Remotely Happy: Make Virtual Workers Feel Like Part of the Team on

The rules of engagement haven’t changed, but the technology has.

Distributed workforce. It sounds so … corporately perfect. Companies who have already gone that route might tell you the end result turns out more like a dysfunctional workforce. Teams require interaction and the ability to witness the results of their cooperation. How’s that possible when some of your team members are in another city, or even another country?

It was technology that got us into this whole distributed workforce evolution, and thankfully, it’s technology that can step forward and reunite what’s hurled all across the globe. The rules and the psychology of engagement haven’t changed. It’s the way you apply them.

Guess whose job it is?

Quit looking around the room. It’s up to you because you’re the fearless leader. But don’t reach for the extra-strength Tylenol just yet. It isn’t your responsibility to do their job—it’s your responsibility to be the catalyst.

Consider your catalytic conversion recipe as requiring 4 ingredients:

  1. Relationships
  2. Accountability
  3. Motivation
  4. Process and Purpose

Each member of your team already knows (or should know) these four elements. Good working relationships depend on cooperation. Accountability increases when you encourage team members to achieve results-oriented goals. Seeing a team member succeed motivates other members, and it’s all marshaled along with constant reminders of why, or the team’s purpose.

Your mantra to mix the ingredients and nail engagement could be something as simple as: be there, be there, be there, be there. Your priority is focused communication—and with remote workers, communication is all you have at your constant disposal to make that happen.

Make it real before you make it remote

The VoIP system is your best friend for keeping the team communication at the level where things spark to turn the engine, because everybody stays in everybody’s face. Facilitate conversations often. Be the one who halts a discussion to patch in a remote member and reel them in to the conversation. It reminds them that they might not be physically present, but their participation is regular and required.

Before you get to this point of constant communications, though, can you invest in the opportunity for your remote team members to spend some important bonding time at your physical location? Remote members can be just as dedicated as their counterparts when they start their working relationships as a physical one.

Both your local team and the remote members will find the dynamic less of an obstacle once the bond of trust based on physical interaction is developed. The regular communication channels can be enough to keep it going—especially if you have a VoIP system that allows for easy videoconferencing. You’ll notice that teams who think nothing of firing up the nearest VoIP videoconferencing access are the ones who continue to see greater levels of project success.

Virtual attendance can only go so far, so make it real before you turn the path over to technology. It’s also important to regularly renew those physical relationships. Most organizations are finding that it’s necessary to unite a team in a single location at least twice a year.

Duplicating IRL

Let’s refresh the premise: the rules and the psychology of engagement and teamwork haven’t changed. It’s the way you apply them. In other words, how can technology help you make a new version of the old situation that assisted you with engaging your team?

Think back—it wasn’t that long ago—to when and where everybody used to congregate. When you went looking for employees, where did you often find them? And was it also the place where you’d hear the most laughter and interaction?

It was probably while they were stopping for coffee or refreshments in the break room. That’s where the team took it offline, but still stayed connected.

Keep those coffee breaks going. Install a big monitor and webcam hooked up to your VoIP system. Have your remote team members jump online. Everybody’s got his or her beverage of choice in hand.

What’s everybody going to talk about? Remember whose job it is.

There’s only one thing everybody’s not going to talk about for the next 15 minutes. Not a single word about work should be uttered. No project talk. No competitor talk. Steer it away if this creeps in. The objective isn’t for everybody on your team to become BFFs. However, if they’re going to cooperate and depend on each other, they’ve got to be exposed to the physical/virtual mix of attendees so it becomes a habit.

Herd the cats

Push back if you discover that some of your remote workers aren’t showing up when you schedule a meeting—even your daily coffee breaks. They might need to be rewarded. That’s as easy as being sure to acknowledge them when they attend a meeting.

Meetings are almost universally hated because they’re usually too long. But technology now works in your favor. Why schedule a formal 90-minute meeting when you can snag the necessary local members of your team and any remote members for a quick 10-minute VoIP conference call?

You’re looking for ways to facilitate communication. It’s what usually breaks down when you introduce the dynamic of remote employees. You can stop the breakdown process dead in its tracks by taking advantage of video conferencing. And with that, we can help.

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