Collaborating in a remote world has always been an important issue of discussion even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Traditionally when you thought of small businesses, corner stores, or desk-based companies, you thought of small teams working in the office, grabbing lunch together, or enjoying the essential water-cooler chats. Then, a remote employee was defined as someone who is too far from the office to commute in. These original telecommuters knew that working remotely meant they would have to sacrifice being able to work in-person with their colleagues on a day-to-day basis, sometimes having the opportunity to be flown out to company events.
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However, ‘remote’ has morphed into something new, especially post-pandemic. In today's world, a remote employee is now seen as someone who chooses to work from home, even if it is just a 30 minute commute to the office. They have the flexibility to walk their dog during their lunch break or pick up their children from school in the early afternoon. They now spend their days working out of their tailored home office and leverage remote collaboration tools, working with coworkers that may be nearby or even on the other side of the globe. Some workplaces even offer hybrid work arrangements, with access to a physical office for certain employees, both flexible and mandatory.
With all these different remote work arrangements, the real question still begs to be answered, how do you bring everyone and everything together, again? Let's dive into it! ⤵️
How do you get the infrastructure set up?
Before searching for the proper remote infrastructure, the key is defining what you want your organization to be. Are your values, purpose, or mission aligned with operating hybrid, remote, or in person? During the pandemic, there was no choice in how employees and organizations wanted to operate and so there was no intention. Now in a post-pandemic world, you should be intentionally defining how you operate and aligning that with your greater company culture—candidates pay attention to this in their job search and will ultimately want to work for a company that they are well aligned with.
Remote work tools have been around for a while and there are a plethora available on the market for specific industries or specific types of work. There is no right answer, the right collaboration tools may vary depending on your specific requirements and preferences. It's important to prioritize tools that foster effective communication, streamline workflows, and enhance productivity within your unique work environment.
Here's a step-by-step process to help you make an informed decision:
- Assess your company's collaboration requirements—Consider the size of your team, the nature of your work, and the specific challenges you face in remote collaboration. Identify the key features and functionalities that are essential for your team's productivity and communication.
- Identify collaboration tool categories—Remote collaboration tools can fall into several categories, including communication, project management, file sharing, document collaboration, video conferencing, and more. Determine which categories are most relevant to your company's needs.
- Research available tools—Look for reputable tools that have a track record of success and positive user reviews. Consider both popular tools and niche solutions that may cater specifically to your industry or work processes.
- Seek user feedback and reviews—Look for reviews and feedback from other companies or professionals who have used the tools you are considering. This can provide insights into real-world experiences and help you understand the strengths and limitations of each tool.
- Evaluate the following
- Features and integrations—Look for features such as real-time messaging, video conferencing, document sharing, task management, file versioning, security measures, and integrations with other essential tools your team uses.
- Ease of use and user experience—User experience plays a crucial role in adoption and productivity. Consider the intuitiveness, ease of use, and learning curve associated with each tool. Tools with clean interfaces and straightforward workflows can enhance user satisfaction and reduce training time.
- Security and data privacy—Verify that the collaboration tools you are considering prioritize security and data privacy. Look for features like end-to-end encryption, two-factor authentication, user access controls, and compliance with relevant data protection regulations, depending on your industry.
- Scalability and pricing—Consider your company's growth potential and the scalability of the collaboration tool. Determine if the tool can accommodate the increasing needs of your organization as you expand. Evaluate the pricing structure of each tool, considering factors such as the number of users, storage capacity, and additional features.
- Trial and test the tools—Whenever possible, take advantage of free trials or demos offered by the collaboration tool providers. This hands-on experience will help you assess the usability, functionality, and compatibility with your team's workflow. Encourage feedback from your employees during the trial period.
- Make an informed decision—Based on your research, evaluations, trials, and feedback, make a decision that aligns with your company's collaboration needs, budget, and long-term goals.
How do you make sure remote employees feel that they are part of the team?
Regular team social activities
With remote team members being spread out, sometimes across different countries and regions, how do you keep morale up and ensure that the team still feels connected? Regular socials, even virtual ones, are important for team building and fostering connection between your employees. Work with your social committee or HR team or organize these events which may not happen every week, but even aiming for a couple each quarter can go a long way. At TribalScale we've used the Wavy platform for art workshops, virtual escape rooms, and more!
Depending on your budget and how spread out your team is, you can organize in-person socials also. They key, whether planning virtual or in-person socials, is to involve your employees and ask them what kinds of activities they would like to see. At TribalScale we hold a weekly meeting on Thursdays to plan these types of events and initiatives, where everyone from the tribe is welcome to join. We also provide our social committee and managers with a budget for events, allowing employees to self-organize events based on of their preferences.
