This is a guest post for the MELD Coworking blog written by Matt Harris.
Remote customer support opens a ton of opportunities for professionals and companies alike. After all, companies have the opportunity to hire from diverse pools of talent and accomplishment all across the world. Professionals have opportunities to work for companies they couldn’t otherwise commute to.
But with that opportunity come new challenges. It can seem hard to keep a remote team cohesive and motivated. Worse, it can feel a bit like herding cats, and not really a customer support team at all.
The problem isn’t remote work. Remember all that incredible talent that comes with allowing remote work? The problem is that remote work requires different kinds of team building, training, and engagement exercises to be effective.
Fortunately, there are a few tried and true methods that drive success when it comes to team building and managing your remote customer support team.
Find the Right Talent
In your office, you probably have a set of criteria for the kinds of people you’re looking for. It might vary from position to position, but there are some basics that can make any candidate stand out. Things like coachability, responsiveness, and the willingness to take responsibility for their work.
You should still be looking for those things in your remote customer support team, and you should also be looking for other qualities that might not always come up for a customer support position.
Your ideal remote candidate should be:
- A self-starter
- Able to assess their own productivity
Those qualities are important because they make sure you get the best work from your remote team. These qualities will also help you build a team identity and motivate your individual team members.
Now that you’ve got the team, it’s time to consider how you’re going to create that cohesive whole. Messagely has a great article on how to create a strong customer service team and great customer experiences.
Embrace Time Management Tools
Even if your office team doesn’t use a dedicated time management tool, it’s a good idea to use one for your remote customer support team. Highlight that the tool isn’t there to police their productivity. Instead, these tools are designed to help people prioritize and maintain focus.
On the employee side, the tool helps them stay on task and more productive. Most people feel good when they feel productive, so that’s a big win for everyone.
It can also make team communication easier. If everyone is using the same tool to accomplish goals, even if that tool doesn’t offer a dedicated chat, your team will feel more like a team. Teamwork motivates people and creates a sense of community and community accomplishment.
On the management side, time management tools make it easier to tell the difference between billable and non-billable hours for your employees. It also lets you keep an eye on overall productivity and potential coaching opportunities.
Encourage Communication and Community
Your customer support team might be working remotely, but you should still schedule time for team bonding, check-ins, training, and other group activities. Your team should know each other, even if they work on different sides of the country.
More importantly, your team should understand each other and be involved in motivating each other.
Get a group chat going. Encourage online video chats, virtual work parties, and other social gatherings. Include these activities in billable hours where applicable.
Explicitly tell your remote customer service team that you want them to have the same kind of coworker social time and relationships that they would get in the office. Most employees will appreciate it. The ones that jump in and participate are likely to prove themselves as team leaders later on.
You should also consider encouraging your remote work team to find their own sense of community, wherever they are. Many employees will be close to a coworking space designed for freelancers, remote workers, and entrepreneurs. These spaces offer consistent internet, workstations designed with productivity in mind, and a larger social community.
Even if that isn’t available, your remote work team can still develop a work routine that supports community and socialization like a workplace. Those qualities will build your team, build their cooperation, and even build company identity and loyalty.
You should also put some thought into what kind of communication system you implement for your remote customer service team. Asynchronous communication can be a good option for a distributed workforce, learn more about how asynchronous communication apps work.
Provide Normal Team Support
A lot of the frustration with remote customer service can be traced to one problem: remote teams often don’t get the same kind of time and attention that their in-office counterparts enjoy.
Your team needs that support, training, coaching, and even the opportunities to joke around and be silly with their coworkers. Try to mimic the support structure your in-office team has. Your remote team should have some level of supervision, access to management and HR, and so on.
Try to make sure your remote team gets as much time as your in-office team, even if that means hiring remote supervisors and other support staff to create that contact.
That Includes Team Building, Fun Activities, and Acknowledging Challenges.
We’ve already mentioned team building activities and social time, but this point can’t be emphasized enough. If you want a real team from your remote customer support, you need to give them the time and motivation to build that real team. Here are some team building exercise ideas for some inspiration.
Yes, you need to create a digital space where they can play get-to-know-you games. You need to talk about their individual goals and what you and your company can do to support those goals. It’s also important to create digital space to talk about things that aren’t going so well, both as a team and for individual members. People’s worries and challenges tend to naturally present themselves in a healthy office culture.
But when people work remotely, the temptation can be to treat it like social media and only allow the best stuff through. Unfortunately, that leads to disconnected employees who feel like they are working on an isolated island, even with other forms of communication open and available.
Acknowledging that sometimes people can’t give 100%, and demonstrating that you care and that the rest of the team cares, is important. Make space for people to talk about challenges, everything from learning a new system to recovering from a difficult customer interaction.
Those genuine conversations will form closer relationships across your remote team. Those relationships then work as motivation which keeps your team naturally productive and engaged.
None of this is hard. A good manager or supervisor already does all of these things for in-office coworkers all the time. But when you aren’t working in an office, it takes some extra effort to remember that your remote team needs the same support.
The good news is that remote teams can be incredibly valuable, motivated, and talented. The better news is that as a company, all you have to do is what you would already do for another employee. The only difference is distance and the mediums you use to communicate.
Not convinced? Forbes has an article discussing the importance of effective teambuilding within your organization.
About the Author
Matt Harris is part of the product team at Messagely and is fanatic about providing the best user experience possible. When he’s not working on Messagely, chances are good that you’ll find him in the kitchen creating a tasty paella. He’s very much into cooking and Spanish food.