Staying Connected to Your Remote Teams
*First appeared in the June, 2015 issue of Prairie Business Magazine
In today’s world, many companies have employees in multiple locations. Staying connected with your remote team members is always a challenge. About a year ago, Yahoo! made headlines when they discontinued their work from home arrangements and mandated that everyone come to the office, because they were struggling to keep remote employees productive. Working at Microsoft and now at Stoneridge Software, I’ve lived in a mixed environment with coworkers in the office but even more people working remotely at another location or at home. Throughout this time, I’ve tried a number of things to make the remote teams feel connected – here are the things our company has in place because we have found them to be the most successful approaches.
Use Scrum & Stand-up Meetings to Touch Base Frequently
A scrum meeting is a 10-15 minute meeting at which every team member gives a one minute update on three things – 1) what have you been working on, 2) what are you working on next and 3) what do you need help with. The idea is team members report out on their progress and if they are stuck, they can quickly connect with someone who may be able to help them. We use these scrum meetings on our multi-person projects as well as for our teams – our Development and Technical team meets every day at 10:45 a.m. for 15 minutes so our most remote teams can stay connected every day.
We use the Microsoft Lync instant messaging tool, but there are many options, and all work very well as a means to keep connected. Anyone in the company can reach out to team members at different offices or folks working from home, multiple times a day. In fact, before I call someone, I check their instant messaging status to know if they are available, so I don’t end up disturbing them when they are in front of a customer or away from their desk. It’s a great way to ask each other questions and collaborate.
Along with instant messaging, you can use video conferencing and screen sharing to connect your teams. We have a leadership meeting every Friday and I think we’ve only done it in person once. Every week we get on a screen sharing session to share kudos, walk through our company scorecard and discuss our current issues list while everyone follows along online.
Get Together as Much as You Can
There’s still no better way to create a bond than to shake hands and sit down for a conversation where you can look each other in the eye. Our managers do one-on-one meetings every two to four weeks and we try to do those in person if we can. I like to schedule team dinners when I’m visiting our Minneapolis location and make a stop in the office for some down time to check in with the group there.
The biggest investment we make in keeping our teams connected is our quarterly company meeting. Every quarter we drive or fly in the team to the Barnesville, Minn. or Minneapolis area so we can spend a day socializing, learning from each other and strategizing on how to move the company forward. It gives us a great chance to bond with the team and to get their perspective on how the company can continue to get better. The whole team leaves energized from those meetings, so even though it’s a big expense, the reward for our collaboration and our culture is huge.
When you’re managing remote team members, out of sight should not mean out of mind. Make sure you’re putting forward the effort to keep your team connected no matter where they sit.