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These days, technology has radically transformed the average company, making it not only practical but also often preferable for employees to work remotely either some or all of the time. This is great for work/life balance, the environment (less commuting means lower emissions), and profitability (fewer people in the office means lower energy bills, plus being able to hire people from throughout the world allows you to cut back on salaries).
That said, it’s quite tricky to arrange. Organizational structure was massively simpler back when circumstances required everyone to share an office. Either you were there, or you were off the team (barring exceptions for employees at the managerial level and above, although even those people needed to make frequent appearances at meetings) — and all that time spent together bonded people as colleagues.
Now, you can work for a company full-time without ever meeting your colleagues in person. That won’t be an issue for some, but most people will feel alienated in that situation, and struggle to work effectively alongside them. So how do you keep the team culture without the regular office setup? Here are some tips you can use to run a tight-knit remote team:
Hire for culture fit regardless of location
When you’re hiring remote workers, you might reasonably question the point of prioritizing culture in the interviewing process — after all, if you’re not going to see them very often (or at all), then does it really matter? But yes, it certainly matters, and if you hire someone who’s a bad culture fit, you’ll always be struggling to get them to gel with their colleagues.
In the end, it doesn’t matter where your candidates are, whether they’re from the city your office is based in or live halfway across the globe. When you talk to them about joining the company, take the opportunity to ask them broader questions. Find out what they like doing, what they care about, what kind of teams they like to work on.
It’s one thing if someone is fairly solitary, but another entirely if they’re highly reticent to communicate with others. Even someone with a position that allows them to work largely uninterrupted is going to need to work with their colleagues at some point. So hire the people you assess will fit with your company culture, and you’ll find it much easier to get them bonding and connecting later.
Have people share software systems
Remote workers can’t be allowed to get their work done in total digital isolation, not least because that can cause major issues if they encounter problems meeting deadlines, fall ill, or simply need to share files with others. Not only do they need to be connected by team communications platforms along the lines of Slack, but they also need to be brought together in project management tools (e.g. Basecamp, Trello, etc.).
While using these systems, employees should be encouraged to interact through direct messaging. It isn’t a waste of time in any circumstances, because the more comfortable they get sharing ideas, the better they’ll become at collaborating.
Encourage collaborative projects
While their regular workloads might not call upon members of your team to work together, that doesn’t mean you can’t contrive scenarios to get them on the same page. For a start, think about pairing people up on projects requiring their collective talents — get a designer and a writer to build a piece of tentpole content, for example.
If you can’t find any such project that’s a natural fit for the company’s structure, then suggest something that falls outside that area of focus. Joint ventures are great for this. Tell everyone on your team that if two or more people can commit to working on a solid business idea, you’ll invest in it with them and give them some time during their regular hours to work on it.
This is a great option because there are plenty of entrepreneurial projects that can be run exclusively online, with ecommerce being a natural fit.
Fund occasional employee meetups
There’s really no substitute for meeting in person, and while you don’t need employees to see each other on a regular basis, you should make a concerted effort to get them in the same place from time to time. The practicality of this will depend on the size of your company and the whereabouts of your employees, but even if you can manage a couple of meetups each year, it’ll make a huge difference to how well your team operates.
Remote workers might be hundreds or thousands of miles away from one another, but that doesn’t mean they need feel disconnected. If you choose them well, help them meet up on occasion, ensure that they use the same systems and channels, and find reasons for them to collaborate, you can achieve a powerful team culture in the digital world.
Author: Rodney Laws, EcommercePlatforms
Rodney Laws is an ecommerce platform specialist and online business consultant. He’s worked in the ecommerce industry for nearly two decades, helping brands big and small to achieve their business goals. You can get his advice for free by visiting EcommercePlatforms.io and reading his detailed reviews. For more tips and advice, reach out to Rodney on Twitter @EcomPlatformsio.