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Engaging Remote Teams

Written by: John Christie, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

Peter Drucker famously said, "culture eats strategy for breakfast," and he was right. Culture, that elusive and hard to describe set of shared values, attitudes, and character, plays a more vital role in the success of a business than we probably fully understand.


And whether it's breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks in between, a great culture can be the difference between businesses that struggle and those that always seem to succeed, no matter the circumstances. Frankly, this has been true for a long time and will continue to make a difference in the future, but a great culture is more imperative today than it's ever been.


Why is it especially important today? Because we are undergoing the largest and most significant workforce transformation of the last fifty years. The pandemic accelerated multiple changes to the workplace and none more so than the rapid transition to virtual work environments. But in many cases, the culture required to support that environment hasn't transitioned as rapidly.


But there's good news! There are some simple and affordable things you can start doing right now to engage your remote teams and develop the kind of culture great people want to be a part of. And it just may be easier than you think. Here are three strategies to building a winning culture for your remote team.


Communication


Studies have shown the significant decrease in regular, meaningful feedback from supervisors, peers, and friends are one of the biggest complaints from remote workers. In an office environment, it's pretty easy to connect with others, but it can be a real challenge for those who work remotely, often individually from a home office.


As a leader, it's your responsibility to keep your team connected, and here are a couple of simple things you can do:

  1. Talk to your team! Simple questions like "what is energizing you this week?", "what's draining you?" or "what are you excited about?" can elicit tremendous insight and engagement.

  2. Schedule time for feedback. It's easy to stop by someone's desk and have a quick chat in an office environment. It's not that simple when they're remote, but it still needs to be done, so schedule it and be prepared with specific questions, feedback, and recommendations.


Focus on the First 30


What happens to people in the first thirty days of joining your organization? As we continue to see job changes in record numbers, the first month becomes a tipping point for new employees. If you want them to tip towards a long term, productive team member, establishing an inclusive culture at the beginning of the relationship is crucial, especially for remote teams.


You can set the stage for an extraordinary new hire experience by having a plan you can consistently execute. Here are a couple of things you can do to ensure it happens:


1. A straightforward way to get the relationship off to a great start is during the interview stage. Make a habit of casually asking questions to understand your potential hires beyond the job requirements. What is their favourite snack food? In the morning, do they reach for coffee or something else? Are they a ballcap or no ballcap kind of person?


Now fast forward to their first day at their new job, and they receive a gift basket delivered to their home from you. And in that basket is their favourite snack food, their morning drink of choice, a ball cap with the company logo, etc. They'll wonder how you know M&M's and Red Bull is how they start their day and think they've joined the best company in the world. And all you did was ask some questions and act upon the answers.


Actions like this establish engagement that money can't buy, and builds a culture that people want to be a part of, regardless if they're working in the office or remotely!


2. Assign your new hire to a "work buddy" for an immediate connection to someone they can ask questions and hear the real scoop. It's so important, especially for remote employees, to have someone they can connect with on day one, and this is a simple way to make sure it happens.


Recognition


The easiest, and most overlooked way to create a great culture and get people engaged, is through recognition. And no, this isn't always about cash awards, but it is about YOU having a recognition plan that is executed with purpose and provides your team with things they value.


Your job is to talk to your team, understand what they value, and then provide it to them in the most effective manner. Here are a few ideas that work:

  1. It may seem obvious, but you must set aside time for recognition. Maybe it's every Friday at 9 am or the third Tuesday of each month, but it's consistent, and you never miss it. It is a perfect opportunity to celebrate a big win, a service milestone, someone going "above and beyond," or simply a birthday. Whatever it happens to be, it's your opportunity as a leader to shine a positive spotlight on your team. And you never miss those opportunities.

  2. Since this is a virtual recognition event for a virtual team, you must encourage two-way communication throughout. A simple way to engage your audience is to have the winners share a bit of how they earned the recognition. For example, maybe Suzy is getting recognized for going above and beyond for a client. You say, "Hey Suzy, share how you did that with the team." You now have allowed the employee to shine in front of her peers and her leadership team. It is a great motivator for her, and it's a HUGE motivator for others because they also want their time in the spotlight.

  3. And if you're going to recognize your people, you should also give them something. When you do, make sure they have it by the day of the event. You know who you're going to recognize, when it's taking place, and where the employee is. Take the time to ensure that the coffee gift card, travelling trophy, or $50 is delivered to the person's home before the call happens. The best thing you can accomplish is Suzy on camera holding up her trophy or $50 bill for everyone to see. Other people like that and then they'll want to win too!

  4. Finally, here's an extra for you. Peer to peer recognition can be the most powerful tool you use to build culture and engagement. When you get recognized by one of your co-workers in front of the leadership team, it's often a more significant motivator than money. It strengthens the culture of teamwork, especially for those who don't have traditional face to face interactions. And as a nice by-product, it further helps people feel comfortable appearing and talking on camera.

It's Not Harder. It's Just Different


Leading a remote team shouldn't be more complicated than leading any other, but you will need to address some things differently. How you welcome new members to the team, communicate with, and recognize are just a few examples of how you'll need to adjust to building a winning culture in a virtual world.


Follow me on LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!

 

John Christie, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

John is a highly accomplished, enterprising, and strategic leader with more than 25 years of experience with Fortune 100 companies. John brings a stellar record of driving revenue and boosting profits through the development of customer experience initiatives, business development strategies, and operational excellence for his clients. He is President of TAB Eastern Kansas and Sunflower Advisory Group where he provides strategic planning, fractional leadership, advisory services, and executive coaching. His mission: help clients understand "if opportunity doesn't knock, build a door"!

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