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The way we work has changed so dramatically since I started my career – there was no such thing as ‘working from home’ or ‘remote teams’. I remember one boss when I suggested I write my strategic plan at home so I could focus, looked at me alarmed and said ‘if you need to focus then chain yourself to the desk and take the phone off the hook.’ He implied that there was something wrong with me if I could not ‘focus’ in the busy office. How life has changed – but this too brings a new set of challenges.

Working remotely used to be a rare treat afforded to a few, yet these days the rise of the ‘gig economy’ has led to many organisations hiring people who don’t work within a designed office space. Whether an organisation hires freelancers to work on a project basis or allows full-time workers to work from a home office, the days of everyone working from one space are well and truly over.

While the ability to work remotely from different locations has been a real winner for employees who want more flexible work arrangements, it’s definitely created a new set of challenges for managers and leaders. Keeping in touch with teams spread out over various locations and time zones adds a layer of complexity to what was already a challenging issue.

With the 2016 Deloitte Human Capital Trends Report finding that almost half of the executives surveyed (42 percent) expected to increase or significantly increase the use of contingent workers in the next three to five years, leaders and managers will have to come up with innovative ways of uniting their teams.

So what techniques can leaders use to bring together their teams and ensure everyone is on the same page and working towards the same strategic priorities of the organisation?

1. Use technology to your advantage

As Founder and Managing Director of Melbourne’s Axiom IT, Tas Gray helps organisations utilise technology to increase productivity and collaboration within teams. Tas believes that many organisations could better utilise their technology to increase collaboration. “There are so many incredible tools available on the market right now, yet many businesses aren’t using them. Microsoft Office 365 has some clever functions, with Sharepoint giving people the ability to collaborate on documents together in real-time. Previously, teams collaborating on a project would have had to send documents back and forth as attachments and that can be a time-consuming way to collaborate on projects (not to mention risky when you consider problems with versioning),” says Tas.

2. Ramp up your reward and recognition slide

Having members of your team working from home or from a co-sharing space overseas can lead to some unintended consequences if you’re not careful. If staff feel that they are working under a cloak of invisibility, then naturally they are going to feel less engaged and energised about their work than staff who are regularly rewarded and recognised for their contributions. Using an online peer-to-peer recognition system is a clever way to ensure that no one slips through the cracks, no matter where they are working. Ensuring that freelancers, contractors, remote workers and other team members of your contingent workforce are seen and included on a regular basis (even though they physically work elsewhere) is key to promoting a high-performance culture, so don’t forget to include them in your reward and recognition program.

3. Encourage regular contact to foster motivation

Motivation can be a real problem for people working alone from home. Keeping your home office workers motivated is vital to ensuring the mental health and productivity of your teams and having regular human contact is an intrinsic part of this. Maintaining regular contact with your contingent workforce can be done in a number of ways. With easy-to-use platforms like Slack helping to bridge the communications gap between a contingent workforce, there’s no reason for staff working in remote locations to feel isolated, invisible or left out.

Google Hangouts or Skype for Business are other options for face-to-face conversations and group meetings. “Being able to easily access, schedule and record meetings is essential for people working from home,” Tas Gray says before adding “…Skype for Business also has a good chat function that allows team members to give quick updates and get answers to quick ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions, so it’s a good timesaving tool and a great way to reduce email load as well.”

4. Lead by example

Perhaps most importantly, there’s no point asking others to embrace new platforms or work in new ways if you don’t do so yourself. This is where a ‘top down’ approach is crucial, as people will be less likely to change their own behaviour if management and senior leaders aren’t doing so themselves.

Take the time to learn new programs and adopt new platforms, then integrate them into your working day to set a good example for your team. Having regular contact with senior management is a good incentive for all staff to use new platforms and will work towards bringing contingent workforces together for greater collaboration, idea-sharing and communication.

Ultimately if you are doing this well then people feel connected, they feel a part of something bigger than themselves – it’s as if they are together every day. It is an investment in harmony, team and productivity.

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