The power of technology has made it possible to do business not only across town, but across the world. Who knows -- your small business might not even have an office, complete with rent, a mail slot and utility bills. If your small business specializes in services or digital products, you may never even meet your employees in person!
Teams who work remotely have the flexibility to do great work regardless of location, time zone or method of transportation. Thanks to online collaboration tools and mobile devices, working remotely is just as routine now as using a fax machine was 15 years ago.
If you manage a remote team or are thinking of adding remote team members to your small business family, read on. You’ll want to consider a few items before letting your team loose on your company’s to-do lists.
Communicate early and often
Communication with your team is almost more important in a remote environment than it is in a traditional office. Working alone for hours or days at a time can make employees feel isolated and disconnected from your team’s goals. It can seem more difficult to get the support they need when employees can’t just drop by your office for a minute or two.
Using email or instant messaging systems can fill some communications gaps, but remember that tone can get lost in text. What might be said with a hearty laugh and a warm smile at the conference table might be construed as sarcasm or anger over email, where body language can’t be discerned.
So when it comes to communication, mix it up, and do it often. Supplement email or instant message conversations with video chats, phone check-ins or perhaps an annual meeting that brings the whole team to one location to plan for the year to come.
Develop remote work policies
Just because your team might work in a variety of locations doesn’t mean the work day is a free-for-all. Enact remote-work policies that help your team work together while still maintaining a sense of professionalism.
For example, you might want to set working hours when it’s acceptable for team members to call upon one another. If your team spans time zones, this may be more difficult to enforce, but you may still be able to find overlapping work periods among your staff.
Set a recurring time and method to host remote team meetings; for instance: Every Monday at 9:30 a.m. on Google Hangouts. If your team can expect to catch up with one another at a specific time, they’ll better be able to plan their days around these typical commitments -- and plan their progress in between meetings.
What about sick days? Working from home doesn’t mean a cold or flu won’t derail an employee’s productivity. Encourage employees to take their allotted sick days when necessary to make sure they’re at peak performance when they clock back in.
Choose the right tools
Remote collaboration requires the right tools to get the job done. If you’re just starting to build your remote team, consider some of the online collaboration programs that can make managing your team easier:
- For managing projects: Basecamp, Trello, Smartsheet or Asana
- For storing files: Dropbox, Box, Apple iCloud or Google Drive
- For editing documents or products: Google Drive, Zoho, Box or Microsoft Office 365
- For hosting meetings: GoToMeeting, Skype, AnyMeeting or Google Hangouts
- For keeping email to a minimum: Slack, Skype, Flow, or GroupMe
Are you interested in integrating remote work policies into your small business? Meet with a SCORE mentor to discuss your needs and goals.