Remote Workers Working Remotely in Remote Offices – Part I

Siberia. So Cold. Brrrrr… At least, that’s what I’ve heard.

When I was growing up, I would always hear the threat that if someone in Russia (technically then the U.S.S.R.) did something wrong they would be shipped off to Siberia.

I never quite understood why. When I asked my father, he would say because it was so cold and remote. And like the kid that I was (admit it, that we all were), I didn’t really think about what that meant–until I had to do a little research on it and found out what “cold” and “remote” really were and where Siberia really was.

When someone was sent to Siberia, it was to do two things: Punish them and remove them. The former Soviet Union didn’t dilly dally here, if you were considered a dissident, you were unceremoniously shipped off to the frozen wasteland via a train on a trip which could take up to nine days to get to the destination. Nine days. That certainly was remote. And during winters, the temperature would hover around -35F. Ouch.

So, when one looks at working remotely for a company, is the company punishing the individual? or do they really want them to perform?

As businesses grow, typically they want to expand into territories and grow their footprint. Placing local bodies there is really important, because local resources know local buyers. Kind of like the dictum, “Promote from within the company”* my corollary would be “Hire from within the territory”. As businesses expand they should place people in the territory that are from the territory. It simply gives a leg up to that worker and to that business.

But since every business has a culture, and has people which create that culture, it is really important not to unintentionally ostracize those individuals who can’t participate in the HQ culture. Especially those who work solo and/or remotely. If you want to ensure they are in sync with your company goals and doings, you need to make sure the employee is somehow fed enough culture to feel a little more warm and snuggly.

One of the best ways is to have your remote employee(s) come to the corporate headquarters once or twice a year. Also highly recommended is to have people other than the immediate supervisor come visit them at least once a year. While this may seem expensive, if it increases sales and productivity, then the cost will be offset. In the same vein, if you choose to save the cash, make sure to calculate the cost of onboarding and ramping a new employee.

In my last job working for a Value Added Reseller, initially the company had an all-hands summer meeting and an all-hands winter meeting. While I was working remotely, my management would come down once a year to our satellite office and work from there a couple of days, and I always had a parade of engineers coming through for various projects, even though most of my projects were handled by my local engineer.

Then, the vibe changed and there was no longer a summer meeting. While I wasn’t a fan of spending time going over a pages of company data, the afterhours portion of the meeting connected me to the other sales people in the company, as well as the inside sales people I spent so many hours on the phone with correcting processes, and allowed me to interact with the back office staff whom I spoke to on the phone but rarely face-to-face. It allowed me to see people interact with others, hear snippets of gossip, and feel like I was a contributing cog of the machine. And then, with no corporate meeting, I wasn’t. As new people were brought in for the various back office and inside roles, I had to create new relationships based upon nothing but what I needed.  It took at least twice as long to get into a groove and develop rapport, and even then I found myself going back to those I had worked with originally since I trusted them. And trust with my new people could have similarly achieved with a couple of beers onsite.

Why does this matter? Because people don’t just work for a paycheck. Productivity goes up when people feel they are part of a team or cause. And when people work remotely, they are in their own special bubble. In someways they are insulated from office politics and the day-to-day shuffle which can distract from their job, but they also are blind to corporate decisions, discussions and determinations. They have no say and aren’t asked for one–because no one knows them.

And, like Cheers, in the end what they really want is a place where everybody knows their name.

*We will be covering the topic of Promote from Within in a different post.

Any better ideas for remote workers? I’m always interested in learning.

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