Allen Baler: Keeping Offsite Teams Engaged

Allen Baler remote workers

Here at 4Patriots, about half of our team members work from home. And home can mean Georgia, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Connecticut, Texas, and even Idaho. We’ve long said that we want 4Patriots to be “a great place for great people to work.” And by not being limited geographically in recruiting top talent, we are able to realize that vision every day.


Many companies have yet to grasp the 21st century global nature of business. They are proverbially stuck in the past with their legal pads, typewriters, rotary phones, and maybe even an abacus or two. Technology has blurred and in many cases, completely done away with the formerly perceived and accepted borders that hinder business growth.


With programs like Google mail, chat, Go to Meeting, and others, we are able to engage and stay connected with our remote teams with ease.


Even The Harvard Business Review lauds the advantages of employees who work from home. In a recent op-ed, Nicholas Bloom, a co-founder of China travel website Ctrip, extolls the incredible results his firm saw after offering call center staff the opportunity to work from home for nine months:


“We found that people working from home completed 13.5% more calls than the staff in the office did—meaning that Ctrip got almost an extra workday a week out of them. They also quit at half the rate of people in the office—way beyond what we anticipated. And predictably, at-home workers reported much higher job satisfaction.”


It’s a model that’s proven very successful for us at 4Patriots. The question I get a lot from others is, however, “How do you keep communication as effective as in person?”


Mark Horstman, who I mentioned in my previous blog about his training workshop Manager Tools, has suggestions for dealing with this challenge head on.


Horstman points out that while having remote workers provides distinct advantages, communication effectiveness doesn’t quite reach in-office levels. Truthfully, this key component of organizational success averages about 80% as compared to workers in the flesh. However, there are ways to bring that level up to at least 90%, without sacrificing all the boons of having a partially distributed workforce.


Here are some simple remedies to improving communication between office and remote employees:


  • Regular One on Ones. Part of what we do to keep all our team members engaged and on task is to schedule weekly video one on ones with their direct managers. This builds trust, and gives each direct report the ability to “check in” with their supervisor on priorities, bandwidth, challenges, and wins for the week. It also circumvents issues that left unchecked could snowball into bigger problems down the line.


  • Chat applications. It’s not really that important which chat app you choose, but we like HipChat, which utilizes chat and video, and maintains a line of connection for those “quick hits” that come up throughout the day. It’s more instantaneous than email, and saves a lot of time while boosting productivity.


  • In-person Quarterly Meetings. Face time with your entire team is crucial, at least once in a while. When we get together four times a year, we discuss company performance, where we are headed, and engage in some sort of fun after work activity to help us bond as human beings, not just co-workers. This simple rule significantly improves cohesion and camaraderie.


  • Project Management Tools. Another platform we all work in daily, a comprehensive project management program allows everyone to see each other’s productivity and progress throughout the day and week. This is essential for meeting deadlines, and to help assess accountability and individual metrics.


With a few properly laid plans and adjustments, your business too can thrive with a distributed workforce. By not limiting your enterprise with outdated ideas, you’ll be on the cutting edge, blazing a trail that your competition will hope to emulate.

Allen Baler is a leading entrepreneur and Harvard grad. Allen Baler is a Partner in 4Patriots LLC, based in Nashville.

Disclaimer: This blog post is not a substitute for the sound advice of a business professional with expertise in the subject matter discussed. Please seek appropriate counsel on what strategies make sense for your business.