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Managing Employees On a Remote Basis: Building Team Unity

by Kevin Bartley

Do you manage remote employees on a regular basis? Here are four ways to build team unity among geographically dispersed team members.

According to the Harvard Business Review, up to 79% of employees work in geographically dispersed groups. Effective management of remote employees is critical for the success of your team, but it turns out that off-site workers need to be managed much like your onsite team. It's only the means of integrating them into the office that differs.

Here are four tips highlighting the most important aspects of managing your remote team members.

  1. Make the Technology Work for You

    "The New People Rules in a Virtual World" - Keith Ferrazzi

    Keith Ferrazzi, Founder and CEO at Ferrazzi Greenlight, has done extensive research into the way virtual teams operate. His landmark study, "The New People Rules in a Virtual World", touches on how remote teams remain ineffective when compared to in-person teams, but suggests that the tide can change if virtual teams learn now to harness new technologies. Ferrazzi advocates using the full capabilities of today's communication tools to increase the humanistic bonding of virtual teams.

    "If you are in a virtual team, you actually have 90 percent decrease in your innovative capabilities, 80 percent decrease in trust, and 60 percent less likely to be on time and on budget," Ferrazzi says in the lecture. "Now with that piece of data, I decided that didn't have to be true. My gut told me that just because we're in a technology enabled world and we don't see each other doesn't necessarily mean that we're doing the right thing to enable the technology."

    To take advantage of available technology, try OnSIP's mobile app, available for free to OnSIP users through the Apple Store (iOS) and Google Play Store (Android). This mobile softphone helps remote workers connect with one another seamlessly by providing simple contact directories, call histories, voicemails, and presence indicators—with no configuration required.

    Also consider setting up a dedicated video phone between offices to enable daily face-to-face interactions. Or instead of having a traditional conference call, hold a meeting on Skype, Google Hangouts, Viber, or the video chat service on your business phone system so that your employees can actually see each other as they talk. Trust and understanding can be cultivated mainly with free technologies simply by maximizing the way employees are seen and heard.

  2. Leave Room for Small Talk

    Water cooler chats and small talk are key for employee bonding at any company, but it remains the hardest kind of communication to foster with remote employees. When employees talk about spouses, children, pets, the big game, or the latest movie, they are bonding on a human level and building crucial camaraderie amongst themselves.

    Examples of Remote Small Talk

    • Reserve the first three minutes of business calls for 'non-work' conversations to ingrain small talk into your interactions with remote employees.
    • Keep informal company chats active in services such as Google Hangouts to give workers a chance to converse and blow off steam as they would in the office.
    • Make impromptu phone calls about a topic of interest to make conversations seem as spontaneous as one in the office place.
  3. Establish Clear Channels of Communication

    Choosing the right platforms for your team opens up a clear communication with your remote employees 

    Choosing the appropriate platforms for managing a remote support team, and setting specific times when they will be used, is one of the best ways to keep consistent contact with remote workers.

    "Using the right tools can have a profound impact on transparency and collaboration for a remote team," said Adib Choudhury, Marketing Associate at Attentiv. "We like to take advantage of all of Google's apps (corporate Gmail, Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides), video conferencing tools (specifically Sqwiggle), project management suites like Basecamp, and our own software Attentiv for internal communication and meeting management."

    Some managers implement Slack for team chat, requiring each member of the team to submit a daily standup, sharing their accomplishments from yesterday, and naming their priorities for the day ahead. Zendesk and Trello are used widely by customer service departments to keep task management unified across multiple locations.

    Basecamp works great as a team wide messaging board that can store large volumes of files. Pivotal Tracker allows coding teams to keep track of development issues and bugs. Whatever platform you choose, make sure your remote team posts in it actively, asking for daily updates and new posts when key issues arise.

  4. Find Time for In-Person Meetings

    Getting together in-person is a key factor for building trust among your remote workers (Source)

    "People work better together if they've had a chance to get to know one another outside of task management," said Adam Nelson, User Experience Director at Spokester. "Find a way for your team to meet and get to know one another in person. I worked with a company for some time that would have quarterly meetings for which they flew in anyone not on the main site. As a result, productivity soared and the working relationships were significantly more fulfilling."

    Despite the many technologies that can bring remote workers closer, in-person meetings still remain the best way to build team cohesion. Managers can bridge the geographic gap by holding company wide parties, monthly meetings, or even weekly check-ins for employees who work closer to the office.

    As it becomes increasingly common for companies to employ remote workers, teams will have to adapt to new styles of management. By using collaborative tools and maintaining regular communication, organizations can manage remote employees and build team unity despite working from different locations.
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