Published on June 20th, 2017
To say remote working is a hot topic right now would be quite the understatement.
It’s one of the top perks job seekers and employees are looking for and they’re willing to hold out for or leave a company to find one that will accommodate it.
Especially in our industry (and maybe yours too), we’d be crazy not to dabble in hiring remote employees, or to deny our local employees the option to work remotely.
And dabble we have. In the past year or so, we’ve gone from having one remote employee to 12.
If we were a fully remote team that would be one thing, however, we also have 22 local employees who work (for the most part) out of our office in Connecticut, and it’s the ‘partially remote’ part of our setup that makes things tricky.
When we had one remote employee, it was easy for people in the office to avoid adapting to remote-friendly practices - and get away with it.
“Sorry we forgot to include call-in information, we’ll remember next time.”
“Sorry we forgot to set up the camera - is it cool if you just hear us but can’t see us?”
“Sorry we forgot to ask you to sign that card - I’ll ask you for the next one.”
The apologies were endless and it was no secret that we weren’t very remote-friendly.
However, with ⅓ of our team now remote, continuing our regular practices and refusing to adapt would have affected productivity, team connections, and overall happiness.
In order to hire and retain the best talent (in office or remote), we needed to make it a priority to improve the whole experience when working in a partially remote environment.
While we’re still relatively new at this, we’ve implemented some new things throughout our agency to make it work, and we’ve received positive feedback from the team - remote and in-office.
Here are some ways we have shifted our company culture for a partially remote team:
Making Video Mandatory
The first thing we had to improve was the amount of video we used on calls. In the past, we’d sometimes call in on one computer from the office and try to show the whole room, which didn’t feel very inclusive for people remotely, plus it was difficult to see and hear everyone.
Now, we require everyone to individually call in on their own computers, allowing everyone to see faces clearly and hear specific voices.
After testing a couple other video conferencing platforms (Google Hangouts, Join.me), we landed on Zoom and it’s been a big hit with the team.
Just look at those happy faces if you don’t believe me!
Remote-Friendly Team Activities
Naturally, we have crafted our traditions throughout the years to be things done in the office. We passed around cards for people to sign, we drew out of a hat for gift exchanges during the holidays, and as time went on remote people felt more and more left out.
After some research and trial and error, we realized that digital options were available - and in most cases even better than what we were doing entirely in-office.
Signing Cards Digitally
When an employee hits a work anniversary, one of the things they receive is a card signed by the whole team. With a third of the office across the country, getting everyone to sign the cards rarely happened.
Living in this digital age, we knew there had to be an alternative so, once again, we researched.
We tested out a few solutions and ended up liking Kudoboard the best, by far.
Not only is the platform easy to use, but it came with a lot of options for “signing” cards. Our team is partial to the gif option, but you can also post custom images, choose from their photo library, or write a post without any images.
Rethinking Employee Anniversaries
Although we had signs and gifts for employee anniversaries throughout the years, we never had a real “process” down that we felt represented our culture.
While brainstorming ways to revamp our anniversary gift tradition, we landed on a theme that happened to be quite remote-friendly. Playing off of the popular subscription box idea, we rolled out “IMPACT Anniversary Subscription Boxes.”
Each box comes with a gift for the employee (health and wellness-themed), and also donates to a charity. Much like typical subscription boxes, it also comes with a card to explain the contents of the box and any other information on the overall theme.
From there, employees are either mailed or given their subscription boxes in person depending on their location. We just started doing this one, so we’ll see how the feedback is as time goes on!
Drawing from a Digital “Hat”
Every year, we choose partners for a gift exchange during the holiday season. For years, we drew names out of a hat in the office, and that worked well until we started having remote employees. While it seemed like a small detail, remote people felt pretty left out when they couldn’t be part of the selection process.
So, eventually, we decided it was time to update the way we chose names.
With a quick search online, we found DrawNames.com. By simply uploading all of the names and emails of our employees and setting the date of our gift exchange, it automatically sent everyone on the team a partner and avoided any duplicates. In addition, this platform had the added bonus of allowing people to create a wish list of suggestions or themes that would be viewable by their partner.
While we use this for our gift exchange, it could be used anytime pairs need to be drawn.
Encouraging (and Budgeting for) Get-Togethers
No matter how many digital things we incorporate in our agency, nothing compares to face-to-face gatherings with the team.
Because of this, we schedule out 4-5 weeks each year where we encourage remote employees to come to the office in CT. During these visits, we cover the costs for our remote employees to be in CT, and we also plan group activities so individual teams and the whole team can get to know each other better.
We’ve done a variety of things when the whole team gets together. Below are some highlights:
Here’s our team retreat to an outdoor ropes course back in September ‘16.
We recently had our 4th annual Dip Day competition while everyone was in town. Always a big hit!
One of the weeks ended with a big team happy hour, and we had a great turnout!
The key is to know your team and what they will enjoy, and be sure to plan ahead so people can make time to be there and you can allocate the necessary budget.
In addition to entire team events, we also encourage individual departments and teams to spend time together outside the office either going to lunch, doing a group activity, etc. This helps build trust within the team members and allows for more open dialogue.
Facilitating Communication Across Departments/Teams
When you’re in the office, you run into people in the kitchen, at lunch, or just walking from room to room. Even if someone isn’t on your team, you’re likely to chat with them or catch up at some point because it’s natural to communicate with people as you bump into them.
-- But what about when you aren’t physically there to have these run-ins?
It’s likely that remote people don’t have a lot of communication outside their teams, simply because it isn’t naturally happening.
While the 4-5 weeks a year that remote people are in the office certainly help to intermingle the teams, we wanted to do something that would be on a more regular basis.
Enter: Friday Chats.
Friday Chats are a new thing we do at the end of the week, every week.
During this time, the whole office is randomly separated into groups of 5-6 people and provided a video link to join during their designated time slot. Someone is assigned to lead each group, and they have total freedom on how they want to run the meeting, but we encourage people not to talk about work.
Popular topics include weekend plans, random questions (if you could have lunch with any person in the world, who would it be and why?), etc.
People bring beers, snacks, etc., and get to know each other a bit better, while also having more conversation points with everyone on their team afterward.
So far the meetings have gone well, and we’re working on starting up a remote-lunch group as well.
As I went to type about all the great technology and tools we’ve implemented, I realized my coworker, Brie Rangel already did an excellent breakdown in her recent blog article about managing a remote team in section 4.
In the article, she talks about the platforms we use for getting work done, for inclusion, and for recognition. Check it out if you’re looking for some suggestions!
While we don’t like to set a lot of “rules,” there are certain guidelines that everyone should follow to make the experience better when working with a remote team.
- Be Mindful of Distracting Sounds: Opening food/candy wrappers, clicking pens, tapping fingers, etc., can all make it really difficult to hear when you’re calling into a meeting. It’s important to avoid any excess sounds when possible to make the meeting as clear as possible.
- Always Include Call-In Information: When creating a calendar invite, there should always be call-in information so remote people know where to go. It can be very frustrating to go to join a call and realize the person didn’t include how to get into the meeting in the description.
- Stop Side Conversations: It’s very distracting when people start to have side conversations during a meeting and you’re on the phone and trying not to get lost in all the noise. Simply being aware that they shouldn’t happen, and calling people out when they do (and asking them to take the conversation outside of the meeting) can help keep everyone on track and on the same page.
Keep Testing and Improving
While we’re not perfect, we’re trying our best to get there. As new technologies come out we’ll keep trying new things and adapting to what works best for our team.
What are some ways that you’ve adapted to working with a remote team? I’d love to hear more suggestions!