Telecommuting is on the rise. Recently released data tells us that 80-90% of the workforce would like to work from home, at least part-time. The numbers of people working remotely have increased by over 100% since 2005 – if you don’t already have a virtual team in your company, the chances are you will have one soon.
You may have heard of some of the high-profile failures. How first Yahoo! and now IBM have called all their digital nomads back into the office. Why does remote working take off for some companies and not for others? And what can you do to increase your chances of making it work?
As a specialist recruitment agency, securing some of the world’s best technical talent for companies around the world we have our thoughts on that. Read on, if you’d like to hear them.
Is remote right for you?
There are jobs that can be done remotely, and jobs that can’t. There are people that are suited to being part of a virtual team, and others who need to be in an office. Just like most other things in life, there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.
Google is often held up as an example of a company who are getting in right in terms of creative office space. Every element of the design of their offices goes towards one aim, getting neurons firing to help staff come up with the next big thing. And while it’s true that open plan, versatile office spaces have been linked to improved creativity, they’re not great for productivity.
On the other hand, working from home has been shown to increase productivity. That happens for several reasons. We’ve gone into it in more detail over on our own blog, but if you want the TL;DR version:
- Working from home means less distraction. No queue at your developer’s desk asking for advice about the virus their Grandma has on her windows machine.
- No commute means workers are in a better frame of mind at the start of the day. They’re also less likely to suffer back pain, headaches or have blood pressure issues.
- They take less sick days, because they don’t need to be ‘office healthy’.
- They’re more likely to extend their working day by starting early, finishing late or working at weekends.
- Remote working means a better work/life balance leading to less stress, and increased employee retention & company loyalty.
Knowing all that, your firm needs to make the decision as to which roles can be fully remote, which can telecommute part-time and which really need to be office based. We think the perfect role for a dispersed team is software development. Partner the best global talent with the Agile development methodology and you have a winning formula.
Recruit the right people
Talking of global talent, a big part of getting remote working right is hiring the right people. Think about it: What are the chances the very best talent in the world just happens to live within commuting distance of your offices? Pretty slim.
But there’s no need to limit yourself to geography. With high-speed internet available around the word and a whole host of software solutions available to keep remote teams connected there’s not a lot of difference between hiring someone to work in a neighboring office and having someone working the other side of the world.
Many people have the wrong idea about working from home. There are drawbacks, which can include feeling isolated (we’ll have some tips for dealing with that shortly) and a bleed over from work to home life. If you’re a believer in the Briggs-Meyer type, then you might find this article about which personalities work best from home interesting.
Perhaps the best way to be sure that your workers have what it takes to work remotely is to hire someone who has already successfully completed projects this way. A specialist recruitment agency can help, but it’s just possible we’re biased about that one.
Once human beings have air, food & drink and a roof over their heads the next most fundamental need is belonging. When people feel they are a part of something it has all sorts of positive, psychological benefits and that leads to better performance.
Where you have a team that shares geography, there’s plenty to bond over. The local sports team, what happened at the company barbecue, pranking the guy that leaves passive aggressive notes in the kitchen. Creating a sense of team when your staff are spread across the world takes a little more doing. Again, this is something we’ve talked about at length on our blog, so here are the CliffsNotes:
- Have a clear team goal, decided by the team, that you’re all invested in.
- Make extra time at the beginning and end of conference calls for small talk.
- Prioritize spending time with your staff, so they feel connected to you and the goals.
- Find ways to socialize together. You can do this online through Google Hangouts, but getting together in person once a year is perfect.
Keep this channel clear
Set up different channels of communication, but make sure that everyone knows when to use which. You’ll want both synchronous and asynchronous – that’s where you’re all online at the same time (GoToMeeting, Zoom) and where it doesn’t matter who’s online (Skype chat, Trello).
I’ve heard of one company who had a helpdesk system, but remote staff were told to get in touch with Tech Support through email. Those emails were getting lost in a sea of spam because IT staff were prioritizing queries that came in through their helpdesk. Once remote staff were told to use the helpdesk? It all went more smoothly.
Think about the ways your team will need to talk to each other and make sure that they have the tools to do that. A document which to use for what and includes that in your onboarding and everything should run like clockwork.
Stay in touch
If you haven’t already spotted the underlying theme, then let’s speak plainly. Communication is the key to successfully managing a remote team. Great remote managers make staying in touch with their staff a priority.
It isn’t just about you staying in touch with them, they also need to know they can get hold of you, and each other. Fostering open communication is a great way to make sure that nothing gets missed, and you don’t have a problem with lone wolves.
Getting to know you
To get a virtual team to bond, you have to give them opportunities to do the same sorts of things that on-site employees do. Having a Slack chat channel for shooting the breeze or some other form of ‘virtual water cooler’ is a good start.
You can also think about getting together in virtual worlds; whether it’s Mario Kart, Quake or Star Wars Online there are plenty of ways you can get together regardless of geography. You can also think about challenges – a geographically located team might all sign up to run a 10k together and fundraise, but you can easily do that online too. It’s a matter of creative thinking; how can you translate what co-workers in the same office do so it works online?
Overcoming cultural differences
We all tend to prefer spending time with people who are ‘like us’. It’s a human nature thing. When you’re working with a dispersed team there’s a higher chance you’ll have cultural differences to overcome.
To help the other become familiar, you need to embrace it. Let your remote workers take you on a virtual tour of their offices, residence or hometown. Dedicate some time to learning about other places and customs and turn difference into an advantage.
Overcoming language barriers
It’s helpful to have a language in common if you’re working remotely. Although there are some great real-time translation tools, it’s not the same as having a common tongue to speak in. You need to keep in mind though that if staff are using a second language it doesn’t come naturally.
It’s worth having a project glossary where unusual terms can be defined. The same holds for idioms and other turns of phrase that only make sense to native speakers.
You can help your non-native speakers out by making sure they get any documents ahead of meetings, so they can familiarize themselves with the terminology. It also helps everyone’s understanding if charts and diagrams can be used where possible.
Have a calendar of special events, and make sure everyone’s gets celebrated. If those holidays are unfamiliar to you then ask the staff member to give the team a talk about it. It only needs to take five minutes but activities like this help to build bridges and understanding. They help us to see we have more in common and that is the glue that sticks a team together.
Remote team managers need to make sure that out of sight doesn’t mean out of mind. If there are company awards, an employee of the month schemes or just a regular newsletter stay on top of getting your people in there. Which segues nicely into…
Become a remote working advocate
Keep your team in people’s minds. If you are the sole representative in head office, then you want to be sure that the powers that be understand it’s the team behind you that is making the progress. The more you advocate for remote working, the more your company can reap its benefits.
There are huge advantages to getting the best global talent on board for your project. It isn’t just around the world, though. With Generation Z entering the workforce we now have the first generation who have grown up with the internet. This group of young people wants versatility, they want to be able to work from a coffee shop or while they’re on holiday. They’re used to communicating remotely. The best new talent? They all want remote too.
If what we’ve said has inspired you (and we hope it has) and you’d like to learn more about hiring the very best developers for your next project then stop by our blog. We have a few free eBooks, lots of great content and if that doesn’t answer your question, we’d love for you to get in touch.