Part 5 of How to Successfully Manage Your Remote Team

Goal: Establish strong relationships to fuel motivation, collaboration, and productivity.People standing in a circle

Recent research from the Gallup Organization’s Tom Rath shows that people with strong friendships at work are more motivated, loyal, collaborative, and productive.

In a typical office, those relationships form naturally.

Across remote locations, you need to foster not only your connection to your remote employees, but also their connections to one another.

Plan Face Time

To build relationships, there’s no substitute for meeting face to face.

In person, your employees are more likely to tell you about what’s not working. You’ll better understand their work style,  how they make decisions, and the types of tasks they are best suited for. There’s no set equation for how often to meet, but twice a year is a good rule of thumb.

Many remote managers schedule one-on-ones around hiring and performance reviews. Team meetings should be scheduled around planning and decision-making. LaBrosse of Cheetah Learning says her teams meet in person to kick off a project and again when the project is finished.

Host Team Building Events

Team building gets mixed reviews in the corporate world, but it takes on greater meaning for people who rarely see one another.

Each year the Corecubed staff converges at Orsini’s home in Louisville, Kentucky, for Derby weekend. “People stay at each other’s houses, so they get to know them better,” she says. “You see pictures of the kids and you get to meet the dog. It reinforces our need to make certain that each of us succeeds.”

If you plan a team gathering, make the time count. Find something everyone will appreciate, schedule it at a time that won’t impact people getting their work done, and if someone doesn’t want to participate in social events, don’t force it.

Reward and Recognize Results

The pats on the back that happen informally around the office don’t come as easily in the virtual world.

“Remote colleagues need to make greater effort to recognize each other’s accomplishments,” LaBrosse says. Her employees at Cheetah Learning can hand out 2,000 Cheetah Points to each other every month. When one co-worker helps another solve a difficult problem, the first may give the second 200 points. At the end of the month, LaBrosse gives away $500, $300, and $200 worth of gift certificates to the three people with the most points. “People are happier,”she says. “We have virtually no turnover.”

Turnover is also low at Alpine Access, which outsources call-center services using a workforce of entirely home-based agents. A ticker runs at the bottom of every agent’s computer screen, carrying messages specific to their team or the client they serve, like J. Crew or 1-800-Flowers. Team supervisors listen in on calls and immediately transmit messages such as, “Tina just had a huge sale!” across the entire network. “Then congratulations pile in from other agents,” says Carrington. “You transfer that excitement to the other agents. That can be an immediate energy pick-me-up. People think, ‘I can do that, too.’”

Connect Through Technology – The Nitty Gritty

The tools your employees use to work remotely can also build rapport. Here are a few ways that technology can foster virtual community.

  • Start an email newsletter. Profile articles can put faces on co-workers, especially when they give kudos for work- or community-related accomplishments.
  • Set up a chat capability on your website and create internal forums based on what your team wants, be it topics affiliated with work or socializing. Alpine Access holds a virtual happy hour every Thursday afternoon, off the clock. Employees share everything from weekend plans to recipes.
  • Host a blogging network. At Sun Microsystems, CEO Jonathan Schwartz blogs extensively several times a month. Employees pose questions and he answers them, making him highly visible and accessible.
  • Use PowerPoint for introductions. Three or four times a year, Slye’s Autodesk team holds a web conference where each employee gives a personal PowerPoint presentation, including what they’re responsible for, what they really do, what motivates them, what bugs them, their personal interests, and their goals. “The questions are designed to be intimate,” she says. “We’re engineering entry points for personal conversation.”

Building the sense of camaraderie and keeping a team motivated and upbeat are critical to their willingness – and ability – to get the results you’re expecting of them.  But rewards and recognition are meaningless unless they’re tied directly to results. Part 6, the final section of How to Successfully Manage Your Remote Team, will discuss how best to hold your team accountable for its results.

Adapted from an article by Kelly Pate Dwyer
Published on 9/24/2007

Image: renjith krishnan