It seems that with every passing day the world's becoming a smaller place. Today, businesses can exchange information and work with individuals across the globe, from Buenos Aires to Beijing.
But technology is still some way of bringing us a world that's so local that handling remote teams feels the same as managing employees in the same office. This is because many businesses are now moving entirely online, which means physical presence is no longer a requirement, especially when you considering the fact that 52% of US business people work at least 2.5 days from a remote location while it’s 46% in the UK.
Special measures need to be taken in order to incorporate remote workers into a successful business structure in a way that helps them feel valued and involved, as well as enabling them to maximise their output.
We've put together a list of the five best tips to bring maximise the productivity of your remote team as well as enabling them to feel a part of the bigger picture.
1. Always make yourself available for contact
By opening yourself up to communication from your remote team, you minimise the chances of errors being made within tasks. Even if the query from a member seems insignificant, the fact that you're on hand to respond to small talk sets a precedent that you're approachable and can save individual errors being exacerbated by a fear of getting in touch with a less responsive manager.
You can create a 24-hour point of contact by encouraging your team to keep a chat room open - whether it be Flock, Slack, Skype or even WhatsApp - and their members can post queries and interact with other team members around the clock and get faster replies, timezone permitting. Having a digital chat room for your team also enables an air of comradery that remote workers usually miss out on and are thus less likely to integrate with other team members. A more general chat doesn't have to interfere with business and can take place on a different platform, but it encourages high levels of communication which is a sure fire way of getting tasks done with less chance of setbacks.
Keeping an avenue for communication open at all times also helps you gain a personal understanding of your team members, and helps build a rapport. By doing this, you can learn how best to approach them with instructions and feedback. And of course the best thing about using chat-based apps for long distance interactions is that it's less intrusive than having a colleague bundle into your office at 9:20 am while you're midway through a cash-flow forecast. The beauty of it is that you can respond in your own time - just be sure to make time for your team.
2. Sharing is caring
The use of screen sharing tools helps to illustrate tasks and tutorials for team members that would otherwise be reliant on traditional means of communication and can be an invaluable tool for visual learners.
The sharing initiative can also be taken to documents and spreadsheets. Communal tasks can be made much easier with shared documents - even if not directly related to the project, a work allocation tracker and holiday trackers can be edited in real time by multiple users in a way that greatly enhances communication.
Google Drive is a great tool for this, and programs like Dropbox is ideal for creating a shared platform for remote team members to upload my work - saving considerable time in compiling files from across different locations in the process.
Things like payments need to be taken care of, too. Especially if you’re running a business with quick turnaround times. If your team is based in different time zones, and your business requires manual work to be done to process an order/payment, it might be worth exploring various options to ensure that everyone is aware when the new order is made and who is assigned to it. Processors like PayPal and Stripe may help, but a system that notifies and tracks all orders will make the communication process much smoother.
3. Manage working hours accordingly
Having remote workers means that you'll need to be mindful that tasks will be completed at different times with flexible work patterns.
While it's inevitably a difficult task to manage team members who operate in different time zones, it's important to instil a level of consistency for things like meetings, delegation or training.
You'll need to regularly communicate with your team to find the best mutual hours that suit them, and while it could mean holding meetings at inconvenient times locally, to have a productive meeting schedule is imperative - even if it means arriving into the office to host one an hour earlier. There're plenty of tools that can help you with this task.
4. Face to face contact is great for rapport building
It's important to meet your remote team if there's a viable opportunity to. This is key to building functioning business relationships instead of having to rely on 100% of your communications occurring virtually.
However, it's clear that face to face communication isn't going to become a regular occurrence without being a drain on money and travel time.
But thanks to visual communication programs like Skype, you can still have much more meaningful meetings with your remote team despite them being located on completely different continents.
Face to face contact is very important in business because it's the only way to fully gauge your team's reactions and mood at any given time - which can work wonders in diagnosing any potential problems in output and understanding.
5. Implement regular appraisal meetings
The key psychological issue with team members working remotely is that they're at risk of feeling isolated and unattached to your business - and with only limited contact and team meetings, it's hard for them to engage with their employers, let alone share ideas and input.
By scheduling regular one to one appraisals, you can spend some quality time discussing a team member's performance and their concerns. This, in turn, can help them feel more involved in the company and more eager to perform.
Scheduled meetings can be as frequent as logically possible, but to hold quarterly discussions with your remote workers gives them the chance to gain a heightened sense of purpose within the company, which in turn can lead to quality input and ideas.