15 Key Success Factors for a Remote Workforce

The akaCRM team has worked remotely for more than a decade. Over that period of time, we have learned some things about creating culture, tools for remote workplaces and collaboration that we thought we would share.

  1. Create Your Space. I've worked from home for more than 15 years, through a number of companies and from several different places where I've lived. My productivity and satisfaction first and foremost had to do with the space I had allocated to my home office. A quiet space with light yielded a lot of success. Dark spaces or open spaces without ability to close a door made it challenging. While you may have limited control over your home office environment, give some thought on where your home office might be and remove the clutter so it feels good. Also - get a comfortable desk chair. Don't skimp in his area. Finally, if you live with others, establish boundaries about when they can engage with you and when they should let you be.
  2. Dress for Success. When you work at home, its very easy to roll-out of bed and work in your PJs. I've learned that while this is easy, I highly recommend you treat your home office like you are going into a public office. Take a shower and dress for success. It will make you more confident and also make it much more likely you will engage in video conferencing.
  3. Internet. Make sure the Internet Service Provider (ISP) plan you are on provides enough bandwidth and is reliable; most ISPs provide a variety of service levels measured in MBPs (for upload and download). Your Internet is your lifeline to your organization. When it is out, you may find yourself dead-in-the-water. With that in mind, I highly recommend a dedicated phone line (or cell phone if you have good coverage) as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls aren't always up to par.
  4. Get Some Gear. I use an AT&T wireless headset/microphone which is connected to my desk phone. I love to pace and walk around while I talk on the phone. It not only helps me think, but gets the blood pumping and helps me get my steps in for the day. I also have wireless earbuds for my cell phone if I'm using that for calls. No one likes to be tethered to the desk. Also - if you are using a laptop as your primary computer, consider getting a large external monitor. This will give you more workspace and less eye and neck strain.
  5. Video Conferencing. Use it as often as possible for internal team calls and with clients. There are tons of choices (e.g., Google Hangouts, GotoMeeting, Skype, WebEx, Zoom). For times when you aren't prepared to show your video, make sure your apps have actual photos, not stock avatars or placeholder images. Fill in your profile completely to give you the best online persona.
  6. Chat/Messaging. Stay logged in during business hours and connected. This makes it very easy to touch base with colleagues and partners. Google Hangouts, Skype, Slack and other instant messenger tools allow your team to have a back-channel even when you or they are on the phone. I encourage people to say logged in and if they are way or after hours, it is ok to not answer. When you see your team "lit up" you feel the sense of community.
  7. Take Intentional Breaks. It's easy to walk across the house to the kitchen to grab a snack or lunch. If you were working in an office you might take 30 minutes to an hour dining out or eating with colleagues in the cafeteria. You might also visit with colleagues in the breakroom or in their offices. Treat yourself to a similar amount of time each day to each lunch, grab a snack, read a book, go for a walk, watch TV to give yourself a break. Try not to eat at your desk every day. 
  8. Establish clear lines. The co-leader of the Colorado Springs Users' Group, Roy Moore of Compassion International, suggests establishing clear lines between "work" and "home" with your time AND with your space.
  9. Chatter Groups. We have created Salesforce Chatter groups to discuss a variety of subjects and have assigned various staff members as the owners or moderators of these groups. This is a good way to collaborate and a central place for materials and discuss various topics. Take initiative and moderate or contribute. This will make you part of the team. Make sure your profile is complete and has a good headshot (pictures of your pets or babies are cute - but don't connect you personally with your colleagues).
  10. Trust. Measure results not hours. When your staff work remotely, having them punch in and punch out doesn't necessarily translate to productivity. We let our team work flexible hours, but they are expected to be responsible for meeting key objectives, taking care of clients and generating results which are measured. 
  11. Schedule a retreat 1-2x per year if possible. We would love to do this more, but when we have met in person, it has always been well received. Your remote workforce will be better connected if they have met in person before.
  12. Software Tools - be platform agnostic as you choose tools (support both Mac and PC solutions) and favor solutions that run in the cloud and only require a browser and Internet connect and that don't require installed software on local machines. This will reduce or eliminate "desktop support".
  13. Hiring Practices. Add a discussion of prior experiences working remotely when you interview candidates you are looking to hire. Ask if they have ever worked remotely, what they think about it and if they have a quiet environment and stable Internet connection. Not all people thrive in a remote workplace. 
  14. Create Culture. Hold regular team meetings and contests for your remote workforce. Roy Moore of Compassion International also suggests "Cubicle Time" - 30 minutes set aside each week as a web conference with no set-agenda. People can "drop in" and say "hello" ask questions or socialize. This can replace the walk-by or water cooler time often found in an office-based environment.
  15. Pick-up-the-Phone. When you are dealing with a challenging situation, have to deliver bad news, or have a complex topic, pick up the phone and make a call (video conference ok here too). Too many times I observe people wanting to reduce every conversation to email or text messages. A lot can get lost in translation in written media. First email/text  is a monologue, not a dialogue. Second - the emotion, inflection and even humor is lost in email/text. My rule - good news and routine updates can be delivered by email/text, but bad news, business challenges and complex conversations should be held with audio.

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