There are a ton of benefits to building a remote team. It can mean everything from saving a buck to enjoying certain strategic advantages. (It's the only way we at Thrillist can produce high-quality, hyper-local content in almost two dozen markets.) Whatever your reasons are, it’s crucial to make your remote people feel the same sense of community that employees sitting under the same roof enjoy daily. Here are five of my tips for succeeding at this extremely tricky challenge.
Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone. In this world of frictionless electronic communication, it can seem antiquated and even perverse to pick up the phone and have a conversation when you could just fire off an e-mail or launch a chat window. Get on the horn—what you lose in efficiency you more than recoup in spontaneity, ease of communication, and the opportunity to appreciate the verbal nuance that helps you know someone as a person. Video chat can also provide this, but it pressures your remote employees to make themselves presentable when they are likely happily disheveled and not wearing pants.
Get to know where your team is. Understanding the fundamental elements of the lives your team members live is the only way to be an understanding manager. It’s knowing little things, like maybe your employee is sweltering through a heat wave, to big things, like they are likely going to lose Internet tomorrow because their city is rioting due to winning a basketball championship.
Create a collegial environment. Since most offices run on e-mail, the easiest way to do this is to make the shared e-mail group into a casual and fun thing to be a part of. This means setting an example as a manager: getting involved in non-work-related group conversations or taking the time to send out encouragement that isn’t directly related to any of the tasks at hand. Of course you want to make sure that people aren’t getting deluged with distraction, so as with everything this is about striking a balance.
Think of your office space virtually. It’s a common mistake to think that an office’s culture stops at its walls. Instead, consider how it can be more like a nation. How can you make your remote tech guy feel like the second bedroom he works in is like an embassy for your company—your sovereign soil? This is the trickiest step and the one that requires the deepest consideration from you. For my team, when we do our all-hands conference calls, I offer my remote editors a stipend so they can drink their favorite local beer during the call, provided they take a picture of themselves enjoying it and share that with the team. Nothing like a little local pride, and certainly nothing like a little beer.
Don’t be afraid to get on a plane. This is the most costly step, both in terms of time and money, but also invaluable. It prevents your people from getting into an outpost mentality. And in addition to it being the only real way to really get to know where your team is, it also sends the message that your employee is worth said cost. If you feel like they are not, you shouldn’t be building a remote team with them.
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