Remote working, without a remote experience

How do you attract the right kind of employees that will enhance your business and make it a wonderful place to work? Research shows that company culture is key to attracting great employees, with HR leaders considering culture and engagement their number one challenge. 

Company culture can be described as the personality of your business, and it’s the personality of the environment in which your employees work that is likely to keep them with you.

Part of achieving an attractive culture and increasing employee engagement is that, in general, workforces want to be more mobile. With three quarters (74 per cent) of people saying they want to be given the right to request remote working  employees will increasingly want to have the same experience of office culture whether they’re in the office or not.

The traditional forms of employee interaction to help the work environment prosper – from daily meetings, to after-work drinks, to even simple things like cakes on birthdays – are noticeably more difficult when employees spend barely any time in the same office. However, the key is to focus on bringing your team together virtually if they cannot be brought together physically.

Luckily, there are a number of technologies now available that can ensure a virtual culture is as vibrant as when teams see each other every day. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when considering how to improve collaboration in your virtual office:

Is your communications system fit for purpose?

The first place to start is with your communication system. Do you have a platform that can be easily accessed by all of your staff? Does it really make your life easier – and that of your employees? Ideally, this should be a unified communication system that is simple to use. If you need to have a lot of conference calls, choose a system that is easy to dial in to – complicated passwords and IDs aren’t always the best way to begin a productive call.

The scenario where everyone on the call is scrambling around for the right numbers is all-too familiar; it’s a frustrating experience which gets conversations off to a bad start. Avoid this by looking for software that focuses on user experience – a “join” button, for example, can eliminate that panic over complex numbers. This is the sort of technology that employees will be using to talk to their family and friends in their personal lives, and it will encourage them to communicate effectively and develop a rapport with remote colleagues.

Does your remote time often end up being down time?

When most of your team is working remotely, this means everyone has to essentially take some responsibility for the technology they use. As an employer, you need to make this as easy as possible by ensuring that your back office systems are up-to-date and reliable. For example, a cloud system can keep everything connected when in remote locations and is easy to update or adapt - particularly useful if you anticipate your business growing quickly! 

Having a suitable system in place can also ensure downtime is kept to a minimum, which stops your remote employees from being stranded without a connection to the virtual office.

Are your employees comfortable?

The next thing to consider is if your employees are able to communicate in the way that is most comfortable for them. This may mean a discussion about the devices they use to communicate – would they prefer to contact you and other members of the team by smartphone, tablet or desktop computer?

Team members should be able to bring their own device (BYOD) by integrating the device with the existing office phone system — securely, simply and cost effectively. This takes away a lot of the stress that can occur when switching between different devices and leave more time for the real communication. 

Video should also be an option, so that calls can be quickly and seamlessly escalated to face-to-face. It’s surprising how quickly disputes can be resolved if the two parties can see each other – even if they are only able to do so via a video screen! With your employees as comfortable as possible with the devices and the method of communication, they will be ready to communicate as effectively as possible.

Are you in a routine?

An important way that virtual culture can be encouraged to grow is through firming up the remote routine. Try and think of replacements for the bonding activities that occur in the office – i.e. the morning tea round. For example, you could make a point of asking people how they are via IM, or by scheduling a conference call with everyone for Monday morning and make sure you allow time for some general chat at the start of the call.

Without regular, routine interaction, great company culture cannot be built naturally. Regular rewards are part of this – scheduling in time to talk about success is a really important part of keeping your employees in the loop and enhancing the bond between your team.

Is your collaboration integrated?

Using apps is a great way to keep employees engaged with one another, and nowadays there are plenty of user-friendly programmes that can be used to improve remote communication. For example, Skype can now integrate with an organisations' unified communications solution, which means that employees can not only use their favourite device but also combine elements that are familiar to help them unify their personal and business life.

It is easier to “get to know” your employees when they have a personalised profile they can share! Overall, with the right tech behind you and your team, working remotely doesn’t have to be a remote experience.

Adrian Hipkiss, VP & MD EMEA, ShoreTel

Image source: Shutterstock/bikeriderlondon