Blessing or curse—you could ask that question of pretty much anything these days, and having team members work remotely is no different.
Freedom and flexibility—what could go wrong?
Allowing folks to work remotely gives them freedom and flexibility. Want to move to another state? Go ahead! Want to go up to your lake house for a month in the summer and take advantage of long and gorgeous summer days? By all means, go for it! Have another job or want to be a professional athlete and still work for us? Have at it!
We’ve seen each one of those scenarios at nuphoriq and accepting a remote workforce allowed us to retain incredible talent. When life happened, we were able to roll with it. When we were a startup and didn’t have the ability to pay competitive salaries, we were able to offer an important non-monetary benefit to the brilliant young talent we were seeking.
We are a growing, happy and successful business today because of the fact that not all of our team members work in our office.
It’s not all rainbows and lollipops.
Before you know it, the drawbacks start to creep in. They sneak up on you and start to infiltrate your happy business. If they are not nipped in the bud, they will cause you to lose your team members and maybe even your clients. But like a long-distance relationship, it can work if you put in the effort.
Most people assume that the biggest challenge will be productivity. How can someone working at home not get distracted? How do they focus on a project and get it done as fast as possible with the highest quality possible? The biggest challenge for us, however, isn’t productivity. It is engagement.
The work isn’t what suffers—it is the happiness of the team. The quality of the products or services doesn’t decrease right away, but the degree to which the team feels connected to their work drops. You will not see an immediate impact on work, but in the long run, this will erode the team member and the entire team.
These are the three biggest challenges we see and how we counteract them.
- Challenge. There’s a certain buzz in an office that creates energy, be it from the little wins or successes that happen during the day or the jokes and laughter. This energy impacts everyone’s mood, productivity and engagement. When you’re not physically in the office, you miss out on all the energy boosters.
- Solution. While there is no substitute for physically being in the office, utilizing an instant messaging platform can help close the gap. We use Slack to communicate with each other. We share victories, post funny articles, laugh at ridiculous discoveries and create inside jokes. The entire team recognizes the impact energy has on engagement. We all see the buzz that comes from including everyone instead of just those we can see across the room.
- Challenge. There is nothing more important to a leader than the team. When your team is in front of you, you’re able to pick up on visual clues such as body language. You can react to the team and have one-on-one conversations whenever you want. With remote team members, sometimes you have to decrypt emails in order to pick up on mood shifts, energy levels or disengagement. It becomes really easy to focus less on the team and more on your individual work. Engagement quickly slips through the cracks.
- Solution. Communication. Attentiveness. Commitment. My partner and I make sure that we are communicating with—and even seeing, via Google Hangouts—all of our team members on a regular basis. We pay extra attention to the communication coming from our remote team members. When I’m out of the office, I make sure I spend 5—10 minutes on Google Hangout with each team member every single day. I make sure to see their faces and check in with how they’re doing personally and work-wise. We make a commitment to stay invested on the same level with each team member, whether they’re in front of us or not.
- Challenge. Everyone wants to be in the know. Nobody likes being left in the dark. And when you’re in an office together, you can overhear team members talking to clients or talking to each other about projects. You can hear the leaders talking about financials and strategies. You can see your teammates and know what kind of mood they’re in or what is going on in their lives. You have your finger on the pulse of the company.
- Solution. We have a weekly team meeting where we talk about the projects coming up this week, what is going on with sales, the work being done on the business, and the financial status of the company. Perhaps more importantly, we also go around the group and share what our energy is at and how our weekend was. This builds camaraderie among the entire team and helps remote team members be in the know. During the rest of the week, they’re able to pick up on those elements through our company dashboard, which monitors client happiness, team happiness and business health. Communication, dashboards and transparency are essential to sharing the pulse of the company will all team members.
What tips do you have for keeping remote team members engaged?
Erin’s company, nuphoriq, is still in the early growth stage, successful, and yet she has guided her team through a handful of tough, path-altering strategic decisions. She grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, which provided a great foundation. Erin surrounds herself with mentors with whom she has frequent communication.