Back in the day, companies built a sense of camaraderie and support through things like corporate retreats, ropes courses, and trust falls. Nowadays, as more people continue to work remotely, leaders must find new ways to unite employees who spend an increasing amount of time apart.
Last year, 43% of Americans spent at least some time working remotely – a stat likely to increase steadily as younger generations enter the workforce. In fact, studies show that nearly 40% of today’s employees work offsite on a regular basis. While that’s great when it comes to saving on company overhead, it presents some challenges for leaders in terms of creating a singular culture that all employees can rally behind.
Culture and vision are what hold companies together in times of change and perceived chaos. Ironically, digital transformation also makes it increasingly difficult to build those bonds. Luckily, there are things leaders can do to foster a strong culture – despite differences in location and time zone.
Use Available Technology
The digital transformation brought us mobility, including the tools we need to do it well. As a leader, it’s important for you to “walk the walk” and take time to use new technology – like telepresence robots, chat apps, videoconferencing, and other unified communications channels – to get your team on board with communicating this way. A strong tech leader needs to model the culture he or she is trying to create.
Make Time for Homeroom
Even with many remote employees, you can still create consistent communication standards throughout the enterprise. I have a friend whose company instituted “homeroom meetings” every morning at 9 a.m. All employees, regardless of whether they were onsite or conferencing in, are expected to attend. The purpose is to allow everyone to connect, discuss the day’s goals and capacity issues, and ask for help where needed. The best part: Teammates are empowered to call their own homeroom meetings if needed throughout the rest of the day. It doesn’t matter if you call it homeroom meetings, all-hands gatherings, or daily update – the point is that consistent communication is a must.
Be Clear About Availability
The fact that employees work offsite does not preclude them from being available when the team needs them. It’s possible to allow for flexibility while also establishing clear virtual “office hours” for remote employees so your in-house workers know they can rely on their entire team to be available via chat or telepresence when needed. Doing so will help establish trust and consistency across all departments.
Get to Know Employees as People
It can be easy to forget to involve remote employees in impromptu onsite conversations, or to forget that they also have lives, interests, and strengths outside of their job functions. Take time to get to know your remote employees as people – not just as task managers. No one wants to be a cog in the wheel of an organization, no matter how much flexibility they have. Employees want to be recognized for their skills and what they bring to the team. Telepresence robots can be especially helpful in this area, allowing or virtual “presence” regardless of how far away an employee may be.
Meet Face to Face
Never forget that the strongest communication tool we have is face-to-face contact. There’s nothing better than putting a face to a name, no matter how much easier it is to text, email, or chat about what we need. I know of at least one company that has established “unplugged” days where people are required to speak in person rather than via technology whenever possible. You’d be surprised at how many people who worked in the same building ended up meeting one another for the first time.
Even companies that have all of their employees working onsite can experience challenges in creating effective employee culture. And though it may be difficult, it is not an insurmountable task. Involve your employees in the process. Empower them to use their voices to make a difference. Use the tools available to you. It’s the way of the future, and it’s the only way your company will succeed in a mobile working world. —Dan Newman, Cofounder of V3*Broadsuite