There's a need for emphasis on connectedness and collaboration, says Santos, and much of that happens at a personal level, he says. Don't discourage the natural tendency of workers to socialize with each other and learn more about their colleagues' personal lives, as that can actually lead to greater team performance, he says.
"The first few minutes of the meeting, for example, the off-topic parts where folks are asking about each other's children, or talking about television shows they watch, or sports — whatever it may be — are the biggest contributor to trust, relationship building and better 'contextual intelligence,'" Santos says.
"These conversations enable the people in the meeting to connect more strongly with each other not just as a co-worker, but as a father, a 'real' person, and that personal connection is extremely important to establish a foundation of trust," he says.
"Trust is obviously one of the most crucial aspects to managing a remote workforce; that can be built as long as there's constant, open and honest communication and feedback, transparency and solid expectations for accountability," Zirtual.com's Donovan says.
Provide Clear Direction and Focus on Results
But don't get so caught up in the collaboration and communication aspects that you forget to provide clear direction and expectations, Donovan says. Make sure there are clear procedures and deadlines that are consistently maintained to make sure work is being completed effectively and efficiently, and to identify and address any roadblocks quickly, she says.
"We do weekly 'stand-up' calls to touch base and make sure we're on top of what everyone's working on, the status of projects, what their obstacles are and various dependencies — who they need to speak to, that sort of thing," Donovan says.
With a remote workforce, it can be hard to follow what different colleagues and teams are working on, so using project management software that allows for transparency is a must, too, Donovan says.
"People will tend to wonder what other teams are doing. It's not that they think other people aren't working, but it's more difficult from a remote-work situation to see what everyone else is doing and understand where projects are," Donovan says. Besides weekly calls, Donovan suggests using virtual meeting tools,Google Hangouts, or even Skype to maintain a face-to-face connection between remote teams.
It's also important to hold in-person meetings, events and gatherings, even if they aren't frequent, to reinforce a culture of collaboration and connection, Donovan says.
"You really want to promote social interaction whenever possible," says Gartner's Santos. "The pressure to focus only on the business is huge, but you have to go beyond that focus to really open up a social connection between yourself and your colleagues," he says.
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