If your team is now all working remotely for the first time, you have probably realized that “out of sight” does not mean out of mind, in fact it’s probably got you thinking more about your team than when they were within eyesight.
Having been a “virtual office” company for years, with staff spread out in locations as far apart as Amsterdam, Netherlands and Los Angeles and various points in between, we’ve seeing the challenges of a working remote team. To make it work, we set the goal of enabling our team to work from any location at any time. The transition wasn’t always smooth, nor have we reached a point of complete success, but these are things we have learned that hopefully give you context to how the process could play out for you.
When your team is working remotely, gauge their output. Some positions lend themselves better to output assessment, but, in general, you are looking for results rather than effort. It’s surprising how few companies have methods and metrics for measuring output; but even without them, when someone is not viewable your go-to question becomes, “What am I seeing coming from them?”
A remote team structure strips away a lot of the emotional influences on your assessments. It’s no longer how busy do they look or how they sit at their desk or how engaged they appear; it comes down to what are the results of their efforts.
Every company looks for ways to improve collaboration between employees and with clients. Taking a group of people who are used to working in the same area and split them up, and you soon see where bottlenecks occur when people are waiting for someone else. As much as you can’t see what they are doing, they also can’t see what others are doing. They can’t roll their chairs over to the person next to them to check their progress, they can’t catch a co-worker’s eye and give that, “hey, ya finish that yet?” look. Instead they have to resort to chat, email and direct messaging….and wondering “should I bother them again so soon?” Or worse, they are impatient and wonder, “why are they ignoring my ping in the chat?”
This needs to be discussed and a new etiquette learned among the team. Some people are great with repeated pings into their chat to check on things, for others it knocks them completely off track each time they see one. As a leader in the company, you need to set the process; when are pings appropriate and when should they be avoided, and most importantly, once established you need to follow the rules as well.
In short, it comes down to core values. Yes, those lists you see on the walls in company lobbies around the world. But now they really matter, because from shared core values comes the basis of trust. When people are working separately from each other, having common values creates a critical foundation. Before we moved to a virtual office structure, we developed, as a group, our core values that we refer to regularly and provide us with a common understanding of each other and our purpose as a company.
As restrictions are relaxed and people gather in ever increasing numbers, you may find that some members of your team don’t want to return to the traditional office structure. If that’s the case, we would say, “Why fight it?”. We are hybrid as well, we have some staff working remotely, others who are in the office periodically and those who like work in a group setting. The question isn’t whether working remotely is better than an office, the question is what is best for an employee to be most productive, engaged and satisfied with the work you need them to complete.