-face gatherings into the operational DNA of an organization. At the very least, when the central, or corporate, players can convene on a routine basis, it helps to reinforce purpose and unity. If strategy and budget allow, it can only be beneficial to take this practice to the next level, creating ways for all team members to meet, greet, network and learn together in the same physical space. This is especially true in the early days of their employment.
5. Check in, with diligence and dedication.
It’s important for new employees to maintain a connection to their managers and the broader corporate mission. One way to foster and preserve this is through regularly occurring feedback. While impromptu check-ins can be beneficial, it’s more intentional and meaningful to ensure performance meetings are a permanent fixture on HR’s and supervisors’ calendars. This can mean convening after the first 30 days, having weekly one-on-ones and establishing other ways to assess expectations and performance by employee and employer alike.
6. Learn from the same hymnals.
My company requires new employees to read the same three books. We selected these titles based on how well they reflect our corporate culture and align with our business personality. Sharing in this reading exercise sets the tone for how our team members should operate and perform on the job, while also providing them with new relevant insights for their own personal and professional development, too.