Companies with remote employees need to prioritize and facilitate effective business communication from a distance in order to build company culture, ensure quality in their service or product, and maintain a consistent brand.
It is not uncommon today for an organization (for example, an e-commerce company) in L.A. to hire a company in Colorado, which then outsources part of the work to an individual in New York. And perhaps, this individual spends six months out of the year living in Europe. Mobile technology and global networking infrastructure have changed the way many people work and the changing workforce affects the entire market.
Here at BlogMutt, we have a small team of full-time employees in our office, but we work with freelance writers all over the U.S., a few of which are U.S. citizens even writing overseas.
Allowing for remote employment provides businesses with the opportunity to find affordable and quality workers no matter their location, but it brings with it some specific communication management concerns and requires a different communication toolbox than the traditional in-office business.
How do remote employees become active participants?
Working from a distance sets limits that every remote employee has to work around. Without physical presence, you cannot simply walk across the hall or speak through a divider to communicate with other team members — you need to make certain to actually pick up the phone or press send on that email. Remote employees need to be proactive about opening lines of communication with management, with coworkers, and, in some cases, with customers.
Clear, direct language becomes especially valuable in a business enviroment when employees are making decisions or providing important information using text-based communication. It can be hard to convey a specific tone through text and you may not always be aware of frustration, enthusiasm, or annoyance from other employees. Being able to write clearly and concisely is a skill that every remote worker needs to develop continuously.
Since most of your communication with coworkers will be focused on business matters, it is a good idea for many remote workers to find a coworking space or public place to work. This can help replace the face-to-face, “water cooler” socializing that you may be missing by being physically out of an office.
Above all, remote communication is about taking initiative. Building a personalized system to manage your projects and remind yourself to reach out, though, requires some additional technology, which we’ll discuss later in this post. With the right tools and planning, you can continue to build relationships and work effectively with your company, even from your respective, separate locations.
How can employers or managers create an “office” culture with remote employees?
An office culture is often considered the most difficult aspect of a business to foster across long distances. While the technology for communication is improving, the foundation for a great office culture is the same whether you are managing 14 people in an office in Boulder or 10,000 plus writers on a forum: the people.
With a small office-based workforce, this is much easier to gauge and regulate. You hire people who will contribute to a positive environment, and you encourage that environment by supporting workplace events, providing a space for employees to socialize, while also incentivizing hard workers and promoting creative solutions.
As is expected, building an “office” culture with a remote workforce is more complicated. Hiring the right people requires face-to-face interviews using a video-communication service like Skype, and even then, you will not be able to easily check in with them every day. However, the principles are the same: incentivize hard work, reward creativity, and promote social time when employees can get to know each other. Social time lets employees discover their coworkers’ extra-curricular skills and experiences. You might be surprised at how often those independent skills become valuable assets in long-term employees.
While other businesses face their own unique challenges in creating and fostering a company culture, the large number of writers in BlogMutt’s system makes our case an interesting one. Writers are rewarded for their hard work though a system of points, which allows them access to higher-paying work based on their level of experience. Our ‘social time’ comes in the manner of a writer’s forum, where new and more experienced writers can ask questions, give (and receive) advice, and celebrate acheivements. We pride ourselves on the fact that the culture in the forum is regularly given as a reason writers love to work with us. The fundamentals of a good culture are engaged communication from management, focused customer and employee service, and a culture rooted in the goals of the business.
How do remote freelancers fit into this picture?
Of course, the wonderful writers who work with us here at BlogMutt aren’t actually our employees (we only wish we could hire all of you). Instead, they are freelancers who contract with us and use our platform to find work.
Remote freelancers afford businesses the potential to build a network of talented workers from a practically limitless talent pool. In turn, the ability to act as a freelancer grants workers the independence to schedule their own time and take on projects as needed or desired. In some ways, freelancers deal with the communication worries of both the business and the employee because, as their own personal business, they’re acting as their own employee. They need to manage their own time effectively and efficiently, but also need to take care to manage their business and communicate with clients proactively.
