While remote work is becoming increasingly common, managing remote teams effectively is often a big challenge for companies. If you struggle to get honest, valuable feedback from your remote employees, you are not alone.
My company, Acceleration Partners (AP), has managed to create an award-winning culture with a 100 percent remote workforce. Although we've grown by leaps and bounds, both domestically and globally, we’re committed to our clients receiving the same level of quality service and interaction no matter where they are — be it Southern California or Singapore.
One way we do this is by organizing most of the company into what we call “hubs” — cities where employees working from home reside relatively near one another. This makes it possible for them to have “work together days,” social events, and in-person trainings, all of which support a consistent culture and work product.
But it’s not enough for employees in these hubs to just see each other; they need to see leadership, too, so I make it a point to travel to each hub at least twice a year. I’ve found this allows me to have meaningful interactions with pretty much everyone in the company and maintain important personal connections. If not for these hub visits, many valuable feedback points might never have made their way to the leadership level.
Here are some pointers to help you make the most of live meetings with remote teams.
1. Display vulnerability to set the tone for an honest conversation.
When employees see you as a person instead of a scary boss, it opens up lines of communication. As the general manager at AP, everybody in the company reports to me in a way. Especially for junior employees, meeting with me face-to-face can be a little intimidating.
To avoid this dynamic, set a tone that promotes honest conversation. Instead of launching into a litany of best practices, be transparent that you don't necessarily have all the answers. I’ll sometimes start these visits by confessing to something I messed up or something I could be doing better.
In other words, don’t walk in with the attitude, "Hey, I know everything, and you all need to tell me what's up." Give team members a voice. Make them feel valued by asking questions and encouraging them to share their concerns and frustrations collectively.
[Related: Customizable Employee Engagement Kit]
2. Meet with a group to elicit more candid feedback.
It sounds a bit like dating advice, but having one-on-one meetings with a boss they don’t know well can be uncomfortable for some people. And if they feel too much pressure, you won't get any value out of it.
We organize something more informal — like a meal or happy hour — with six or seven employees. Once people hear their peers being honest and opening up about real topics, they’re more likely to jump in with their own thoughts.
When a group of remote workers gets together, everyone in the room can bounce and build ideas off one another. That makes it easier for them to not only develop relationships with co-workers, but also to make connections with potential mentors, which can be difficult to do over video conference calls.
3. Make it a fun experience.
Keep it positive. Leading up to my visits, our company calls help get people excited.
On weekly Zoom calls with different hubs, we can all see everyone’s faces and get to know each other a little better. That way, the build-up to the visit makes people feel more like, "Oh, man. I can't wait to see you guys!" It's celebratory; it's going to be fun.
4. Prioritize transparency.
When our company decided to establish hub visits, the idea didn’t develop in a vacuum. It was actually a result of a Q&A session at one of our annual AP Summits.
Our founder, Bob Glazer, and I positioned ourselves on the firing line by asking people to place anonymous questions in a basket. What surprised us was that most people choose to just stand up and ask their questions — and some were really tough! That said, we got a lot of value out of hearing them, so I wanted my visits to replicate that experience.
The only way to help a company grow and improve is through transparent and authentic feedback from team members. My visits to our hubs are not about getting together for the sake of saying we put in some face time. They are about giving AP team members and me the opportunity to get to know one another in a more relaxed and (hopefully) less intimidating environment.
If you’re as transparent as possible, your employees will feel like they’re actually an integral part of the organization (Source: Acceleration Partners blog, "How to Disclose Company Financials...Like a Boss," 2017). Your successes naturally become their successes, which improves employee engagement, satisfaction, and morale — not to mention performance and productivity. Once remote workers become invested in your company, they will want to work toward your organizational goals.
Company culture isn't just for the main office. When you bring remote staff members into the fold by meeting with them in person on a regular basis, it's easier to keep a finger on the pulse of the company as a whole. Your remote team members deserve more intimate, thoughtful interactions so that they can gain a clearer picture of where the company is headed and how they fit into that framework.
In my experience, this makes people working in various locations feel more comfortable collaborating with each other and more inspired to work toward the vision we’ve shared with them. It can also help create consistency in candid conversations as well as how team members approach client services.
By strengthening and infusing your culture across all locales and taking the time to have meaningful face-to-face interactions with team members, you will improve each and every interaction remote workers have with your customers, with your company, and with each other.
Matt Wool is the general manager of Acceleration Partners, a global performance marketing agency. Acceleration Partners has received numerous company culture awards, including No. 4 on Glassdoor’s Employees’ Choice Awards, AdAge’s Best Place to Work, Entrepreneur’s Top Company Culture, Inc. Magazine’s Best Place to Work, Great Place to Work & Fortune Best Small & Medium Workplaces, Boston Globe Top Workplaces.