Wining the Away Game: How to Get Remote Staff Onside

Post I wrote for Staff.com. Original here - OG Post

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Being a remote worker—whether from a home office or Hong Kong—is the new normal. Since 2005, there’s been an 80% increase in the number of “telecommunicating” employees in the US. There’s no doubt we’ve become smarter about how we work and where we work from. But working remotely still feels… well, remote.

Modern organizations are armed with cloud-collaboration tools that should make working from anywhere a breeze. Combine these tools with a global talent pool from which to hire, and you’re set to dominate the competition, right?

So, why do we still struggle to connect teams, keep them happy and bring them into the company family? These four effective tactics will help you create a work environment that’s both global and connected.

Find Yourself. Choose a Corporate Identity that Works

Identifying your company’s unique culture is a first step toward creating a global communication strategy that works. Don’t be overwhelmed by process. Instead, start with this fun exercise: choose a persona that embodies your company’s strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps your company is like Star Wars’ Darth Maul: cutthroat, highly skilled, a source of fear and symbol of hatred throughout the galaxy. Or you might be an office of Bart Simpsons: high energy, motivated by your own ideas, but extremely impulsive.

Not only is this exercise fun, it’s a simple way to assess your company’s character, and gives you some insight and guidance into how your company communicates—internally and externally. If you’re a company of Barts, you’ll want to make sure your remote team doesn’t miss out on annual “Eat My Shorts” day. That’s right, at least send them a cake.


Photo by Claudius Prößer

Don’t Save Corporate Culture for the Home Team

There’s often a chasm between how a company perceives its corporate culture and how colleagues communicate with one another. This gap widens with the addition of remote workers. Jokes at the watercooler, impromptu conversations about everyday work life and innovative ideas spread in the hallway but go uncommunicated to remote teams. When you aren’t able to drop in and ask questions, misinterpretation abounds, innovation decreases, and it creates a culture of frustration in the workplace.

Your product might be thrilling, but sometimes, working remote and away from the wellspring of HQ inspiration is not. It can be difficult for remote workers to find their place and feel a sense of belonging within their companies, and even in the products they make. And research proves time and time again that replacing an employee is up to twice as expensive as actually employing one.

Instant messages and emails are efficient and accessible, but they lack the emotion that face-to-face conversations allow. How much better is it to hear a person laugh than to read “haha” in Google chat?

Crossing the Divide

Culture is created, defined and shared by people. We are motivated and kept passionate about our work by strong emotional bonds. A few year back, this MIT study reported that remote workers are less happy and motivated when they feel isolated from co-workers. You can organize beer Fridays every day of the week, but if remote workers can’t participate in ad hoc socializing with their teammates you’re digging a geographical ditch that will be very hard to cross.

So, how do you close the geographical gap?

  • Encourage the use of video rather than text. For decades, researchers have been saying (PDF) that video communication gets us closer to in-person interactions.
  • Managers should check in with remote staff on a more frequent and informal basis. Spontaneous check-ins build stronger relationships.
  • Applaud and publicly acknowledge remote workers’ contributions.
  • Use lightweight, real-time communications tools that enable informal and frequent conversations such as instant messaging, group chat rooms and always-on video portals.

Tactics and tools for healthy global collaboration and communication are out there. Now, you just need to put them to work in ways that will make it easier to keep remote employees happy, healthy and engaged.

The Q Debate

Yesterday I was on CBC Radio’s Q with Jian Ghomeshi taking part in a debate about the state of unpaid internships.  Specifically to speak about my positive experience as an unpaid intern in light of an article that I wrote which featured in the Vancouver Sun.

The Opponent

I was pitted against Eric Glatt, a former intern of Fox Searchlight who sued the company after he felt his internship was a form of exploitation more so than a learning opportunity.

The Stance

Let me put myself on record stating that I'm not an advocate of exploiting interns or the abuse of free labour.  In fact this has never been my position. I also must admit that I am not a labour lawyer or an expert on internship regulation. What I am however is an advocate of providing opportunity to those struggling to find their way, or perhaps value in their professional life.

I was asked to speak on my personal experience as an intern, a mentor, and how the intern controversy has affected small business in Canada. This I am more qualified to speak on than legalities, or statistics.  I feel it is extremely important that we consider both sides of this argument in greater detail.  Only then can we take progressive steps towards change, and have these changes firmly rooted in both the positive and negative experiences of unpaid internships.

L'esprit de l'escalier

As a first time debater arguing the perceived negative against a future lawyer who's been debating the state of internships for years, was I a bit nervous? Definitely, but I made the decision to do so based on the invaluable opportunity to get involved in the conversation and (hopefully) continue to push the dialogue towards a resolution.

I had the chance to give a voice to the positive experience that an unpaid internship can provide. This position clearly isn't the popular opinion, but I felt it was being drown out by the negative sentiment throughout the media.

Some points that I didn't get to that warrant further discussion:

  • Institutional co-ops/placements/practicums

  • The failure of institutions to bring practical application to the theory they teach

  • Competency as currency

  • Government policy on internships

Overall, it was a great experience and I want to thank the CBC, Jian, and Eric for the opportunity to take on this discussion.