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Remote employees: expert level

Matt Sikora |

Your team was just delivered shiny new equipment with plenty of power and monitor real-estate. Your admins have set up cloud accounts so you can share your work. The bosses have established an expected schedule. You’re officially ready to employ a productive, remote team!

Well, no, actually. You’re not even close.

While more and more tech and software companies are allowing their workers the ability to “WFH” (and really, why not?), it takes something beyond just a reliable network and dual monitors to make the long-distance setup successful. There is certainly no magic formula, but here at ExakTime we’ve figured out one successful recipe.

Key ingredients

The first ingredient to the potion is, of course, the equipment. Power, compatibility, screen space, a full set of tools, reliability, portability for travel: these are all essential to software design and engineering. Everyone has their own unique method for getting the job done, and so your equipment has to be both functional and versatile. For example, I like to utilize one monitor exclusively for collaboration tools—but with my laptop monitor and an additional stand-alone monitor, I never feel wanting for screen space.

The second element is the “common room”. ExakTime equips every room in the Granger, IN office (where the majority of our Software Development Team works) with large TV screens, and open up a video channel every morning with the team space in full view. This allows others on the team to join the same channel, thus creating a virtual interactive space. Everyone can see or hear everyone else whenever they need to.

The use of always-on video, while not possible for every company, is exceptionally useful in staying connected to your team. It’s one thing to be able to call your coworkers when needed, but being able to see them—even if they’re doing nothing more than staring into space, cooking up a mind-blowing solution to the problem of the day—subtly enforces that sense of “team” that’s critical whether you work remotely or not.

Face-to-face still beats virtual

My personal favorite aspect, however, one that provides a good dose of collaborative grease for the wheels, is when we bring our teams together for on-site visits. Collaboration tools and Internet speeds are finally at a point where dozens of team members can stay virtually connected at all times, but nothing will ever replace genuine human interaction. At least twice a year, each of the remote employees on the Dev Team travels to Granger for “real” face time with the other team members. The amount of cross-team knowledge sharing shoots through the roof during these visits, but it is the connections that are made and strengthened that are most valuable. Do your own research on the benefits of social interaction if you’d like—you may be surprised at how many (emotional, physical, and mental) there really are.

This is all good for working relationships among team members, but there’s also individual employee recognition (a.k.a. proverbial pats on the back), which as you can imagine could get overlooked with employees who aren’t walking around in the same office as the boss. Not so at ExakTime, where individuals really count.

Actions speak louder than words

Our VP of Development makes a tremendous effort to establish and then maintain a personal connection with every single member on his team. Periodic one-on-one calls are scheduled to talk about anything and everything, and it’s not just talk—he truly listens and takes suggestions to heart. And to top it off, there are care packages: handwritten thank-yous, T-shirts, treats, and gift cards are sent from time to time, just to show us how much we’re appreciated. It makes a big difference when you’re shown that your work is appreciated, not just told.

So many organizations claim that they support a remote workforce, but so few do it well. Working from home has long carried with it an undeserved stigma. Here at ExakTime, we have built a genuinely great place to work, both physical and virtual. When you work from home but it doesn’t feel that way, then you know you’re doing it right.

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Matt Sikora, a father of two and a half teenage daughters, spends his days working as a Software Developer for ExakTime out of his home in Round Rock, TX in order to feed his family, and his nights and weekends reading fantasy, listening to Star Trek podcasts, and working on DIY projects to protect his sanity.

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