In theory, remote work lets organizations expand their recruiting pool, reduce operating costs, and increase worker happiness. However, in practice, integrating remote workers and in-office staff can be challenging. Remote workers may feel left out, while in-office staff may feel jealous of remote colleagues or – worse – forget they exist.

Below are five tips to bring distributed teams closer together:

  • Provide the right tools: Managing virtual teams via email is a recipe for disaster. Remote staff can get dropped from email chains (or not CC’d in the first place), important messages get lost in cluttered inboxes and delays between replies can be painful.

    Adopting a real-time collaboration platform like Slack, Asana or Microsoft Teams can streamline internal communications, allowing staff to chat in real time via group text messages organized by topic/project, with easy-to-follow message histories. If that description didn’t help, click this link for a visual demonstration.

    Meanwhile switching from Microsoft Office to Google Drive, which lets teams share documents and spreadsheets online far more easily than Office, can further streamline collaboration.

  • Require remote workers to “come to the office”, virtually: For all the benefits of remote work, there’s something to be said for the ritual of traveling to an office, leaving your personal concerns at the door, and focusing on your job.

    This mindset can be reproduced online by requiring all workers (not just remote staff) to post a message to a shared channel when they start or end their workday, with a quick bulletpoint summary of their priorities.

    Expecting everyone to be reachable by message or phone while working (a 2-minute response time is reasonable, 5 minutes is generous) and “check out” if they take an extended break can reinforce accountability.

  • Set (and enforce) rules for communication: There are so many options for communication these days – text, email, Slack, phone – that messages can be missed if team members aren’t monitoring the right channels. To simplify things, set strict policies about which types of communications should happen via which channels.

    For example, if you want people using Slack for internal communications, tell staff to reply “Please repost this via [Slack/Asana/Teams]” whenever a colleague sends them a purely internal message via email. Treat the email as if it had never been sent (i.e., saying “I emailed it to you” cannot be acceptable).

    Senior managers can be the biggest offenders in this area. One business leader we know says she had to train her executives to never walk across the hall to tell her something that ought to be shared with the full team via message.

  • Meet virtually, and regularly: Encourage managers to bring their team together virtually on a monthly or quarterly basis to introduce new workers, share updates, celebrate successes and give everyone a chance to interact in real time.

    Also, while there might be daily chatter between team members and managers on Slack, set aside time each week for proper one-on-one status calls, even if it’s just fifteen minutes.

    Finally, if a meeting involves seven in-office staff and one remote worker, consider making the meeting virtual, by default. There’s nothing more alienating for remote staff than straining to hear as in-office colleagues mumble around a conference table.

  • Give everyone the option to go virtual: Offering everyone the option to work remotely, so long as they hit their goals, can foster greater understanding of remote work etiquette and potentially increase the benefits of virtual work for the organization. You might even consider going 100 percent virtual, such as Toptal, Zapier and many other companies.

If you need help streamlining your collaboration processes for remote teams, feel free to contact Sonata Learning for a consultation.

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Emil Heidkamp is the founder and senior learning strategist at Sonata Learning.  He works with NGOs, corporations and government agencies to implement training and knowledge management initiatives impacting thousands of learners in over 50 countries.