How to stay connected as a remote team

There are two common concerns of managers when it comes to remote work: engagement and productivity. Without an office, you lose team building moments like birthday celebrations, water cooler run-ins, and the simple luxury of walking over to a colleagues desk to ask a quick question. Not to mention the lack of literal oversight when employees are spread across different time zones, working entirely on their own. However, technology can help bolster engagement and manage productivity. But it can’t do this work on its own; the willingness and organization of managers and employees is what determines the success of remote work.


Open Communication is Key

There’s no lack of virtual communication tools to keep remote workers in constant contact with their colleagues, clients, and managers. While many of these tools are also enjoyed by on-site workers, they’re truly the gas that keeps a remote company running. Slack, for instance, has become ubiquitous in business settings and for good reason. The app (and the hundreds of plug-ins developed specifically for it) breaks chats into one-on-one settings or channels where team members can discuss a particular project, department, or issue facing the company. Plus, it’s smart enough to save meeting times and documents (and if you can’t find them, Slack’s search function is simple). 


But sometimes a face-to-face check in is important. Services like Zoom make it easy (and free) to set up video conferences across various time zones for a more intimate, but still virtual meetings. Google Hangouts is another alternative, if your company wants to keep everything within the G-Suite. And because remote teams often span the globe, World Time Buddy makes it easy to quickly reference a colleague’s local time before suggesting a meeting time. It’s most likely that these tools, plus email, are most frequently used for things that require fast action.


Collaboration Made Easy

Just as communicating with colleagues around the world has never been easier, neither has project management. Gone are the days when you need to alert your colleagues that you’re working in a file, so not to open it until they get the go ahead. Google Drive, especially, does the work for you by showing who is currently working in a document and saving their changes in real time. This is also where Holopod works well as a Slack plug-in, updating your status for colleagues to see and manage expectations of when an action item can be completed.


While Drive makes collaborating on a project easier, Teamweek and Trello organize that work on macro and micro levels, respectively. Both the apps can assign tasks and due dates to individual team members and make it easy to visualize the status of a project and any bottlenecks holding up progress. Rather than needing a weekly (or daily — the horror!) meeting to bring everyone up to speed on a project or report, logging on to Teamweek and Trello gives you the most up-to-date status, saving everyone time for more important work.


Remote Workers Still Need to Be Managed

These tools are excellent for teamwork, and managers can benefit from them too. It’s crucial that they maintain regular contact with their remote employees and apps like Zoom and Slack facilitate casual and more formal catch-ups. Many managers find that keeping a set meeting time with each person in their department keeps them feeling supported and not forgotten. Giving these meetings a focus and an opportunity for remote workers to demonstrate their reliability and productivity, tools like Harvest and I Done This automate this information. 


Harvest allows employees to track time and expenses, and schedule projects with the time they anticipate needing to complete them. Similarly, I Done This tracks team progress and generates status reports and automatically notifies managers and other team members. Both tools help remote employees feel accountable and trusted, without needing to reports detailing how they spend every minute of the work day.


It Isn’t Always About the Work

Remote or not, people want to work for companies that turn the grind into something they look forward to — or, at the least, don’t flee from. In an office, a company does this with perks like free coffee and snacks, a meditation room, or group happy hours and sports. When you get rid of an office, those perks go away and others need to take their place. Subscriptions to Spotify or brain.fm, the productivity-driving music app, can help remote employees dull the noise in coffee shops and co-working spaces. In lieu of a meditation room, Headspace and Calm are on-the-go alternatives for people who need a midday reset. And while the excess of cake and sweets in the office may not be missed by everyone, sending remote employees a treat to celebrate their birthday or an accomplishment goes a long way in making them feel appreciated.


Your company may choose to forgo an office, but the same tools that make everything in those four walls function are needed by telecommuters — sometimes to a greater degree. The path to remote work is paved with apps. Understanding your team’s needs is critical to building the arsenal of technology that will defend your team against poor communication and missed deadlines.