Home Agents
Illustration by Eric Jackson

Over time, all work groups develop norms, which are the rules and expectations (either formally or informally established) that guide the team members’ behaviors. One area that is often overlooked when establishing a work-at-home team’s ground rules is how the individual members interact with and communicate with each other. Without agreed-upon standards for communication, unproductive norms may develop over time, such as at-home agents not responding to a colleague’s email, or thinking that it’s OK to be a few minutes late to a virtual meeting.

The following four recommendations will help your at-home and onsite agents develop positive norms that contribute to a strong team culture and smooth service delivery.

Develop operating guidelines. Ask your team, “What is acceptable behavior in our team?” Then work with them to develop a set of agreements about how the individuals are going to work together.

Part of your operating guidelines should include technology-use protocols, such as: How quickly are you expected to respond to emails and instant messages; is it necessary to respond to messages that you receive on the weekend or on your day off? Establishing general expectations will help you to build a common culture within the team. Otherwise, some members who respond to email at night and during off hours will expect the same behavior from everyone else—and when individual expectations conflict, it creates discord within the team.

Use webcams and video to help remote staff put faces to names. Being able to see the other person or people with whom you’re speaking makes communication more personal. Web conferencing software helps to personalize staff meetings, and using webcams for training webinars will help participants to put faces to the people they interact with on a regular basis.

Email messages often can be misinterpreted, so if you want to deliver information quickly and eliminate the possibility of confusion, try video. You can use a simple HD flip camera to record messages to your team that can be instantly uploaded onto your team’s intranet page.

Hold a (virtual) brown bag lunch. Employees who work together in one location have many opportunities to build close relationships with other members of their team on a daily basis. One of the best ways to carve some time out of the workday to spend with staff and coworkers is to have lunch together—virtually. Virtual brown bag lunches can be a highly effective technique for creating a team environment across locations, and adds a layer of personalization and interaction.

Start a team blog to keep people in the loop. Team members can post project updates, share photos, ideas and best practices, or blog about their experiences. Internal blogs also are a great way to share company information and keep distributed staff updated on important events.