As more companies embrace the idea that remote work could become semi-permanent, one thing is clear: The way we work is officially changing. In 2019, even before stay-at-home orders forced offices to close, a report by Upwork projected that 78 percent of companies would have distributed teams by 2028.
Succeeding as a team working remotely comes down to open, constant communication and building trust. Back in March, 4,300 members of ADT’s Contact Center teams learned how to work from home almost overnight when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. “Because it had to happen so fast, we just had to learn on the fly and overcome our challenges quickly,” Knoxville, Tennessee-based unit manager Nayeshah Glover recalls.
Contact Center coaches Todd Boren and Bo Russell and their manager, Glover, have each spent more than a decade at ADT, the legacy tech company that—besides being synonymous with home security—is a high-growth brand in the automation and smart home solutions space. Here’s what they’ve done to ensure their 90-person Knoxville department (made up of seven team managers with 10 to 15 agents on each team) stays as productive, engaged, and collaborative at home as they were in the office.
1. Walk the Virtual Floor
In an office, “you’re just naturally more social, walking by coworkers, saying good morning, and asking about their kids,” Glover says. Taking those interactions over to a chat room or DM, she adds, can feel awkward at first, but it goes a long way in helping teammates feel less alone.
In addition to regular weekly video meetings with the whole team, Glover keeps the one-on-one interactions going every day via instant messaging. “I’ve made it a habit to go down my chat line and individually reach out to anyone I haven’t checked in on in a while.” Russell seconds that sentiment: “It’s important for us to reach out to each employee every day and ask how they’re doing, especially as a manager.”
Whatever communication tool you use, whether it’s Slack or an internal messaging platform, keep chat channels active. Drop in shout-outs to team members, celebrate birthdays, and share uplifting news.
2. Create a Safe Space
Glover and her team make it a point to ensure that everyone feels a sense of safety, inclusion, and well-being—especially while working in the midst of a pandemic. “The very first thing I tell a new hire is, ‘These are your brothers and sisters—we’re a family,’” says Glover. “We’ve got your back; this is a safe zone. If you ever need to scream, cry, vent, do whatever you’ve gotta do—we got you. We’ll get through it together.”
A worker’s mental and physical health should always come first, and a manager’s job is to make that clear. “Letting your reports know how much you care is huge when we’re in a virtual world,” says Russell. He and Boren regularly encourage their direct reports to take breaks and step away from their computers during the workday, help them identify their work from home challenges, and provide ideas for healthy routines and ways to cope.
- Discover and acknowledge the unique ways people on your team learn and work. For instance, it might be helpful to know things like if someone is a morning person, if they consider themselves introverts or extroverts, and what parts of the job they love best. Make it a fun activity during a regular team meeting to help team members get to know each other’s preferences and styles.
- Respect employees’ work-life balance. If you’re shooting over a late-night email, consider adding “no need to reply right now!” to the subject line.
3. Nip Issues in the Bud
Keeping productivity up when you’re not together is a challenge. If you’re a manager, pay close attention to the outcomes and results of the work the team’s doing. And when problems surface, you have to look into them. “I can’t just look over my computer and see what’s happening,” Boren says. “I rely on the data that’s coming in and frequent conversations with my direct reports to make sure we’re hitting our goals.”
When it comes to making progress as a team, the main thing, according to Glover, is having “constant, open communication and feedback, as many eyes as possible on the data, and a high level of accountability with everyone. Lead by example,” she says. “I can’t ask you to handle a task, and meanwhile, I’m unreachable for five hours.”
“Inspect what you expect,” says Russell. “Don’t set up goals with a direct report and just revisit [them at] your next formal one-on-one. Regularly remind them that you’re here to help them succeed in any way you can.” For Russell, that’s listening in on customer calls and letting his agents know he’s always there for extra support if needed.
4. Meet Every New Hire
There’s a simple solution for welcoming a new hire—whether it’s a Zoom meeting or a one-on-one Slack—in a non-awkward way: Don’t talk about anything work-related during your first interaction, advises Russell. “Build that foundation and get to know the person—what their life is like outside of work, what they like to do,” he says. “We can’t effectively lead someone or collaborate alongside them if we haven’t gotten to know who they are.”
When a new hire starts, managers should set up a quick, casual video call with each member of the team as a way of introduction and welcoming them on board. Ahead of time, provide your new staffer with a document that lays out the organizational structure of the team, department, or company. (Bonus points for including photos and fun facts/bios of the team for natural conversation starters!)
5. Keep It Fun
“The balance of lightheartedness with the underlying understanding that we have a job to do and customers to help protect is what makes this remote team successful,” says Boren. “Keeping it fun wherever we can helps everyone stay engaged and interested, which ultimately creates a better customer experience.”
It might seem hard to replace IRL happy hours, but in the virtual world, it’s the little things that keep the culture alive—like rolling into Zoom meetings with a clever new background. “I just added a Top Gun one,” says Boren. “It creates buzz and excitement and gets people involved—someone just requested Harry Potter.”
Set up a regular virtual happy hour or trivia night, host an hour of online games, or invite a goat to your team’s weekly meeting—anything that nurtures camaraderie among the team.