How to Work Together While Miles (& Kilometres) Apart
We just wrapped up another Town Hall forum at Rulesware. That’s a bi-monthly gathering of our 170 team members–people who work on Pega projects in cities ranging from Dallas to Vancouver and San Salvador. It’s a chance for everyone in the company to hear from, and ask questions of, company CEO Anthony Lee as well as a panel of company leaders and bright lights that changes for each forum.
We’re too big a group to meet in person these days, so instead — as is becoming common for many businesses today — it’s all done online. And (let’s hear from Rulesware employees on this one!) we think it’s done well.
This isn’t to say that there’s high production value. Far from it. Because we choose three or four different people from within the company for every Town Hall (nominations come from within, and panelists are chosen to “present” on projects that they’re working on or subjects they’re passionate about), we’ve got fresh faces–and technical glitches to work out, often on-air–each and every webcast. It’s worth it, though.
And then there’s Anthony, who’s been known to duck out for a cigarette one minute before broadcast (he IS quitting!). And if he’s not doing that, he’s ribbing someone on the panel about their hair, or there’s a question that comes in during the forum that cracks up the entire panel.
But that, we’ve decided is the point. Some of us at Rulesware have never met. Many of us work in small teams, so know those folks but nobody else. Still, we recently learned that 90% of our people feel that people genuinely care about others at Rulesware, with the same percentage feeling that they have all of the tools and resources they need to do their jobs well.
So what are we doing that’s so special?
The Town Hall forums are a part of it. “In around 2012, we’d grown our staff so much and I realized that we absolutely needed to do something to bring people together, not only so they could hear from me–I’m not sure anybody really wants to hear from me–but so they could hear what other people in the company were doing, and thinking, and are passionate about,” says Lee.
Rulesware also sends out a weekly e-blast, with fun stuff like photography contests, new employee welcomes, and news about new clients. Like the Town Hall forums, the e-blast is not designed to be a sleek communications vehicle–but rather a quick and effective update to inform and engage employees who otherwise might not feel like they’re ‘in on’ what’s going on outside of their project or mandate.
Social media, of course, plays a role in engaging Rulesware employees, too: the company’s Facebook page and Twitter feed both communicate the company’s fiercely held values and quirky sense of humour, while allowing anyone to dive into the conversation.
And newer tools like Career Builder, a performance review tool, also help to inform and connect employees. Career Builder gives everyone in the company 24/7 access to a full team org chart, containing everyone’s Skype IDs, coaches and locations.
So long, old-school office culture
Indeed, old-school office culture has never really been at play at Rulesware — or for many contemporary businesses, consultancies and startups that operate on a project basis. More and more companies now enable, or in some cases, need, employees to work when and where necessary.
As communication technology has advanced, the number of people working from home has steadily increased over the past decade. And while some big companies have made public declarations about banning work from home, many established companies thrive by establishing a remote environment: at tech company Kaplan, for example, 85 percent of employees work remotely.
But how to make sure that remote work not only works for the company, but also for its employees? Well, here are a few things that have worked for us at Rulesware:
1. Choose technology carefully
Technology, of course, is the reason that it’s possible for people to work remotely. Communication technology comes first: we work with email, Skype, meeting and webinar software, and smartphone. It’s oh so much easier when everyone is using the same tools, so if you’re unsure about which to go with, consider having your employees evaluate and choose the best option within a set time period.
2. Enable knowledge sharing
Make it possible for your employees to connect with, and share knowledge with, one another. We set up a Team Portal for Rulesware employees using WordPress which we use to share content that’s just for our internal team. This is also a place where employees can share knowledge and ideas with each other, with a senior consultant explaining how she tackled a particular technical issue for a client, for example.
3. Establish clear workflows.
In a remote working environment, we do recommend setting up well-documented workflows, establishing and communicating timelines, and who should be involved in the work. Formalize your systems, and document carefully, making them available to anyone who needs them.
4. Meet–and celebrate–in person.
Last but not least. Even though you might operate mostly remotely, there’s nothing like a face-to-face meeting–especially when it involves a little laughter, fun and real-world connection. At Rulesware we host annual parties both in the US and El Salvador. We’re a work hard, play hard kind of team.