5 Ways to Overcome the Challenges of a Virtual Work Environment

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This article was originally published on Huffingtonpost.com.

Fostering a productive virtual work environment isn’t easy, but it is necessary. Remote work is the wave of the future, with about 3.7 million workers in the U.S. now telecommuting at least half the time.

At Acceleration Partners, we are part of this trend. One hundred percent of our employees take advantage of our flexible work environment and work remotely from home or in alternative office spaces — wherever they’re most productive. Our employees find this arrangement so satisfying that our company landed in the No. 8 spot on Great Place to Work’s 2016 list of the 50 Best Workplaces for Flexibility.

As founder and managing director, I’ve tackled a number of challenges inherent in making a distributed team thrive, from maintaining work-life balance and improving communication to prioritizing relationship building.

By cultivating an environment that places a premium on both accountability and work-life integration, we’ve attracted motivated employees who work hard while embracing the flexibility the company provides, and we’ve developed these best practices to overcome the common challenges virtual teams face:

Hire Employees Who Are Suited to Work Virtually

Our company has learned to identify people who thrive in remote environments on the basis of their personalities, needs, and life stages. Many people aren’t suited for remote work, such as new graduates and those who need the social benefits of office settings.

During our hiring searches, prospective employees complete a small test or trial project so we can determine how well they follow instructions, ask questions, and generally perform in remote environments. We also use phone and video conferencing for job interviews and meet with every potential hire in person, regardless of role. Though we work remotely, we build our team like we’re in the office every day. To save everyone time, prospective employees should make sure they can be productive in that type of environment.

Get Up Close and Personal With Tech Tools

Employees who chat for 15 minutes with colleagues can gain a 20 percent boost in performance. Companies often use such findings as a rationale to discourage remote work. But with so many tools available to help people connect visually and vocally, there’s no reason lack of face time should detract from a remote workforce’s value. Video communication apps like Skype and Zoom help staff get one-on-one time with co-workers and clients wherever they are.

To support information sharing and encourage communication, our employees use tools — from Asana and Basecamp Project Management software to TINYpulse surveys — to streamline remote communication. Using TINYPulse’s “Cheers” section, we can recognize colleagues for their hard work. Promoting personal and professional wins like this creates strong bonds among us despite our lack of daily in-person interaction.

Keep Information Flowing 

Our entire staff shares information like financials, requests for proposals, and operational developments on biweekly calls so that everyone understands the company’s direction.

These calls help foster trust because employees can send anonymous questions and suggestions via TINYpulse. If any issue raised there would interest the larger group, it’s added to the agenda to close the feedback loop.

Focus on Culture and Core Values

Our entire company created our culture deck together, as a remote group, by gathering employee feedback from past TINYpulse surveys to ensure the deck’s content aligns with our organizational identity. The deck outlines our core values, desired conduct, methods for supporting one another, and tactics to deliver best-in-class results.

Every quarter we determine individual and company goals, which we call “rocks.” This enables us to move toward yearly goals in smaller increments and hold staff accountable to deliver results. We set employee check-ins to review core responsibilities, professional and personal development, and new “rocks” for the coming quarter.

Prioritize Professional Development

Creating professional development opportunities virtually can be tough, and the learning component can be a struggle. Therefore, we provide employee development training at all levels, and we offer two application-based employee development programs: one for associates and managers, the other for senior managers and directors.

This prevents remote workers from missing opportunities for additional professional growth. Although completing this training isn’t as easy as going to a session just down the hall, it pays off when companies commit to providing ample opportunities for professional programs.

A Constant Work in Progress

Even with all these processes in place and incredible tools at our disposal, we continually work at creating an efficient virtual work environment. Although we all want personal connections with our colleagues, it can be challenging to make it happen from different locations. At the same time, working remotely can mean a lot fewer distractions.

So if you’re looking to build or join a virtual team — or are already part of one — use these tips to build company relationships as if you were all in the same office.

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