Having a remote team can be a lot of fun. When you make connections with them and work together, you’ll be reminded by how much has changed in the working world in just the last couple of decades. Within seconds, you can easily be talking to, and collaborating with, someone from another country.
That said, it’s very important to know the best ways to connect with your remote employees. One of the hardest obstacles involved will be trying to find a good time that works for everyone — since time zones can often create some difficulties. But if you have a strong knowledge of your employees’ work windows, you’ll find it easier to collaborate with them.
Here are more things you want to keep in mind before trying to brainstorm with your remote workers.
1. Make sure they’re all signed up to Zoom.
If not Zoom, then Skype or Google Hangouts. Different countries might have a different preference as to how they want to video chat. Video chatting is incredibly important, as remote workers will feel more valued if they have a boss talking directly to him. By video chatting, you can also get a better idea of what someone’s general personality is like. Through email alone, it can be a little tricky (hence, why friendlier employees seem to overuse the exclamation point.) After everyone is set up, choose a good time that works for everyone on a weekly basis. Make sure that this meeting is a priority. If you set it up and keep pushing it back, your team’s morale might weaken. Remember — even if they’re not physically working with you in your office, they’re still a big part of your project.
2. Use collaborative tools, and give everyone access.
Everyone needs to be on the same page when it comes to brainstorming. When signing up new remote team members, make sure they immediately have access to the tools you use. Vibe is great to sign up for since it already uses the tools and programs you have to make sharing even easier. You’ll also want to give each remote member a “tour” of what you use. For example, even if they’ve used something like Trello before, they may not be familiar with the way that you’re using it for your team.
3. Do your best to connect your workers and make them feel like a real team.
As a remote worker, it’s a little strange when someone joins the team and the only thing you know about them is their name and avatar photo. As a boss, you should be good at introducing the new staff and making them feel at home. That way, they’ll feel less intimidated when it comes to collaborating and brainstorming with seasoned employees. However, in hiring, you shouldn’t just look for employees that’ll complement each other. Getting a diverse group together is a wonderful way to make sure that your company can relate to many different audiences.
4. If your remote coworkers are on the shy side, you may want to encourage ideas to flow through text.
Sometimes, remote workers prefer working individually for a reason. Maybe they’re not very comfortable opening up in front of big groups. Try to make sure that every voice is heard. If someone communicates best with email, don’t penalize them for it. The more you show them that their opinion is valid, the more dedicated they’ll be to your organization. The Muse suggests investing extra time into relationships with quiet employees. “In your conversations, encourage your employees to articulate what they believe their strengths are, what type of work they enjoy doing, and areas in which they’d like to improve,” writes Melody J. Wilding. “Keep in mind: Empathetic, non-critical communication is key when trying to connect with shy employees.”
5. Don’t expect all of your employees to have great ideas at the time of your meeting.
Some people need to process the information they’re given before they can creatively branch out and expand on it. It’s helpful to give remote workers an outline of what you’ll be talking about prior to the meetings, but it’s also good to give them a deadline of a couple of days to really think about it. In general, remote workers thrive when they know what to expect out of their day. A steady routine is how they stay productive, so they might not perform as well if you frequently throw a bunch of new tasks their way without any prep time.
6. If your company sells a product, make sure your remote workers are familiar with it.
If it’s an online application that requires a subscription, provide it to your remote workers for free. If it’s a physical product, mail it out to them. Employees need to be familiar with what they’re trying to work with and sell. Having a personal relationship with the product or item will also be key in brainstorming.
7. At meetings, keep things brief and colorful.
Think about college. Remember those big lecture classes, where you zoned out or doodled instead of giving your full attention to your professor? Compare that to the type of class that always did science experiments, or fun group projects. Think about which presentation was more memorable to you. When you collaborate online, try not to be too wordy. Get right to the point, and make sure you present information in an eye-catching way. Work can, and should, be a little fun sometimes. Don’t be embarrassed to think outside the box.
8. Don’t shut out anyone’s ideas.
Sometimes, people just have a hard time thinking up the verbiage to explain their idea. It doesn’t mean the idea is a bad one. If an employee feels as if you’ve responded to their suggestion negatively, they’ll be less likely to supply ideas — and that’s the last thing you want. “You don’t want your employees to feel like they’re in trouble,” writes Amanda Novakovic from Insperity, regarding potentially negative work conversations. “Otherwise, they’ll have the mentality that they’re on an inevitable path to termination and lose motivation for their job.” Even if someone’s idea or suggestion seems off course, always be encouraging.
When you work with a lot of remote employees, it might be difficult to find ways to brainstorm at first. But it’s not impossible — and when you get the hang of it, you may even prefer it to in-person meetings. Just remember that communication is one of the most important parts of brainstorming. Every person you hire will have a ton of good ideas. But, they need to be confident enough in the team, and with you as a leader, to openly share them.