Too often, I’ve seen telecommuting as the scapegoat for a lack of communication and creativity within remote teams. More recently, it’s a debate that has been making headlines and popping up in organizations nationwide.
For advertising and marketing professionals, where teamwork, collaboration and creativity are essential to the business, this debate carries special importance. At its heart, the key question is, do marketing teams need to be tied to the same location in order to be innovative? Here, I’ll share some of the benefits, challenges and lessons learned from telecommuting and being a leader to a dispersed team of dedicated road warriors.
Finding ways to bring your remote team together
As a road warrior, I manage a distributed workforce across the U.S. and Canada, all while overseeing a multimillion-dollar annual marketing budget at Regus. Regus is a provider of flexible workspace solutions, offering products to support mobile working, home working, hot desking – even day offices that allow people to work in an office for a single day (or just an hour). Our company openly supports the telecommuting culture and encourages people to utilize Regus’ offerings to make their day-to-day work life more flexible and convenient.
People often wonder: Are there benefits to telecommuting that face-to-face communication doesn’t offer? Absolutely. One of the biggest benefits that I’ve seen within my current team is productivity. Telecommuting allows my team members to get away from the “cubicle distractions,” and find a working environment that fits best with their style and schedule. It also gives the gift of flexibility, which I’ve found has also led to greater productivity. When team members aren’t spending one to two hours of their day commuting, they’re much more likely to spend that time working on other projects.
When leading a remote team, it’s all about the balance. While it’s important to bring the team together through regularly scheduled meetings, check-ins and “water-cooler” chats, it’s also vital to instill a sense of self-motivation and ownership. Encouraging camaraderie is just as essential as supporting an entrepreneurial spirit; you want your employees to be independently motivated while still feeling like an integral member of the team.
Overcoming challenges with the right tools
There are a few tools and methods I use on a daily basis to encourage collaboration among my team. For meetings where we’re discussing strategy or brainstorming a campaign, video works best. We use video communications, enabling our team to feel as if we’re in a conference room together, even if we’re all physically in different locations. By connecting via video conferencing, we’re able to read each other’s body language and facial expressions, which often get lost in translation via e-mail or phone.
Other useful videos tools include Skype and Google Hangout. Instant-messaging is also something that our teams rely on heavily. Rather than waiting for a scheduled team meeting or phone call, chat allows our team members to be in constant communication, which often helps to solve smaller, more manageable issues or challenges in real time.
In the same breath, if you have a chance to meet with your team in-person, make that a priority. If you can, make sure that you at least have quarterly or annual meetings on the calendar. With remote teams, it’s almost more important to invest your time into relationship and team building, which can often be quite challenging.
If you devote the time to connect with your teams face to face, support employees with flexible working environments, and constantly share recognition, you’ll find that a dispersed team can be as strong, if not stronger, than teams who work in the same office.
Encouraging your team to share perspectives
With my team working across the country and around the world, we integrate everyone’s different perspectives and worldviews into strategic planning. As a marketing professional, I’m able to gather a real sense for what tactics or messages will resonate with our local audiences because of our diverse tea. It’s also a great way to ensure my field marketing team members are working with internal clients, staying close to the business instead of getting stuck in “the ivory tower.”
It’s a lesson that I think can resonate with other team leaders, as well — utilize the experiences and perspectives of your team members to the benefit of your business.
Telecommuting should be seen as an opportunity to conduct business with co-workers who you may not have the opportunity to work with otherwise. When implemented properly, having a dispersed group of team members can be incredibly motivating and can actually lead to greater employee satisfaction.
Rebecca Tann is the vice president of marketing for Regus, a provider of flexible workplace solutions with 1,500 locations in 600 cities and 100 countries.