If you’ve ever seen the 1999 comedy film “Office Space,” you know you don’t want to be that boss — power hungry and despised by employees, and who, in the movie, inspires employees to team up against him to turn his life into a living hell.
No one wants to be that boss.
So don’t be. Instead, make yourself a part of the team. As an entrepreneur, you always want to keep your employees on your side — and you also want to keep them innovative. But that’s not always easy, especially when your employees are remote.
So how can you keep your employees invigorated and innovative — even when they’re not in the office?
Talk and listen
Communication is the most essential tool for maintaining a culture of innovation among remote employees. Luckily, these days, instant communication is easy. Whether it’s e-mail chains, conference calls or Google Chat, my company’s communication threads are kept alive so our employees feel comfortable and equipped to contribute ideas to our tutoring service.
You’ll see your employees get a second wind in their sails if you give everyone a sense of ownership in the company. That could be something as simple as asking for input when company changes are looming, or for day-to-day decisions.
For example, an active blog is a facet of my company’s website. Its content is, for the most part, decided by our employees. Instead of using a top-down approach to social media, we trust our employees to not only do the right work, but also be able to justify it. Instead of emphasizing a “chain of command,” our office has a more casual feel.
When you want to maintain the culture I just described, you have to work as a team — and there’s no easier way to maintain a team mentality than to keep team members in constant communication. All our employees have each other’s contact information immediately available: e-mail addresses, Skype usernames, cell phone numbers; you name it, our employees have access to it.
In addition, our team heavily utilizes Google’s tools. At my company, being signed into Google Chat is our equivalent of “being in the office.” It’s a reassurance that everyone is “at work” and able to speak at the click of a button. In addition, shared Google Docs provide a simple way for everyone to keep track of progress and contribute while minimizing duplicate work.
As a boss, it’s often tough to implement innovative measures when your employees work remotely. Processes and organization are essential. Personally, I take note of approved ideas and include them in a list. Then, with the help of Google Docs, my employees track their progress on those projects — and I can keep an eye on them without micromanaging.
Online and offline
While everything I’ve described thus far may sound great, you must remember that, like any other innovation, there are details to attend to.
What I’ve found to be the biggest challenge in maintaining a culture of innovation is that it’s impossible to frequently meet face-to-face with every single one of my employees. There’s no denying that direct interaction (as opposed to e-mail) will always be the strongest way to encourage your employees and brainstorm. But the obvious truth is that frequent in-person meetings are not possible when your employees work remotely.
To alleviate this problem, I complement written communication (e-mails and chats) with phone calls and video chats to strengthen that sense of connection. We don’t take e-mails too seriously, as they lack the social cues of body language and tone.
Don’t just invigorate — innovate!
Though the road isn’t always easy, it’s definitely possible to reinvigorate your remote workers. By keeping them in the loop, your employees will feel more like a team. Opening lines of communication is the easiest way to keep your employees innovative, whether they work remotely or in the office.
Take some time to transform your workplace into this type of open and communicative environment. You’ll find yourself laughing at “Office Space,” rather than living it out yourself.