Launching a distributed workforce is relatively straightforward. But keeping these remote workers happy and productive in the long term is a more challenging process. That fact is especially true since traditional, in-office morale boosters sometimes don’t translate virtually.
If managing distributed teams is a challenge you’re tackling, we’re here to help. Let’s explore some crucial tried-and-true techniques to keep virtual employees happy.
In this article...
Communicate with purpose
Since you won’t have immediate in-person access to folks, you’ll need to strategize communication. Many distributed teams schedule weekly or biweekly one-on-one meetings between supervisors and subordinates. This helps provide a personal touch and ensures people feel heard.
But beyond these individual connections, team-oriented talks are vital. One way to keep people connected is via community messages on Slack or Microsoft Teams. This passive, text-based strategy broadcasts life in an otherwise solitary remote existence.
Here are some text-based communication ideas that include your whole team:
- A fun, non-work-related Slack channel for personal connecting, like sharing cat pictures and such
- An “ask me anything” thread that signals transparency
- Team accomplishments and shoutouts
- Project updates that encourage problem-solving
- Bite-sized tutorials about interesting, unique knowledge
Beyond routine messages and meetings, you can conduct virtual “town halls” using a videoconferencing app like Zoom. These all-hands meetings, often held monthly or quarterly, showcase executives discussing company challenges, accomplishments, and future plans.
Such all-employee meetings can also include a question-and-answer session where anyone can ask anything. Even if you have a small team, these all-inclusive meetings project transparency and accountability and support camaraderie across the business.
Hold weekly office hours
In addition to one-on-one meetings, a weekly open-invite session is ideal. This casual meeting, known as “office hours,” allows (but doesn’t require) anyone to join and speak their mind. Think of it like a teacher inviting students to stay after class and chat if they’d like.
The purpose of office hours is two-fold. First, it gives people more time outside their regular one-on-one meetings if they need it. So you may want to keep your open-door session a few hours long to provide plenty of availability.
Second, many people may feel more comfortable in a casual office hours session. Its spontaneous, unobtrusive nature may feel more personable than a short, pre-planned one-on-one meeting.
Plus, office hours allow people to ask tangential questions. For example, say a town hall discussed upcoming layoffs. An employee’s one-on-one meeting was used to discuss their upcoming projects. Neither meeting fully addressed the staffer’s concerns about possibly getting a pink slip.
In this situation, office hours would allow a lengthier, more casual opportunity to air concerns without any pre-planned expectations. As a result, employees feel heard, boosting morale and connectivity in the process.
Build morale with team activities
Most people don’t want to spend more time in meetings—but most meetings don’t offer much opportunity to get to know others and build deeper relationships. And that’s exactly why it’s worth scheduling virtual meetups that are actually fun, instead of a test of endurance.
Luckily, hosting a fun meeting is much easier than it used to be in a virtual environment. Internet-based team games, like drawing, trivia, or word games, can effortlessly fill an hour. Or for those seeking something more elaborate, staffers can launch company esports teams to compete at appropriate times.
How to accommodate introverts
Not everybody feels comfortable in fast-paced social settings. Some people are introverted and prefer more solitary events. This means a twenty-person game of Pictionary via Zoom may feel overwhelming.
So, for distributed workers that prefer more independent activities, consider fun events that aren’t live. For example, instead of a game, invite people to submit recipes for an upcoming company cookbook. Or encourage submissions for an arts and crafts competition that boasts prizes and bragging rights.
If you do schedule an activity meeting, find something that doesn’t put introverts on the spot or force them to shout or speak up—at least until they’re more comfortable with the team. Watch parties or electronic word games could be viable solutions, but feel free to ask your team for input to see what they’re most comfortable with.
Maximize asynchronous work
Making time for fun is great. But having the freedom to work various schedules can similarly boost morale.
Distributed teams tend to involve staffers in different time zones. Also, remote workers don’t have to adhere to an office building’s business hours. As a result, people can work at a time each day that’s best for their personal schedule. This freedom is a major perk that breeds loyalty and reduces employee turnover.
But because you can’t physically see other workers and spot when they’re available between tasks (or when they’re available in general), you’ll have to make some adjustments. Requesting unplanned video calls can cause frustration or unintentionally cut into others’ focus time.
Instead, embrace asynchronous communication, which relies on non-urgent written collaboration in a single space. For example, say you need feedback from your team about a process. You’d share the process document with them and ask them to leave comments with their notes and ideas. You may even assign a deadline, like the end of the day or the end of the week.
How to implement asynchronous communication
With asynchronous collaboration, it’s important to consider what feedback is urgent and what is not. Urgent discussions should be done in scheduled team check-ins over videoconferencing or in more immediate spaces. Feedback with longer timelines should be done asynchronously to keep your employees’ schedules flexible and accommodating.
Project management software like Airtable or monday.com allows people to broadcast updates on their tasks and leave messages for colleagues to see at any time. So if someone accomplishes a project at midnight, their supervisor can see their notes and updates when they start work the next morning.
Of course, asynchronous communication is most practical if your line of work isn’t particularly time-sensitive. But if your industry allows it, then this progressive approach is a highly cherished perk of working remotely.
Tip: Schedule some focus time
If your team members struggle to focus around work messages and sudden asks, schedule focus time. Warn others when that time is so there are no meetings or chat messages during that block, allowing your team to detach and focus. You can even offer the option of working quietly over a video call to replicate office setups if that appeals to your team.
Offer in-person flexibility
Despite so much talk about working remotely, it’s natural for some folks to still prefer a more traditional office. For these individuals, there are some creative solutions.
You could allow people to use your company’s office space at their leisure. Employees that request this option may receive a key, code, or badge for access. But this would require a traditional commercial lease, which you may not have.
If that’s the case, consider shelling out subscriptions to coworking spaces like WeWork. Your company would foot the bill while the employee gets to enjoy a more traditional office feel. Some locales might also have lesser-known options too. For example, city libraries sometimes designate space for coworking and professional use—often for free.
If neither option sounds doable, then consider granting staff members a stipend to support or upgrade their home workspace. Having a designated area with the proper tools and equipment is proven to improve productivity. Some companies offer around $1,000 or more annually or upon hire, while others offer a smaller amount monthly.
Make the most of your remote workspace
Transparency and strategic communication are two best practices for managing distributed teams. To deliver these qualities, software titles like Zoom and Slack help connect people in the absence of visual interaction.
But you’ll need to accommodate various personalities and work schedules to truly make your distributed team successful. As a result, asynchronous communication and in-person work options help keep morale high in a primarily remote environment.
What are distributed teams?
A distributed team is a workforce consisting of people based in various locations. It often, but not always, refers to a group of remote employees working from home. Sometimes, the phrase simply refers to people in multiple traditional offices spread throughout the world.
What are the top tools for distributed teams?
Some of the top software tools for distributed teams are Slack, Zoom, and project management titles like Airtable or Monday.com. These titles are oriented toward remote workers since they allow asynchronous communication across many time zones.
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