Rapport building is essential for effective collaboration, but it's not as easy as in the days when you just walked into your retail store or office and greeted your employees hello. As a business owner and member of several virtual teams, I've picked up the following strategies for establishing and sustaining solid relationships with remote workers you rarely see.
1. Outline your expectations for remote workers.
Not all remote work scenarios are the same, and both you and your employee should have a concrete plan for navigating the situation effectively.
Draft a document that outlines the specifics for work hours, environment, communication, collaboration tools and anticipated performance outcomes. If an employee is new to your organization or to remote work, I recommend a three-month pilot for all parties to gauge how the arrangement is going and to iron out the wrinkles.
Also try to systematize your remote work policies as much as you can. Offering individuals too many choices and trying to keep on top of a dozen different arrangements is likely to cause confusion and misunderstandings.
2. Be visible to your remote workers.
After the initial three months, don't assume your remote workers are on autopilot. Being in different physical locations does not negate the need for regular oversight of your employees' activities. If anything, it requires more consideration so remote workers don't feel isolated and disconnected.
Build funds into your budget to see remote workers at least once a year, preferably in a context that's fun and energizing, but also infused with learning and mentorship opportunities.
Plan a team meeting—preferably by videoconference so you can see each other at least once a month—and schedule individual check-in calls to troubleshoot issues, provide essential guidance and big-picture perspective. During those meetings, reiterate that you're alive and thinking about them. And, if you're relying on remote workers for a real-time, accurate picture of your working capital, initiate contact weekly if not daily.
3. Provide your remote workers with the right technology.
Dozens of available cloud-based collaboration tools and innovations can streamline virtual team operations. From Trello and Zoho to Google Docs and Basecamp to Slack and Yammer, collaboration tools are growing ever more sophisticated, offering:
- assignment scheduling,
- capacity and time tracking,
- project management,
- business process improvement,
- document storage and sharing and
- team member communication.
Don't implement new collaboration tools haphazardly, though. Ensure any new tools integrate with your existing ones. Test your selections with a small group to start so you can confirm that they are easy to adopt and facilitate work as opposed to complicating it.
4. Meet your remote workers in person.
Distributed teams are a 21st-century reality, but there's no substitute for face-to-face interaction. Build funds into your budget to see remote workers at least once a year, preferably in a context that's fun and energizing, but also infused with learning and mentorship opportunities. Team bonding is critical, especially if your remote workers never see each other either.
However, it's also a nice touch to take each individual out to dinner as this can help spur a much deeper and multi-dimensional relationship. Finally, if you have a physical location, have your remote workers visit so they get a visual on the culture and better understand how you run the business onsite.
5. Show your remote workers care and appreciation.
When you work with someone in the same physical location, it's easier to spot if they're having a bad day or need some extra encouragement. Remote workers are susceptible to the same ups and downs as other employees, but as an owner you may need to expend greater effort to find out what's going on.
Maintaining regular contact via phone check-ins and collaboration tools can help make remote workers feel more comfortable divulging sensitive information. If you learn about an issue in an employee's life or work, follow-up to demonstrate your concern. And, just as with any employee, show gratitude, do shout-outs and offer financial and/or meaningful rewards for a job well done. Even a gift card to their favorite local store can make a long-term impact.
Remember that human beings are naturally out of sight, out of mind. By using both high-tech and high-touch strategies, you can keep your remote workers as “close" as possible.
Read more articles on motivating employees.
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