OK – we’re baring our heart here. These tips come directly from Markham’s own experience – good and bad – since we first opened a satellite office, nearly 20 years ago. Markham now operates a network of satellites and micro-teams across Australia and New Zealand. Our business model would not survive without remote offices!
And we’d be the last to deny that it’s challenging. It’s easy for the team at headquarters to forget to factor in the remote workers. Quick decision-making ‘on the fly’ will work when everyone is together, but not if some of those affected are elsewhere.
So here are three proven tips to help you maintain your team strengths and culture, while your team is scattered abroad!
When your team is scattered, you need to add a layer or two of communication. Don’t assume emails will be read. In fact, don’t assume anything!
Group messaging apps are essential.
Markham uses WhatsApp; Slack is popular, and of course there are many others. We have a team group, plus groups for departments such as sales, marketing, and operations. Newcomers tend to be daunted but it quickly becomes intuitive.
When you send an important team email – back it up with a message to the group. “Please read the email I just sent!” Email? What email? Oh yes that email. Got it.
Learn to use videoconferencing.
Zoom is flavour of the month right now; if you are a Microsoft subscriber you can try Teams; and then there are long-standing names such as GoToMeeting.
Good videoconferencing technique is essential. Check every individual can hear and be heard, and encourage participation.
Don’t forget one-on-one video calls.
Both VC apps and messaging apps can be used for this.
YES this is all one Tip!
If we had 10 tips, then 1-7 would all be about communication!
The worst thing about being alone in a remote office is the feeling of isolation. Good communication, boosted with face time, helps overcome this.
It’s too easy to leave remote team members out of the conversation – and it’s a fundamental mistake!
Yes, communication with all players takes more effort and time. Yes, you must take extra care to include all involved.But it’s worth it! It’s genuinely worth it for your team strength and culture, to make sure everyone feels involved and engaged at all times.
2. SET THE SCENE
For best results, the micro-offices should reflect the structure of a true office environment – preferably as much as possible like the main office.
‘Go’ to work
Set up the workspace to reflect a conventional office as much as possible. We’ve all seen the ‘remote’ concept images where the employee lolls on the beanbag with their laptop. Hey – sorry – it doesn’t work like that.
And dress for work! Just because you’re the only one at the location doesn’t mean you can be sloppy in your personal appearance. That attitude will ultimately be reflected in your productivity and the quality of your output.
This is triply challenging in the home setting but is also true in cowork and office-share setups. The people around you are oblivious of your ‘zone’.
Be a piece of the main office
Is there something around you that visually reminds you of the basecamp? Can you hang the team values on the wall? Decorate with your corporate colours? It all helps to maintain the sense of community and belonging.
3. MANAGE UPTIME AND DOWNTIME
There are two sides to the time management coin.
If you find it difficult to focus
…you may be easily distracted. You might be tempted to physically wander away from the workspace for too long, or get involved in the circumstances around you for no particular reason. Or you might find yourself spending a lot of time on social media – just because no one is looking over your shoulder.
Be accountable, trustworthy and reliable. Maybe that’s easier said than done, but remote offices require a higher level of self-discipline.
Divide your time into focus blocks. Make yourself work on specific tasks for a set period of time, say 30 minutes to an hour. You can take a break between focus blocks, and return for the next task after a few minutes.
If you find focusing is easy –
…maybe you’ve managed a nice quiet setup conducive to zoning in – then take care to set yourself break times. Perhaps you need a timer, to remind you to take a short walk after each hour. Productive work environments are all about balance!
(Did we mention communication?)
We could go on. That’s not the whole story. Each team has its own set of personalities. If you’ve been used to all working in one place, then splitting up to remote offices will likely help you learn more about those you work with!
But, as we said, it’s all worth it. Being able to work effectively, away from the team, is a crucial modern skillset. It makes you flexible. It makes you examine how your team really operates. It can make your team stronger.
Want to share your own remote experiences? Reach out to the Markham team, we’d be glad to hear from you!