Creating strong human connections is critical to productive remote teams. The trick, of course, is not to simply know that, but to act on a daily basis in a way that helps create that positive team dynamic. One of the most consistent -- and annoyingly positive-- voices in this area is blogger and speaker Phil Gerbyshak also known as the "Make It Great Guy" Because I was in need of a positivity recharge, I asked him about some of the techniques he's employed during his career as a manager of mostly technical remote teams.
We know that managers and their people need good relationships, but what about relationships between co-workers and teammates? What's the big deal? what are the costs of not doing this?
Relationships between co-workers and teammates are absolutely critical to long term employee satisfaction. The faster folks can get along, the more productive they can be which means the faster they can get out of training mode and into production mode. Additionally, the better your high performers get along, the longer they stick around, and stick around while performing at a very high level.
What are some things a leader should do to foster good working relationships with (and between) remote employees?
In my experience, the simplest things are often the best:
- Check in frequently, for bad news but even more for good news. If you check in only for bad news, you train your remote employees to dread these conversations, and they'll find ways to be "too busy" to participate.
- Find ways to celebrate their successes with the whole team. Service anniversaries, birthdays, and other things you celebrate with your workers on site need to be celebrated with your remote workers even more. Order a cake from a local bakery and have it delivered on the day of the event. Better yet, set up a Skype video feed of everyone together in a conference room sharing a piece of cake with the remote worker.
- Budget for travel every year, once for reviews and once for something else. Sure, part of the reason you have remote workers is to decrease travel costs. But the cost of replacing these remote workers is HUGE, so make time to connect twice a year in person with the remote worker. At a firm I worked at, we had employees in the UK and in 2 remote locations. We made time for the manager AND the employee to travel to reconnect. It worked wonders to build teamwork and the average tenure of our remote workers was over 5 years.
- Share a "virtual lunch" with the rest of the team a few times a year. How about ordering lunch in and putting the phone on speaker phone, and sharing a lunch or renting the same video or TV and sharing it over lunch? The conversations are bound to be fun, and if folks get the time to lunch, laugh, and share, they'll grow closer together if they share an interest. Usually you can get everyone to agree on a TV show and even watching it on Hulu.com or Netflix streaming can be a great way to connect the people on both ends.
Technophobic managers can use simple tools like hand written notes, phone calls, e-mails, and pictures to connect with their remote workers. Pick up the phone, write a hand written note, send a funny picture or send an e-mail with a personal (but not too personal) story and it can make all the difference in your remote workers team.
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