How Can Remote Employees Stay Collaborative With the Office-Based Team?

Staying relevant and collaborative in a distributed environment requires a good effort from both the remote employees and the company.

As a remote worker, trying to “hang out with the cool kids” may not be possible if the majority of the brainstorming happens around the water cooler without being documented in a project management system or a collaboration tool. This requires a certain effort (sometimes considered as an overhead) where the company is transparent enough for remote employees.

Some companies are fairly closed or keep a percentage of the intellectual property closed to their in-house employees. That prevents distributed folks from participating actively and providing insightful suggestions that may benefit the business. Others—such as Buffer or Basecamp—are completely transparent and welcome the remote team spirit, nurturing remote talent and praising success regardless of the location.

From a company’s perspective, employees’ commitment is often hard to gauge. While remote working is a trend nowadays, the initial perception that top talent is now able to join multinational organizations and contribute with the same success as being in the office is often distorted. In reality, a good percentage of applicants for smaller brands and startups are merely looking for a full-time gig that doesn’t get in the way of their lifestyle.

That facilitates job-hopping whenever candidates are not truly passionate (or even care) about the company culture. Of course, that’s not always the case, but it’s a growing concern for some organizations that have tried remote working and reverted back to the traditional office environment.

Moreover, plenty of employees are not prepared to work in a distributed environment. That includes both remote workers, and managers who are supposed to manage remote staff and collaborate across time zones and cultures. Communication protocols, reporting, and evaluations have to be structured differently than the traditional process in an old-school organization.

One of my previous employments had 60% of the staff in-house. However, the senior management had former experience in leading remote teams. Detailed documentation was mandatory and office discussions were always digitalized so that everyone was fully aware of the long-term goals and short-term milestones. Our CEO has even installed a couple cameras at the office so that we can join a hangout and interact with the local team for a while and talk during business hours.

At DevriX, we organize weekly kick-off meetings with the entire team for 30–45 minutes and a separate set of meetings for each team—discussing the weekly sprints or anything else that remote folks want to discuss with the rest of the team. Our kick-off meeting includes a set of questions or invitations such as:

  1. “What was the most inspirational article that you’ve read last week?”
  2. “Share a photo of your working place at the moment (home office, coffee shop, co-working space”
  3. Random question of the week such as: “If you had to pick one super power, which one would it be?”

According to our polls, those informal conversations are highly enjoyable and our remote folks participate actively with creative ideas.

Even though we’re remote, we do actively welcome the “open door policy” in all shapes and forms of proactiveness related to our client or in-house projects. We do reward proactive communication, generating ideas, suggesting improvements in our internal processes, crafting blog posts or tutorials for our website (or partners), or even proposing tools and products that we can work on “on the side”.

We have monthly virtual meetings for some of our long-term projects where people can suggest improvements or new features for our customers, marketing strategies that they haven’t utilized yet, or other business, technical, or creative improvements that we can propose in the long run.

There are folks who don’t bother and stick to their day-to-day activities without participating in voluntary activities.

I’ve also had dozens of conversations with entrepreneurial people working for startups who aren’t open to any “extracurricular” activities or propositions from their remote employees and force them to stick to their assigned activities.