6 Helpful Tools To Foster Effective Business Communication Among Remote Teams
While the simplest technologies for remote communication are still based around phone and email services, modern software systems facilitate so much more. As software and apps integrate with each other on multiple platforms, remote management is even easier as employees and management can interact from desktops, laptops, tablets, phones, and even watches. From the opportunity to talk face-to-face to real-time, simultaneous editing sessions, great software gives remote employees and employers the ability to manage the working relationship with finesse.
Many of the tools listed below come in multiple formats for different operating systems, mobile, and cloud-based platforms. Whether you are an employee, employer, or freelancer, the six following tools can help you facilitate collaboration and reduce the stress of remote communication:
1. CRMs: HubSpot, Salesforce, etc.
HubSpot, Salesforce, or another CRM (for the uninitiated, that’s a customer relationship management system) is essential for managing business communication, both internally and with customers. CRMs allow businesses to track customer analytics and automate routine processes, including some kinds of lead conversion. They also allow companies to compile data about customer activity across multiple channels and give managers the ability to track their employees’ productivity from anywhere on the globe.
Cloud-based, or software as a service (SaaS) CRMs are particularly great for companies with many remote employees, since these employees can sign in to work within the system from anywhere, at any time, with an internet connection. Need to know more? Here’s a BlogMutt writer’s post about choice CRMs for small businesses.
2. CMS: WordPress, Drupal, Custom
A good CMS (content management system) gives you the ability to manage communication on the internet. With forum functions, a CMS gives your business the ability to create larger group locations where communication is facilitated through interactions both large and small.
3. Project Management: Trello, Basecamp
Trello and Basecamp provide systems for managing workflows via any internet-connected device. They are designed for multiple users to organize activities, plan projects, and communicate about the execution of their goals through one integrated system. In some sense, they have the same functionality as a whiteboard in a traditional office.
For remote employees, who can’t see the office whiteboard, project managment tools are invaluable because they allow everyone to stay up-to-date on their own tasks, and the task lists for others. Employees can assign tasks as needed to IT, sales, customer support, or even to a specific person. Think of these like giant, multi-functional to-do lists.
4. Quick, Casual Communication: Slack
Slack is one of the fastest growing communication tools for businesses. It is designed as a messaging system focused on team management. The system works well for remote teams, but it is also useful for discussing issues with a team member down the hall. Although Slack is great for instant one-line messages, it needs to be supplemented with face-to-face interaction for more nuanced business communications.
5. Document Sharing: Dropbox
Dropbox is one of the best cloud-storage SaaSs on the market. While there are many apps that give a business the ability to save large files such as documents, photos, and videos to the cloud, Dropbox functions fully on every major mobile and PC platform, provides automatic backups of files so that you can correct mistakes, and integrates with Microsoft Office for collaborative editing. This is a must when remote colleagues need to provide feedback, share comments, or send documents too large for email agents regularly.
6. Everything Else: Google+, Drive, and Docs
Google+ and Hangouts are some of the more predominant face-to-face communication tools used by businesses, and many businesses also use Gmail as their primary email service, making Google’s other apps ideal for document management, instant messaging, video messaging, and even online storage and backup.
Integrating these tools is astoundingly simple, and they’re hard to beat in terms of intuitive design.
The Age Of The Remote Workerforce Is Here To Stay
As more employees enjoy the freedom and creativity remote working provides, and more businesses enjoy the larger workforce to pull from, the number of remote jobs is set to continue increasing. Luckily, there is a concurrent increase in the diverse array of tools and apps available to help enable effective business communication with a remote workforce.
Document management, communication, and storage are all now available in forms that are independent of location thanks to the cloud. If you want to use our remote workforce to power your blog, BlogMutt is always available to help manage the communication for you—effectively and efficiently. You’ve got plenty other things to do.