COVID accelerated the adaption of the remote team. I've been in this space for the last decade or so, and it's been wonderful to see more remote workers out in the wild. That said, I firmly believe most companies go about this the wrong way. They try to extend the office to the home or remote location when in fact we need to step back and re-engineer the entire work environment. The practices of the industrial revolution should have ended at the dawn of the Age of the Information Worker, it hasn't yet. I'm here to help finish it off.
1. How you communicate with your team is more important than where they work
The tools at our disposal have never been better and yet we still insist on relying on old, dated models of communication. That's today however, we need to evolve and use modern means of collaboration: social networks, video chat, shared whiteboard/chat rooms and so on. The way you talk to people should be representative of how you expect them to work. If I ask for a status update from someone over instant message or email only to get a voicemail 3 hours later, it doesn't feel engaging. Setting schedules for calls at least shows some semblance of respect (and, if it's enforced, respect for others' time).
2. Making the company feel like a team is more important than making individual teams
This is really an extension of the above point but it needs to be underscored because I've seen too many companies try to go back in time by trying to create divisions between different departments (which in the industrial world made sense) when in fact we should be moving forward and creating cross-functional teams that are focused on outcomes instead of inputs/outputs. The way remote workers can help with this is by sending status updates or information about what they've been working on when needed so that everyone knows who's doing what when - this requires some discipline but it also creates cohesion which when done well can create a strong sense of empathy and camaraderie. This is one of the best parts of the Scaling Up framework that I implement with my clients.
3. Don't treat remote workers any differently than office-based ones
One only needs to look at the YMCA's telecommuting policy (which has been in effect since 2003) for an example of how companies can embrace remote work without adding pressure or removing protections for employees: " The YMCA makes no distinction between traditional and non-traditional working arrangements when it comes to compensation, benefits, opportunities for advancement, disciplinary proceedings and other employment matters." This is obviously just one example but reminder that we should be treating everyone equally regardless of where they work from unless there is a real and justifiable reason to do otherwise. Some companies even go so far as to require all employees to work from home for a day or two - this is nice because it allows everyone to experience what it's like working remotely but also cannot be taken too far lest people forget that being disconnected all of the time really sucks.
4. Inter-office communication shouldn't depend on email etc...
Email is the best way to kill productivity, I know some would disagree with me on this but think about how many times you can recall replying to an email late at night only to wake up the next morning with several 'urgent' follow up emails? See Cal Newport for several classes on the subject. We're allowing our communications to be dictated by tech instead of tech serving us - which should always be the goal! That said there are more options today available e.g. letting people log bugs/problems into a shared system that everyone can see, allowing folks to write up their ideas or concepts and then vote on them etc... The idea is that communication should be part of the workflow and not just something added as an afterthought.
5. Respect your team's time
Everyone has the same amount of hours in a day so we need to stop pretending like some people are more important than others by virtue of where they reside… or even worse, simply because they say so! This goes back to how you communicate and treat everyone equally but it also means respecting individuals' choices: if someone says they don't want to use video chat then respect this decision instead of badgering them about why not (which often times happens when they're in the same space…). And this is just one example, there are many ways remote workers can be respected and included in the company's plans.
6. Don't replicate the office
I'm not saying that every company needs to create work out of thin air but there are plenty of examples where the money saved by creating a distributed team could be used for new hires or bonuses instead of simply replicating what already exists. This doesn't mean you shouldn't have some shared spaces but it does mean structures should be adapted to accommodate working remotely - not visa versa! For instance, if you don't need everyone on site at all times then maybe smaller teams are adequate or perhaps large meeting rooms aren't necessary? You get the idea...
7. Communicate more, not less
While a distributed team might make communication a bit harder to start with it doesn't mean that you should communicate less e.g. via video chats or collaborative work environments - especially when things get tough! Just because someone is remote doesn't mean they suddenly don't need information or aren't interested in what's going on. In fact, I've found that some of the best conversations I've had with folks have happened this way and helped build stronger teams in the long run…
8. Regularly check-in with your remote workers
It goes without saying: if you don't talk to your remote workers every so often they'll fall off the radar and be forgotten about. That's why it's so important to check-in with them immediately after joining the company or at least monthly thereafter. This is especially true if your team is under 10 people but even then it should be part of everyone's duties to keep in touch!
Now I'm not saying that any of these practices are easy to implement but they're certainly better than hiring someone remotely and thinking that you can treat them exactly like their counterparts in the office. It takes time, effort and really good communication skills on both sides - if only because the expectations are different when both parties are used to working within an office environment... But trust me, once implemented these changes will make all the difference in how productive your employees will become!