Cast the Net Wide: Using Remote Workers to Fuel High Powered Teams
Remote work is a reality of the modern day economy. 43% of American workers reported working from home (or “Telecommuting” as they decided to call it in the ’90s) at least some of the time in 2016.
There are some clear benefits to hiring remote workers for an AI company like ViewX, which requires a high powered team of engineers and data scientists.
The most obvious benefit is the ability to cast the net wider when looking for talent. There are amazingly talented people who reside outside of SF and NYC for various reasons — if you’re open to other locations, you’ll find less competition, especially from major tech employers like Google and Facebook, and sometimes a lower cost of living which can make roles more affordable for a cash strapped start up.
There are additional benefits too. In a wide ranging study published by the Association for Psychological Science, remote workers reported increased job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and lower work stress and exhaustion.
However, there are some clear downsides. In that same study in the APS, isolation and reduced levels of knowledge sharing were reported as negative side effects. A further study published in the HBR of 1,153 employees showed that remote workers often feel left out and ganged up on.
To use remote workers effectively, you need a successful strategy for combating these downside risks, especially related to isolation which can hamper your company culture. Adding to the obvious tips that you’ll find like focus on communication (figure out how to use Meet and Slack!), here are some of the more nuanced things we think about at ViewX to ensure our team and culture is enhanced, rather than hindered, by remote work.
Tie the team to the mission
In the studies above, one of the major challenges is overcoming the issue of isolation by making remote workers feel like they are part of a team. This can be especially tough for remote software developers who often have prior experience doing project work — the risk is they experience full time work as just another transactional assignment with no long term impact. Emphasize the bigger picture by doing the following:
- Have a clearly defined company mission and constantly reinforce it to everyone on the team. Show how individual tasks contribute to the mission and how major company or customer milestones deliver on progress toward that goal. For a remote team in particular, make sure these messages are delivered during regular and scheduled team updates so that no one is missed.
- Understand the career goals of your remote employees and help them develop for the long term. At ViewX, we use bi-weekly 1 on 1 meetings to specifically discuss skills employees would like to develop and how their current role fits within their desired career progression. The key here is to work on how their current task or project can contribute to their own long term success.
- Flood the team with merch! Welcome packs, anniversary tshirts, birthday presents, thank you mugs —it might be cliche, but all of these things make people feel like part of a unified group and help you distance your company from feeling like just another project
Set up a virtual water cooler
It’s really easy to underestimate how much you learn from people in between formal meetings. In a regular office these interactions occur on the way to lunch, in the elevator or yes, at the water cooler. For your remote team members, it’s important that they get to have these interactions too:
- Schedule “hangout” time, with regular team wide video calls set up for informal chat. It could include discussion of things that are work related or just of general interest. It may not come naturally at first, to have scheduled yet informal time, but it’s one of the best way to fill in the gaps for those that aren’t in the office all the time.
- Make room for other types of non-work communication too. This could be things like a #random slack channel or a meme email thread. As a remote worker, it’s always good to be reminded that you are working with other humans!
Not all good employees make good remote employees
Make sure to hire for an additional set of skills when considering a remote worker. On top of meeting the criteria for a specific role, remote employees have to be disciplined in their work ethic and comfortable as “self-managers” of their own time and tasks. This usually lends itself to more experienced people who have a track record of either working remotely or managing a team successfully on their own.
This should also be considered when designing the structure of your team. Opting for a more top heavy org structure, with more experience, is going to lend itself to more remote working success.
There’s no substitute for actual face time
It’s essential to get everyone together in the same place at least once every 6 months. You build up a set of shared experiences and familiarity which is difficult to replicate virtually. At ViewX, we have used a bi-annual summit in New York as an opportunity to bring the team together.
The focus should be on building personal connections above all else. Structured team-building exercises or just informal gatherings can be equally as effective at helping people find some common ground which has a huge impact on morale, culture and motivation to work for each other down the line.