These days, remote work has gone mainstream, and everyone is singing its praises. For companies, it’s a great way to save money on office expenses while creating trust and satisfaction among employees. For workers, it allows for a more flexible schedule, the comfort of working from familiar surroundings, and perhaps an extra hour of sleep every night. There are even environmental benefits, as fewer people commuting means fewer cars on the road.
EVG has long been at the forefront of remote work, and EVG clients are often aware that the people creating content for them are scattered across the globe. They usually see it as a net positive, though: international expertise coupled with a flexible workforce. Still, it’s important to help remote workers feel like crucial members of the team. In order to nurture a sense of kinship without an office, EVG project managers have to think outside of the box.
We talked to two of them – Laurel Fenner and Elisa Camurati – to learn the strategies they use to build winning teams, keep them happy, and keep them together.
Replicate an Office Environment
A recent Stanford study showed that remote workers are even more productive than office workers, but the absence of a physical space comes with a more intangible loss: the loss of office culture, and the resulting dip in morale that can come with it. Not everyone enjoys working in an office, but those who work from home can sometimes feel more isolated, with fewer colleagues to collaborate with.
“I was working in an office for 15 years,” explains Elisa Camurati, who manages Google accounts for EVG, “so I was coming from a place where I could chat and share stuff and go out to eat, and I missed that. One way not to was to try and create something as close as possible to it.” Part of her strategy is to create a core team – people she works with long-term who know her, know each other and have even met in person. “Totally virtual is fine, but I’m not a millennial, so I need at least one real lunch,” she jokes.
She acknowledges that frequent work trips to check in with her client (Google headquarters are located in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood) can help, but members of the core team have also taken it upon themselves to organize meetups elsewhere, like in London. Beyond the sense of chumminess that comes from working with the same group on multiple projects – every time they start a new one it feels like “getting the band back together,” she says – it also helps to have people who have worked with previous editorial guidelines or style guides so veterans can jump into a project quickly and help newcomers learn the ropes.
Keep Communication Steady
For Laurel Fenner, who maintains and manages websites for the Radisson Hotel Group – one of EVG’s longest-standing clients – the work is ongoing, so frequent check-ins are crucial. “I think the biggest thing is clear and regular communication, just to keep everybody on the same page,” she explains. “I also like to share whatever client feedback we get. I think that makes people feel more included, more invested, more aware of the relationship.” Like Camurati, she also makes sure newcomers are made to feel welcome and gotten up to speed quickly, with help from those who’ve been working on the project for a while. “When I hire new contractors, it always helps to pair them with someone who has a lot of experience so they can guide them and make them feel like part of the team.”
Make Emails Fun
To get her emails noticed and read to the end, Camurati uses a tactic so easy it can seem obvious: “Boring emails are boring,” she says. So she makes them fun. It starts when she gives her projects – and project teams – silly names, and even singles out some longstanding coworkers with nicknames. But her emails are also readable because she keeps the tone light-hearted, often linking to YouTube videos to illustrate what she’s trying to say in some quirky, offbeat way.
Matt Chesterton, who works closely with Camurati on all Google projects, also obliges with contests for the best playlists about a city the team is working on (Think “New York, New York” or “London Calling”) or the most unexpected location name (Think the “Justin Bieber Gym” in Tamil Naidu).
What’s more, the client doesn’t seem to mind, and has even taken an active interest in these extracurricular bonding activities: “We told them about the playlists and they wanted to see them,” says Camurati. “That’s made them aware of the fact that it’s a good team, and we use that when we’re pushing for more work.”
Have Virtual Hangouts – But Don’t Take Them Too Seriously
Getting the group together on one screen is a good way to talk over issues that may take too long to explain via email, conduct trainings on a screen view, or just get a sense of the collective mood of the team. Fenner makes sure these happen regularly: “We have bi-weekly team meetings that we do on Google Hangouts so we can see and hear each other and touch base on whatever is new.”
Camurati has considered taking this one step further, creating an open hangout where team members could simply show up during the day, work together for a while, and leave as they please. “You can’t always do that, though,” she said, “because you also have a life and pets and kids in the background.” But she admits this can make a project and the people who work on it more human, and therefore more appealing: “Google always asks after the ‘office cat’ because they’ve seen her climb across my keyboard during meetings, and they always want to know how she’s doing.”
In general, though, as Fenner says, all these strategies are about more than creating a feel-good office environment; they’re about attracting and keeping talent, regardless of location. “If you go outside your company’s area, it’s even easier to find talented people. We have people who move away but still want to stay on the project because they love EVG, and it’s great to be able to retain their expertise.”
Whether pivoting towards remote work or only just beginning to consider it, that’s a goal every company can get behind.
Giulia Pines – Writer & Editor