Starting a business is difficult, even at the best of times. Now consider starting a business that relies on a distributed workforce. You’ll find that without taking the necessary steps to ensure everyone in the company is on the same page, it’s a nightmare. There’s no water-cooler, no stand-up meetings, and no face-to-face brainstorming sessions over lunch. A company that relies on a distributed workforce lives and dies by communication. Our workforce is distributed, and I’ve found it to be very effective. Of course, I’ve learned there are certain rules to follow.
Hire Great Communicators
At any company, the first hire sets the tone for the rest of the organization. They’ll teach secondary hires the core principles of communicating at the company and how to interact with the team. If your company has a distributed workforce, it’s essential that your first hire possesses fantastic communication skills (in addition to other qualifications, obviously). Then, with every subsequent hire, spend time evaluating the candidate’s communication skill set. Are they concise? Do they remain on point? Can they carry out a written conversation?
Communicating with a remote team is difficult. The non-verbal communication skills most people subconsciously cultivate throughout their lives rarely apply in a distributed workforce. A furled eyebrow, a clenched jaw or an eye roll immediately conveys a nonverbal message when communicating face-to-face, but those cues are invisible when your team works remotely.
Hire people who can communicate clearly and concisely over mediums like email, instant messaging, and team chat applications like Slack.
Get Them to Communicate in One Place
The usage of new apps as communication tools can be fantastic. Disjointed communication across several mediums, however, should be stamped out immediately. Whatever application you choose, communication should happen in the same place for everyone, no matter the situation. Pick one that meets all of your team’s needs, then let your team know that you expect them to use that application.
As well, conversations should be inclusive, not exclusive. There will always be situations where a sidebar chat is the better choice, but resist the urge to make chats private. If the goal of a conversation is to gather feedback, have the conversation in an open environment, like a public chat room, and include everyone on your team.
Make Sure the Team Gets Used to Working in Public
If the first tenet of managing a distributed workforce is setting a proper communication policy for your company, the second is making sure that decisions and priorities remain transparent. Embrace the opportunity to “work in public” by sharing team priorities, company goals and to-do lists. It may seem difficult at first, but publicly accessible to-do lists help everyone engage in personal and departmental weekly goals.
Our content marketing manager shares his weekly to-do list and meetings in our Slack marketing channel. The entire team — inside and outside of our marketing department — can see what he’s working on, what he’s prioritized for the week, and how things are progressing, all directly within our team chat application.
If you’re managing a team of more than three, it’s going to be difficult to keep everyone on the same page about what’s happening within the company. Embrace every opportunity to connect with people and engage them in your processes. You may have a team of mavericks, but nothing makes a person feel more marginalized or insulated than being out of the loop. Those feelings of exclusion are easily combatted in other ways, but in a distributed workforce, secondary engagement opportunities are a lot more difficult to come by.
Remember That No Conversation Is a Bad Conversation
In a distributed workforce, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that you’re working as part of a team. Encourage your team to interact both professionally and personally every day.
If you’re a founder or a C-level executive, it may be difficult to watch your team get sidetracked by conversations. But don’t forget that those distractions are simply team-building moments. Don’t believe me? We have a #Dogs channel in Slack, where our employees share fun photos and stories of their beloved canines.
If your goal is to hire the best people for your company, remember that they won’t always reside where your company is. It’s 2016, and given the state of communication tools, managing a distributed workforce has never been easier. There are still plenty of hurdles and a gaggle of complications that need sorting, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. At my company, we deeply believe that our distributed workforce gives us a competitive advantage, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.