The pandemic upended the way many companies defined “the office.” The office no longer consists of hundreds of cubes or desks on the fourth floor of some high rise. Now, thanks to the rise of remote work, the office can be a person’s spare room in their home. It can be in an apartment in Sri Lanka, a flat in London, or a house in a suburb of Nashville. It can be just about anything, anywhere.
This is the new, pervasive world of remote working—and when done right it can be awesome for employees and their companies. A virtual work environment allows companies to leverage great minds and creative talents wherever they are, with no concerns about physical locations. And employees benefit from being able to tap into new ideas from a wide array of people from different backgrounds and cultures.
But while all that sounds great, establishing a remote work environment can be extraordinarily challenging for some companies, particularly those used to traditional workforce models where, as the old school boss might say, “if you ain’t in the office, you ain’t workin.’” They may struggle to keep employees engaged, especially when they may never meet each other in person.
For them, I wanted to share a list of strategies that have worked well for my company Modus Create, a remote organization from day one. Since our founding in 2011, we’ve employed developers from all over the world, bringing great minds together under a single virtual roof and giving them free rein to let their talents shine. We adhere to an “open source mindset”—not just in the way we develop software, but in the ways in which we encourage collaboration, free thinking, and information sharing.
Here’s what has worked for us, and will likely work for you and your teams, too.
Empower Through Knowledge Sharing and Collaboration
The term “knowledge is power” is a cliché because it’s true. A knowledgeable employee is an empowered and engaged employee, someone who is primed to do smart things for themselves, the company, and its customers. Empowerment is especially important for remote workers, as it helps fuel the sense of purpose and autonomy they need to remain driven and productive.
Information sharing should come from a wide array of sources such as standard training sessions, employee-authored “how-to” articles, YouTube videos, company best practices, and through other means. This knowledge shouldn’t just come from on high, but also organically from other employees—colleagues who willingly and proactively share their own learnings with each other for the betterment of the entire team and company, creating a more connected workforce.
Encourage Collaboration by Committing to Transparency
Indeed, just because employees might be physically apart from each other doesn’t mean they need to be disconnected from the work that is being done across the company. The key is to be as transparent as possible and create opportunities for employees to see and understand what their colleagues are working on and weigh in with their own ideas if they choose to do so.
For example, if your organization practices Agile development, why not make your project management boards visible not just to individual teams, but to everyone, wherever they are? Not only will this give all employees the chance to see what is happening in their organization at any point in time, it can also encourage them to contribute and add value to tasks they are passionate about.
It doesn’t just have to be through boards; there are thousands of ways you can foster collaboration and ideation. For example, I once invited one of the producers of our YouTube videos to learn about software programming. Why? Because giving her the chance to learn something new helped her rethink some of the technical videos she was working on. It gave me the opportunity to hear someone else’s perspective. And it created a valuable connection point between each of us, despite the fact we were in different cities.
Create a Culture of Trust Through Shared Responsibility
When everyone’s separate, it’s even more important for them to all be together, if not physically, then intellectually and emotionally. If not, people will feel alone and cut off from the rest of the workforce, and productivity and employee satisfaction will suffer.
Fostering an environment of collaboration is key to avoiding this pitfall, but it leads to something even more meaningful than building a better software solution. It helps to create a culture where everyone trusts one another and accepts that they share in the success—or failure—of the company. Here, everyone does their part and strives to do it well, knowing their performance will impact their peers’ abilities to deliver results.
Trust is enormously important in a remote organization. An employee in Europe working on a project with someone in North America needs to trust their colleague is doing their part to see the project through. They can’t see them. They can’t always talk to them. So, they need to trust them.
Drive Everyone to Continuously Learn and Improve
That’s not to say that failure is necessarily a bad thing. As the old saying goes, every failure is a learning opportunity; a chance to make something better. Like Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Don’t make your employees feel afraid to fail. You’ve got this great, wide, diverse employee base from all walks of life, in different areas of the planet. Encourage them to exercise their creativity and skillsets. Tell them to be bold and disruptive. After all, many industries are being impacted by significant change, and fresh thinking is needed to propel the company forward for the next five or 10 years. Use the ingenuity of every individual within your virtual organization and bring it together to collectively push those employees—and your company—forward.
Jay Garcia is co-founder and managing partner at Modus Create.