It’s incumbent upon leaders of a virtual office to go further in fostering connection and productivity than founders with a centrally located team typically have to.
Virtual offices seem to become more popular every year, and it’s clear why: increasingly reliable technology makes it possible, and the flexibility remote employees enjoy allows them to more easily achieve work-life balance. Plus, for founders, untethering yourself from the geographic restraints of a physical office deepens the talent pools available to you when hiring, and not having to rent office space makes a distributed team structure much more cost-effective.
As I know from experience, however––my company, Funeralocity, employs people all over the world––managing a remote team can be difficult. When your employees—each of whom possesses differing work and communication styles—aren’t all in the same location, the tasks of building camaraderie and engendering excitement about your company mission become infinitely more challenging. You’re at constant risk of developing “silo syndrome,” where employees feel so meaningfully isolated from each other that they begin more or less operating on their own.
Ideally, your remote company should operate in the opposite sort of fashion––everybody synchronized, coordinated, and relying on each other, like a symphony orchestra.
To work toward this end, then––even in spite of your company’s inherently disconnected structure––it’s incumbent upon leaders of distributed teams to go further in fostering connection and productivity than founders with a centrally located team typically have to.
Here are a few of the simpler adjustments you can make to start.
1) Opt for video calls over dial-in calls when possible.
First, you have to facilitate quasi-personal interaction as best you can. Optimally, you’d be able to do this via occasional in-person meetings. But in lieu of that, video calls are your best bet.
Why video calls instead of phone calls? Simply put, video calls give you a better chance to actually connect with your teammates, especially if you build time into the beginning of the call for small talk. Even spending 10 minutes chatting with an employee about their life gives you a great opportunity to build chemistry with them, and those few minutes allow you to actually get to know each other.
And that rapport you’ve built? At scale and over time, it turns into cohesion, which is essential to engender should you want your team to operate like a well-practiced orchestra.
Video calls are also tactically preferable. Say you’re explaining a new initiative to your team and want to walk them through something you’ve put together on your end. Screen-sharing technology allows you to do that.
2) Communicate learnings quickly.
No matter what kind of company you’re building, your employees need to be on the same page strategically at all times. This is necessary, after all, for operating cohesively in service of a shared goal, and it’s doubly important for leaders of remote teams. Without a shared office space, important learnings and updates travel less organically. That means that unless you create systems or opportunities to share important updates and pieces of information, that knowledge won’t be shared, and your people will no longer be able to work together effectively.
As such, it’s important for remote founders and company leaders to take extra steps to ensure that key pieces of information are shared and made available regularly and systematically. The best way to do that, as it happens, is through meetings. Too much can be lost in translation over text or email, and it’s harder without a physical office space to be sure that those memos you send out are read and internalized.
So, whenever you have something to share, arrange a time to get the relevant stakeholders together and really affirm that everyone whose work the new knowledge affects is clear on what needs to change moving forward. At the same time, however, you need to beware of over-meeting. Too many meetings can drain your productivity. That said, for every meeting you schedule, make sure that only those who need to be there are present. Otherwise, you risk inundating your employees with inessential information or––worse––wasting their time.
3) Talk about personal things with employees.
Just as sharing new information promptly with your employees is important for efficiency, showing employees that you care about them as people is crucial for fostering your company culture.
Prove that you remember elements of their lives that they bring up with you in casual conversation. Show interest in them. And encourage them to ask you questions. Laugh together. Create inside jokes, empathize with their familial problems, etc. That sort of humor and interest is the stuff that creates friendships and, perhaps more importantly, bridges cultural or societal divides.
Encouraging as much will also go a long way towards creating a work environment which is enjoyable. And that your people enjoy working together is imperative. There needs to be some sort of personal relationship underlying the work partnership. That personal connection is part of what will compel people to go the extra mile for each other when called upon. It will also encourage your people to stick around, which is crucial. And the truth is, your company will only ever be as successful as your people are inspired, excellent, and reliable.
4) Start your Mondays off with a 15-minute team meeting.
So far as when to have more personal conversations with employees, one great opportunity is during a weekly 15-minute meeting held specifically for this purpose. Encourage employees to share what they did last weekend or discuss current TV shows and movies.
At Funeralocity, we hold our weekly meetings on Monday. We go around and share this light, personal info, and then we cap it off with a quick run-down of whatever initiatives we’re focusing on as a company that week, and what––if anything––employees need to be updated on for their personal work.
It’s easy and light, but it makes a difference.
At the end of the day, the reason all of this is so important is, in a virtual office, treasured personal relationships, reliable internal systems, and efficient means of information sharing are the pistons and gears which power the machine of your company. And the thing which slows down so many remote teams is that those components don’t run cohesively.
If you invest in cohesion, culture, and connection upfront, though, you effectively mitigate that risk, which will go a long way towards guaranteeing your company’s long-term success.