Originally published on June 5th, 2017.
These days, working remotely isn't just a nice option to have. It is an absolute necessity to keep business going during times of crisis as well as calm. Whatever your personal preferences, work from home is here to stay, and with it comes tremendous potential as well as extreme challenges.
Here at Xplenty, we've become quite accustomed to working in an environment that sees our employees working in different spaces and places across the globe. However, that doesn't mean we overcome all the obstacles it brings. Most of the time, we underestimate the effort required to make the teams happy and productive. While these challenges may (and probably will) vary from company to company, depending on factors like company age, status, and size, we believe that there is a common theme across many and that the lessons learned from our experience can help your organization in these challenging times.
Challenge #1: Strained Manager-Employee Relationships
The problem: We are so used to communicating online these days that it's easy to forget that face-to-face interaction is even required. Here's a newsflash: it is (when the state of the world allows face-to-face interaction, of course). As you might now be discovering, the lack of in-person interactions can quickly lead to strained relationships between employees and managers.
The solution: As convenient as online platforms are to facilitate remote working and remote management, we still have not developed a technology that will allow us to perfectly imitate a real-world meeting, a team lunch, or a group discussion where everybody sits around the same table. The fact remains that, whenever possible, you need to be in the physical office. Once a quarter is an absolute minimum, though more often is better. You don't realize how much you miss out on until you see it for yourself.
But what do you do in a situation where you are physically barred from contact? The coronavirus outbreak is the obvious example, but not the only one: inclement weather, extended travel restrictions, or an inability to access your office due to construction or catastrophe could bring about a disruption to your normal work routines.
If you live in a different city than your employees, encourage them to get together and socialize, whether (responsibly) in person or via a virtual happy hour. That will help to build strong amicable bonds that are so crucial to productive teamwork. It is also important to take time out of your workday to check in with your employees one-on-one. Even a simple "how is everything going?" can provide some welcome relief. Making that effort will make for a remarkably beneficial and productive relationship.
Related Reading: 6 Tips to Manage a Remote Data Team
Challenge #2: Setting Up a Productive Work Environment
The problem: In a remote work environment, when all people are away from a centralized location, how can you ensure that your remote teams remain productive and morale stays high?
The solution: First, use technology to its fullest potential. There are a ton of products and services that help with managing remote teams. At Xplenty, we use some of those tools. We use Zoom for video conferencing, Monday for project management and collaboration, and Slack ... well, because it rocks. In combination, this represents a full suite of tools to ensure plenty of collaboration, communication, and productivity for the office.
The second thing companies should do (when the world situation allows it) is look into a formal office space. When you start building a remote team, it's tempting to avoid renting space and let your employees work from home indefinitely. You save money and don't need to deal with the bills, maintenance, or other overhead costs associated with owning a dedicated workspace. However, for many companies that think team growth and culture is crucial, offering some kind of communal workspace is a must. For us, when the team grew to three people, it became clear to everybody involved that the interaction between the team members needed to be more intensive than just daily online meetings and weekly gatherings at a local coffee shop or a temp office room.
We chose WeWork, and it proved to be a great success. There is something about WeWork locations that do the trick: everything is taken care of regarding the office space, you don't need to worry about any administration overhead, and the vibes and fellow office dwellers make all the difference.
If you're experiencing a slowdown, use this time to take stock in and re-examine your current physical setup and make appropriate changes when budget, timing, and world events allow. Once working from home is no longer mandatory, do you think you're employees and coworkers might like to explore a change of scenery? It's worth considering, especially if it will help increase morale after such an uncertain period.
Challenge #3: Who Are My Colleagues?
The problem: When everyone is remote, how do you build those close relationships between colleagues that help improve your overall business?
The solution: When the entire company needs to work virtually, be sure to get creative with "getting-to-know-you" events, such as virtual happy hours or round-robin coffee chats. Also, be sure to start or end your group meetings with a few friendly non-work questions to break up the day. Get your employees involved, too. The more the employees contribute to the planning, the better the outcome is.
We recommend getting together as a company for a full week at least once a year. As stated above, nothing beats the face-to-face interactions, having lunch together, or an evening beer at the local watering hole. It's those interactions that our employees continue talking about for months after. Better yet, ask your employees to contribute ideas for the event. Ask for their suggestions on anything and everything, from training topics to where to go for the company dinner. Even if you won't be able to see each other for months, it will give everyone something to look forward to.
The Benefits of a Remote and Distributed Team
Talent demand and supply, business needs, market, technology - these are just a few of the parameters that force companies to consider setting up remote offices and working in a distributed fashion, as opposed to the very centralized way businesses used to operate just 20 years ago. Setting up, growing and manage remote teams comes with a unique set of challenges. But when you adjust your mindset to allow for the flexibility of working from home, you'll find yourself in a whole new world of opportunities. With remote teams, you keep your overhead costs low and productivity high, all while remaining agile and responsive. Keep in mind, though, that technology does not solve everything. When permissible, make sure to facilitate real human, face-to-face interactions, and you're probably on the right path to success.
With employees in multiple countries across the world, Xplenty's brilliant support and engineering teams work together without geography getting in the way. Our cloud-based low-code ETL tool can help your remote team continue to efficiently and securely transform your data from anywhere they may be. Contact us for a free demo, 14-day trial, and help to automate your data pipelines.