The modern workforce is increasingly scattered, thanks to new flexible working patterns in large companies and an increasingly globalised marketplace. Regus research shows that 53% of professionals work from locations other than their company’s main office 2.5 days a week or more.
But research from 4th Office shows that business leaders still have reservations about the effectiveness of remote leadership. Challenges included managing information overload (chosen by 36% of business leaders) and getting everyone to use the same systems and practices (24%).
Alongside these practical concerns for keeping people productive, businesses also expressed worries about keeping teams in the loop and included in company culture. Here are three ways to keep the channels of communication open.
1. Joining up the dots
When you’re all in the office together, keeping the team on the same page is straightforward. Physical proximity often makes team dynamics clear, and frequent meetings ensure clarity of project aims, roles and responsibilities.
But defining your team’s purpose and creating a cohesive dynamic when you’re working from different locations is more challenging. For new joiners, a predefined training programme can replace learning by watching over colleagues’ shoulders. Video-based courses are a great way of educating employees on their roles, as they make it easier to convey company culture. Make sure expectations are clear, even on the basics: when they’re able to work, when they should be reachable and how to update the team on illness or holiday.
For pre-established teams, consider drawing up a written roadmap for your project along the SMART framework (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound). Knowing what is expected from each team member (and when) avoids gaps emerging in the process.
2. Choosing your channel
While email and face-to-face conversations might dominate your in-office communications, remote working opens up the opportunity for new channels. Using the right one for each conversation avoids team members feeling overwhelmed by information.
Platforms like Skype for Business allow ongoing discussions and even non-work-related chat, which fosters company culture. Any emotionally loaded topics, such as issues with performance, should be handled over the phone. And don’t forget face-to-face time, video conferencing with your team allows for them to pick up on each other’s non-verbal signals and for managers to detect any problems.
Scheduling more frequent one-on-one meetings is a reliable way of supporting your team in their career development. Encourage feedback in both directions and remember that not all employees will adapt naturally to remote working, so check in on their experience of it.
3. Crossing barriers
In remote teams, language and time zone barriers can leave employees feeling left out. Second-language speakers have body language to reinforce messages spoken in the office, but they may struggle to keep up with phone conversations. Establish guidelines for group meetings – slow, clear speech and no acronyms or jargon. Follow up with written minutes to make sure everyone’s on the same page.
Keeping conversations frequent, varied and visual will increase trust, happiness and productivity within your team. But occasionally there will be times when you need to meet in person. For these, use a business lounge or office space that’s convenient for both you and your team to keep the experience in line with your flexible setup.