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How to Effectively Manage Remote Employees: Lessons Learned From Apple and Google

By Denis Kryukov

Although the world of large corporations may be different from the world of small business, there are still many lessons smaller companies can learn from organizations like Apple and Google. One of these valuable insights concerns remote teams and how to organize and manage them. Remote teams are more than “the same office workers, except far away”—they are a unique subset of professionals.

Apple: Reinforcing excellence

Apple took an important part of its customer service model—customer support teams—and made it 100% remote. “At Home Advisors,” as the name suggests, offer customer support from the comfort of their homes. And despite their remote locations, Advisors are incredibly effective.

New Advisors complete a challenging training period that lasts up to nine weeks. To enforce its standards of quality, Apple offers online training via a live instructor. In this way, the company has complete control over every detail of the onboarding process, ensuring each prospective employee is a right fit for the company. Employees are also provided with an iMac computer and special customer support software.

These iMacs (along with other gifts like T-shirts and gift cards) serve as a nice way to promote company culture and show Advisors they are part of the “Apple family,” even though they work offsite. This is a great practice all companies should utilize: Show your remote workers they’re not faceless, distant, and abstract, and instead show them their work is appreciated and they’re an invaluable part of your business.

Apple prides itself on its customer satisfaction, so it’s only natural that Advisors are groomed in both hard and soft skills; technical proficiency is coupled with the ability to empathize with users. To help remote workers not feel disconnected from the company, Apple ensures that Advisors communicate with their managers on a daily basis.

Still, there are certain areas which can be improved upon. Some Advisors have complained about the lack of in-team communication. As Advisors typically only interact either with customers or their managers, the “sense of belonging” to a larger company fades away. Apple could be missing out on some team-building opportunities which could ultimately make the Advisors team more engaged and improve employee retention.

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Google: Taking a scientific approach

Another Silicon Valley giant, Google, boasts thousands of remote employees located all around the world. The company also is famous for conducting thorough research to boost company performance. To organize Google’s remote teams more efficiently, Google’s People Innovation Lab studied the problems that came from having remote workers scattered from San Francisco to Tokyo. PiLab’s managers were presented with the challenge of creating equal work opportunities for all members. How did they manage it?

PiLab interviewed more than 5,000 Google employees to measure well-being, connectedness, and work performance among employees. They discovered “well-being standards were uniform across the board” and there was “no difference in the effectiveness, performance ratings, or promotions for individuals and teams whose work requires collaboration with colleagues around the world versus Googlers who spend most of their day to day working with colleagues in the same office.”

However, remote workers did lack in one area: connectedness. The study found that “working with colleagues across the globe can make it more difficult to establish connections.”

So what can be done? PiLab’s research lists three practices to help remote workers feel more connected:

1. Get to know each other as people. When starting a meeting with employees who are not in the office, instead of immediately jumping into work, take time to establish a rapport. For example, you might ask a remote coworker what they’re planning to do over the weekend.

2. Set boundaries. If remote workers work in a different time zone, ask them when would be a good time for them to schedule meetings.

3. Provide opportunities to connect: If your budget allows, bring your workers together for real-life meetings and events. This may be too costly for smaller companies, so traveling can be substituted with online meetings.

More actionable advice

My own company is by no means a tech giant (rather, we fall into the “small business” category), but we have used the techniques described in this post and have noticed positive changes. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to implement these methods in your company—instead, it’s all about your effort and attitude.

The following are additional lessons we’ve learned:

Show appreciation. Acknowledge the performance of your remote employees with a simple “thank you” message at the end of a workday. At my company, we send our members gifts on a regular basis.

Help remote workers connect. It’s vital for every professional to feel connected with their peers. Have regular meetings, for example, so everyone can see they’re all on the same team. In my company, we use daily meetings as an opportunity to discuss how the company’s performing and which ideas should be realized next.

Foster company culture. High salaries and interesting projects may be used to attract talent, but a strong company culture helps retain people. In a time of crisis, company values—not salaries—will help keep people from quitting and pull the team through.

RELATED: 5 Keys to Hiring Talented Remote Workers

About the Author

Post by: Denis Kryukov

Denis Kryukov is an author at Soshace, an online hiring platform that connects IT professionals and companies.

Company: Soshace
Connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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