How to Boost Teamwork With Remote Employees

According to the “State of the Remote Job Marketplace” report from FlexJobs, almost three percent of the total U.S. workforce works from home at least half the time. That might not sound like many until you consider it represents 3.9 million people—a 115% increase from 2005. Some studies estimate that by as soon as 2020, 50% of the office workforce will have mobile, flexible work schedules—which means that one out of two employees will work somewhere other than at a fixed location.

According to a survey of remote workers done by AND CO and Remote Year:

  • 55% of their respondents said they worked remotely 100% of the time
  • 28% said they worked remotely and on-site
  • 15% stated they worked on-site and remotely only part of the time

Your company is likely to fit somewhere within that broad spectrum—so any way you look at it, your workforce is becoming increasingly more mobile and remote. The question is, what are you doing to adjust to this new reality? How can you ease the transition to a future where your employees are just as likely to work away from the office as in it? As an organization that has proudly and successfully supported a flexible work environment for years, we’d like to share three tips for how to maintain a cohesive and productive remote or the occasional “work from home” workforce.

1. Communicate and Collaborate

Remote and mobile workers are often by necessity your most self-motivated and willing to take initiative. That said, even the best can’t operate at maximum efficiency without regular and timely guidance and feedback. If the people your mobile and remote workers rely on for input are frequently in meetings or otherwise unavailable, they create an unintentional bottleneck that throttles output. This problem is only compounded if there are no alternate or backup resources available.

Maestro’s answer to this problem and related problems is Google’s suite of products. Google Calendar allows us to maintain personal calendars while also displaying shared calendars that reflect meeting schedules, holidays, birthdays, and vacation days. Our email client is Gmail, which among other things offers powerful sorting, searching, and retrieval features.

Documents are produced in Google Docs, where they can be shared and edited by employees and clients alike. An added benefit to Google Docs is that it enhances our ability to control document versions: there’s only one document version available at any one time, and we can limit who has access and when.

For clients who have security issues with Google Docs, we offer document storage on Mavenlink, which provides additional security features, such as preventing the ability to copy or download documents. Mavenlink also serves as a project/time management app that displays status reports and to do lists, so that everyone can keep up-to-date without having to check with an intermediary.

Regardless of the specific application, because these various solutions are cloud-based, employees can access important communications on any device or operating system, from any location, as long as they have Internet access. We’re careful not to go overboard with communications and collaboration apps though.

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2. Be inclusive

Without consistent efforts at inclusion, remote or mobile employees begin to feel as if they are on the outside looking in, excluded from the most important activities in the office. One of the apps we can’t live without is Slack, a cloud-based collaboration tool that includes essential features such as:

  • Threaded instant messaging with separate channels for individuals, projects, and themes
  • File sharing
  • Search
  • Alerts

Slack effectively becomes like our central switchboard, virtual meeting room, and a place to build relationships through giphys and niche channels (#stockphotogems, anyone?). Slack is a place that everyone can read and contribute to, find out what’s happening and what needs to happen, and reference past conversations. We’ve found that most people use Slack for all internal conversations because it’s more casual and has a faster response time. It’s great for keeping the conversation going without investing time that could otherwise be used on billable projects. It’s also where we celebrate deal wins, share jokes and advice, and wish people happy birthday.

Besides including everyone in on current conversations, we look for ways to include remote workers in team-building activities. If we treat a project team out to dinner for a job well done, we do the same for remote team members, even if they can’t be at the same table. The same applies to individual recognition: everyone, no matter where they work, appreciates honest encouragement and being told when they’re doing an exceptional job.

On a day-to-day basis, inclusion can be as simple as remembering to include remote or mobile workers in virtual discussions, make sure they can hear everyone clearly on virtual meetings, solicit their opinions, and invite them to take a break if everyone else is doing the same.

3. Be supportive

Just because your remote and mobile employees can be exceptionally self-reliant does not mean they don’t need support. Ask for their input on what types of roadblocks they find most frustrating and ideas on how to overcome them. Analyze how well your training meets their needs, and if it falls short, how you can improve it. You may discover that simply adding a pre-assessment, one or two well-targeted job aids, or managerial feedback can transform an underperforming eLearning module into highly effective training support.

At Maestro we make sure managers schedule regular one-on-one check-ins with their direct reports to ask how they’re progressing on their projects and career goals, where they need more guidance, and what upcoming opportunities might interest them. You might also consider adding or enhancing training that provides special value for remote and mobile workers, such as time management skills, work-life balance, performance support systems, team collaboration, or travel safety.

Add these three essential factors together, and you’ll find they have one thing in common: the need to make an intentional, proactive effort to acknowledge and meet the needs of your remote and mobile employees. Do that and even if they work a thousand miles away from the home office, they will always feel valued, needed, and close.

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