The number of remote workers is on the rise at many tech firms today, helping to meet organizational goals such as hiring the best qualified candidates regardless of their location, improving employee work/life balance and getting business tax breaks for saving the environment, by reducing the number of commuters on the road.
On the other hand, using virtual workers also puts organizations at a disadvantage, when it comes to keeping everyone informed and engaged. The root cause of the issue is a lack of face-to-face interaction with remote team members, which frequently results in a communications gap between employees and management, as well as between co-workers.
And in many tech companies, it’s not just a handful of employees that are working remotely. In many cases, almost the entire team has gone virtual, with employees working on different schedules, in different time zones, spread out across the country, or even around the globe. This creates a major challenge for CIOs and IT managers, requiring the right strategy to ensure an environment of consistent and uniform communication across the entire work team.
Reducing the communications gap for remote workers is of paramount importance for tech firms, as poor communication has been proven to have a serious negative impact on productivity, leading to increased product development costs and significant delays in product deployment. Likewise, IT managers need to place an emphasis on improving communications for remote workers in key development and design roles, to keep their organizations on the right track for meeting their goals.
Fortunately, CIOs and IT managers have many tools at their disposal, when it comes to keeping everyone that’s involved in a technology project “in the loop” regardless of their physical location or work schedule. Our research on the remote worker communications gap issue resulted in the discovery of a number of key strategies that tech companies can leverage, to close the communications gap, as follows:
Virtualize Workplace Culture – Virtual employees are unable to tap into a company’s culture through traditional methods, like chatting around the water cooler, or connecting with co-workers during breaks or lunch. This creates a disconnect for remote workers, leading to lower levels of engagement. To eliminate the lack of culture that remote employees face, organizations are creating orientation videos to help virtual workers learn about the company’s culture, from the very beginning of their employment. Companies are also creating short compilation videos of interviews with various team members, to help remote workers learn about who they’re working with, which leads to stronger employee relationships and better communication between employees.
Use a Shared Communications Platform – It should go without saying, but a shared communications platform is an absolute necessity, when it comes to closing the communications gap between on-site staff and virtual workers in different locations. Moreover, the increasing prevalence of virtual work teams has given rise to a growing number of great project management and collaboration apps in the cloud, like Basecamp, Redbooth, Central Desktop and others that essentially create private social networks for companies, with built in tools that increase communication, engagement and interaction, such as the ability to provide real-time project updates, the ability to interact via discussion boards, the ability to collaborate on documents, as well as the ability to participate in real-time web meetings and team chats.
Virtualize Face Time – Emails and phone calls still leave organizations open to communications gaps, which can be easily resolved with video conferencing tools like Skype, WebX and FaceTime. Using video based conferencing tools helps everyone on your team connect better and creates a feeling of community. With the wide range of technology that’s available today, there’s simply no excuse for not leveraging it to the max, when it comes to improving the quality of communications for virtual work teams.
Get Personal – Virtual employees are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to building strong work relationships with their managers, which frequently begins on the personal level. To help forge more personalized relationships with their remote workers, IT managers should setup reminders to connect with these employees to chat about things outside of work on a weekly basis, if only for a few minutes. Getting personal with team members improves employee engagement, opening the doorway to better communication on the business level.
Balance Communication Efforts – IT managers need to be mindful of how their communications with employees at the office matches up the their communications with remote members of their work team. Often times, remote workers miss out on important “last minute” communications that their on-premise team mates are in the loop on. For example, something that’s critical to a project is said in a meeting after a conference call has ended and is never communicated to the remote team members. Likewise, managers with remote staffers need to pay extra attention to making sure that all communications for projects are fully recorded, well documented and promptly shared with everyone, via whatever unified communication platform the company is using.
Balance Perks – IT managers must also be mindful of how their actions translate into a form of non-verbal communication for employees. For example, if a manager takes out his on-site staff to lunch to show appreciation for a job well done, the same type of perk should be extended to remote workers who contributed to the same effort, such as extending a gift card to cover lunch at a restaurant in their area. Otherwise, remote workers that hear about the on-site lunch that they missed may feel a lack of appreciation and feel disconnected from the company, which can lead to lower levels of engagement on the part of the virtual workers in the long run.
As provided above, CIOs and IT managers have a number of effective strategies available to them, which can be used to build stronger virtual work teams and effectively close the communications gap at their companies. For more information, request a free consultation with CIO Tech today.