How do you keep a remote employee engaged? The simple answer is, you don’t. Employees are ultimately responsible for their own feeling of engagement. But there are things you can do to encourage that feeling:
Perspective #1: Team Lead
The largest team I ever managed was made up of 109 functional experts in 9 sub-teams in multiple locations. Each of the 9 teams had a senior consultant that reported to me and worked directly with each team. Several of the consultants on my team worked in the same building with me so it was relatively easy to connect with them. But with the remote folks I had to be more proactive about reaching out and staying in touch.
Over time we adopted a number of processes to facilitate communication and identify potential problems before they became actual problems:
- Weekly 30 minute 1:1 – Although I’m a firm believer that technology can replace most meetings, some personal interaction is necessary so we kept these 1:1 meetings fairly religiously.
- Weekly status report – Instead of status meetings we used a weekly status report to make it easy for anyone who actually cared (mostly me) to scan and identify overall status, current tasks, milestones, potential issues, to dos, etc.
- Monthly team meeting – We met as a team about once a month to brainstorm and share information. After the meeting we also went for dinner, for which I footed the bill and charged in as ‘team bonding.’
- Team communications – I used email to communicate process changes and team updates. I know that seems hopelessly outdated now but it was what we had. I tried to keep it short.
- Prompt follow up – I responded to any email from my team members immediately and insisted on the same courtesy from everyone on the team. There is nothing more frustrating as a remote person than feeling ignored.
- To each according to his need – Some of the consultants in my team needed more guidance and support than others. I triaged my time according to how much help each person needed.
Perspective #1: Remote Employee
I currently live and work in Munich while most of my colleagues sit together in California. In addition to the geographical difference, I’m 9 hours ahead of the corporate action. Sometimes it gets lonely here in the future and staying motivated can be a challenge. A few things make it easier:
- Good management – A big challenge for remote teams is that not all managers feel comfortable managing someone they can’t see and talk to face to face.
- Corporate support – Working with remote colleagues can be a challenge for people who aren't used to working in virtual teams and they may forget to include - or balk at including - their remote colleagues. But at companies where virtual teams are the norm the difficulties miraculously evaporate.
- Effective communication – If you aren't an effective communicator you cannot work remotely or manage remote people. That means being able to communicate clearly and concisely without relying on interpersonal crutches like appearance, personality or body language.
- Web 2.0 – I rely heavily on collaboration tools like Webex, Lifesize, Salesforce.com and an all-purpose corporate wiki to communicate what I’m working on and stay current with what others are working on.
- Experience – I’ve worked in the IT industry for 15 years in various roles so I can run with projects with very little guidance. If I were to start a new job in a new industry remote work probably wouldn’t work that well for me.
- Accountability – At the end of the day it’s up to me to make sure my manager doesn’t regret having a remote employee. This means being responsive, reliable and available. It also means reaching out when I need something and communicating early and often.
These are my experiences of what works best for managing remote people and working remotely. Be sure to check out Dave's post as well and if you have any other suggestions we’d love to hear them!