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how to manage remote PR & marketing employees

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Remote work may be here to stay. At least the working from home won’t disappear any time soon. Developing a company culture and fostering teamwork may be the biggest challenge facing companies in the new and widespread WFM environment. Organizations with strong cultures typically have better financial performance and more satisfied employees.

Developing a strong company culture is difficult to impossible with a remote workplace, writes Gene Marks, The Marks Group, a small-business consulting firm, in The Hill. Remote employees do not develop relationships with each other, and their isolation smothers innovation.

Marks speaks from experience. He has managed a 10-person virtual business since the 1990s.

“I have people working for me who I’ve personally seen face to face maybe five or six times in the past decade,” he says. “I’ve had employees of my own company meeting each other for the first time at a client’s location in the middle of a project. We do not have a softball team. We don’t barbecue on Friday afternoons or get together for pizza at lunch.”

Nevertheless, many experts say companies with remote workers can take significant steps to develop a strong company culture.

Communicate frequently. Rather than wasting time, office banter around the water cooler builds a sense of community and team. Replacing the camaraderie in a remote workforce can be done with frequent communications. Use a variety of communication channels, including more formal all-hands meetings, manager meetings and one-to-one meetings, and informal “ask me anything” sessions with executives, advises Lisa Walker, vice president of brand and corporate marketing at Fuze.

Avoid video fatigue. Many remote workers now suffer “video fatigue” from constant video meetings. Not every meeting needs to be a video meeting. Set clear expectations with employees about which meetings should be video meetings, and let employees turn off their video at times, Walker recommends.

Invest in technology. Make sure remote employees have both the hardware and software to accomplish their tasks. Consider a company-wide software sponsorship program that lets them install important software directly to their personal devices for business use. Because poor audio quality often hinders communications, consider providing employees certified headsets for the communications software they use. Choose communications tools that match the organization’s desired culture. An app like Slack promotes a more laid back environment.

Create shared rhythms. Regular meetings and shared work hours can help keep workers in sync. Employees at a software developer tell team members their projects and goals during daily online meetings, The Wall Street Journal reports. The daily communications help them coordinate work and solicit advice. Similarly, some companies can increase productivity with “quiet hours” when employees stop communicating with each other and focus on their individual tasks.

Embrace transparency. Keep employees informed about major company decisions and how the company’s business is performing. An organization that shares as much information as possible with employees builds a sense of trust and helps them make better decisions and understand what is happening within the organization, says PeopleG2 CEO Chris Dyer, author of The Power of Company Culture.

Develop leadership communications. Corporate communicators can play a major role in crafting information to distribute to employees. Internal communications professionals can also guide organization leadership in developing and distributing communication pieces that validate the work of all employees, thank them for their efforts during trying circumstances, and help motivate employees to continue performing well.

Schedule social time. Designate online social time to encourage the team to form deeper bonds. Activities can include a virtual happy hour for all team members, random breaks with smaller groups or other team-building activities, suggests Katy French, managing editor, visual news at Column Five, in Business 2 Community.

Create rituals and traditions. Little rituals can make a big difference, French says. You might poll everyone on how they’re feeling at a morning meeting, ask a silly question to open up your town hall, or have a group send a themed care package to someone for their birthday.

Introduce new employees. Provide some background about new employees when first introducing them, including some previous work history as well a note about their personal lives.

Bottom Line: A good corporate culture boosts teamwork and innovation, but building a workforce culture is challenging when employees work from home. Corporate communications can perform an essential role in addressing that challenge.