When it comes to virtual collaboration, there is no set formula for how it works. There are some basic communications principles we need to follow. Yet, while the principles themselves seem straightforward, their execution in regards to remote employees is rather difficult.
The adage, “out of sight out of mind,” is very true.
The more frequently we see an object, the more often we will recall it. The same goes for people. While it’s easy to remember we need to email to Johnson about the files, it’s much harder to remember that Johnson has a life outside of work and we should ask about that too.
So without further ado, here are some tips on the dos and don’ts of remote collaboration etiquette.
Do remember that your remote employees are human too.
Your remote employees need to feel like they are an important member of the team like everyone else in your organization. Getting to know them on a personal level is the first step to achieving this.
An easy way to integrate them into the social end of company culture is to create online forums where on campus and remote employees can discuss common interests. These can be hobby groups, what did you do over the weekend groups, or groups of television show fanatics.
Find your workforce’s collective main interests and create chat groups where these topics can be discussed outside of work.
Do include them in brainstorming meetings.
When it comes to conference calling into meetings, remote employees are often easily distractible because they feel isolated. This comes from the screen. While they are aware that their coworkers are on the other side, the remote employees feel like they are watching a documentary rather than being an active participant.
The way to overcome this is to actively involve them. Ask them for their thoughts and opinions. Encourage them to speak up. Give them parts in the presentations.
If your employee feels like their efforts are appreciated, they will be more likely to interact on their own in time.
On both sides.
When you are collaborating remotely, it is absolutely paramount that you keep your employee as updated as possible. Streamline your most important developments from the beginning, middle, and end of the day so your employee can stay on top of their creative process.
No one likes doing extra work, so when important changes happen, be sure to update your remote employee ASAP so they can apply their new instructions as quickly as possible.
Additionally, encourage your employee to ask questions by providing them with opportunities to flesh out ideas with you. Having one on one brainstorming meetings with your employee will help the two of you stay on the same page and create an atmosphere where they feel safe to ask questions.
Don’t treat your employee like a faceless AI
Your main contact with your employee may be via email, but DO NOT leave it there. Even if your employee works in a completely different time zone, make an effort to FaceTime, Zoom or Skype with them on a weekly basis to keep face to face contact.
This will help the two of you to develop rapport and keep the human element present in your interactions.
Life is not all about work, but as a remote employee it is so easy to forget that you do not have to work all hours of the day to be productive. Having face to face contact with the boss and the team will help the employee to work their schedule into a more regulated time frame. This way, even if they are so flexible that they only work in 1 hour bursts for 8 hours out of their day, at least they are given a semblance of structure which will help them pace themselves.
Don’t ignore their ideas
Remote employees are just as smart, capable and motivated as their in-house counterparts. It takes a great deal of tenacity to be able to work consistently in a remote environment.
Netflix is so tempting.
You as an employer need to remember to listen to your employee’s ideas when they come to you with ways to streamline their team’s processes. Whether these ideas include investing in new technology or in implementing a new meeting process, they need to be heard—even if they are not taken—for an employee to feel like they have a valuable voice in the company.
Don’t leave them to their own devices
When you were in school, wasn’t it the most frustrating thing when your math teacher handed you a book, sat behind their desk, and said gruffly, “just do it.”?
Don’t be your old math teacher.
While it is not your responsibility for you to teach your employee how to do their job, it is your responsibility to thoroughly explain expectations and unalterable instructions. You need to give your remote employee a certain level of creative license, but you need to make sure your employee is given a solid framework to work within.
They need to know your expectations so they can give you a good product in a timely manner.
Overall, working with remote employees is very similar to working with on campus employees. The major difference is the amount of effort you need to put into communicating with remote employees. By learning these creative skills, you will in time be able to communicate with your remote employees just as well as you can with your on campus ones, if not better.