On a more regular basis, weekly virtual coffee chats or water-cooler chatter is something that can be encouraged between employees. This allows employees to enjoy small breaks with each other, and chat about things that aren't work related, whether that's sharing weekend plans, talking about common interests and hobbies, or sharing fun stories. At TribalScale we use the donut slack integration which pairs people randomly for a 15 minute conversation on Thursday afternoons.
Keeping them involved
Remote employees should also feel that their feedback and opinions matter when it comes to the organization making decisions. Ensure that you are seeking their input on projects, initiatives, and company matters are vital to inclusion. This all ties in with being intentional about your culture. Find the best way to collect feedback and learnings from your team so you can answer "Where is the company lacking?" and "What could the company be doing more or less of?".
At TribalScale we facilitate regular employee engagement surveys throughout the year, where we collect and analyze feedback from every single member of the tribe, pulling insights that we can use to better improve our processes and the employee experience. This on top of our weekly check-ins, and both annual and mid-year review cycles, allows our employees to constantly have a say.
Providing regular feedback
Implementing and encouraging regular check-ins for employees and their managers/team will transform your organization, we can't stress this enough. Having those one-on-one check-ins with remote employees gives them 2 things: your undivided attention and their voice. This helps employees feel valued and connected to their managers and co-workers. Having these conversations allows employees to better understand priorities, get support for any roadblocks they're facing, and receive the mentoring and guidance they need to do their best work.
At TribalScale we use the 15five tool for weekly pulse checks and also for our performance review process. To learn more about how we use this tool, click here to read our blog on 360 reviews and their importance.
Are there ways you can measure engagement for remote employees?
Engagement can be measured in different ways depending on the type of tone you would like to set for your organization. At TribalSale we've found that Objective Key Results (OKRs) are a great tool for measuring engagement. These can be set by each department outlining what is expected from each role and the desired outcomes. Regular surveys and pulse checks specifically focused on remote work and employee engagement will give employees a safe space to express their challenges and experiences. You want to ensure that the questions touch on communication, effectiveness, collaboration, work-life balance, and overall engagement within the company.
Once you've set up OKRs or any mechanism for measuring engagement and you're looking at where to start when it comes to growing engagement, good management, leadership, and training are essential. The members of your leadership team need to know how to provide effective and actionable feedback to employees with gaps in their performance and how to work with them to improve. These skills are hard to develop, and learning to train effective managers is a prioritization that must be made clear within all organizations.
Should employees be forced to come back to the office full time? What is the reason for continuing with remote or hybrid work?
The pandemic forced organizations to switch to remote work without the proper infrastructure in place. Over the past couple years, companies adapted to the challenge and some even switched to remote-first permanently, TribalScale being one of those. Now that the pandemic has come to an end, there are companies that want to bring people back in-office, but they are in a difficult spot, because some employees have realized that they want to continue working remotely while others want to go back.
The important thing to focus on is finding the balance between the two types of environments and your employees' work preferences. What won't work well is trying to force everyone back in the office out of some sense of wanting to be in control. Referring to what I touched on earlier, the key is intentionally defining how you operate and aligning that with your greater company culture. What we've seen work best is having the right leadership and set of tools in place to allow your organization to find flexibility. Employees will come into the office for what they see value in, whether that's conducting client or team meetings, having difficult face-to-face conversations, or brainstorming with the wider team. Employees may want to stay at home to do their most productive work.
It is also important to realize that work is only a part of your employees' lives. Remote work opens up a lot of productivity, saves time for your employees with things like commuting, and can make them feel more in control of their day-to-day routine. For example, mothers working from home can pick up their kids during the day while still being able to go home and work after, whereas, a lot of work settings may not allow that. Be mindful of these different circumstances and be sure to listen to what employees think about in-person vs remote work when finding a path forward. Consider how flexibility would improve your employee experience and in turn, boost morale.
How do you as an employer manage if employees are coming in a couple of days a week, while some aren’t coming in at all?
Maybe you have an office or co-working space that employees can use. How do you coordinate which days employees come in to the office? As an employee, the last thing you want is to be the only one in the office for the day, while the rest of the team is working from home, conducting meetings on zoom anyways—this kind of defeats the purpose of having an office.
A trend that we're seeing more of is establishing anchor days, which are regular office days with your team to hold in-person meetings or in-person work days with the entire team for socializing, learning, and welcoming new employees. Issuing set anchor days on a regular schedule can help create easier coordination and make sure that office days are intentional. It doesn’t need to be a day full of fun or activities but it should be about forming those connections and meaningful conversations. When introducing anchor days to the company or your team, you want to be clear with the expectations, explaining the benefits and gathering feedback from the team as well.
Julia is our Senior People & Culture Specialist here at TribalScale, overseeing the Engineering & QA department. She manages and leads our recruitment, employee initiatives and engagement along with various HR tasks. When Julia is not working behind her computer she is binging a Netflix series or cooking different cuisines.