How to Set Up, Manage and Maintain Remote Offices

The evolution of the IT workplace is making geographical limitations a thing of the past. That brings both opportunities and challenges. Learn what it takes to get your remote offices setup and your IT workers productive.

Thu, November 29, 2012

CIO — Branching out is never an easy proposition. Whether it's a new location or employees telecommuting, there are many questions you need to answer. Where do you start? How do you get set up? How will your employees communicate effectively and more. talked to Michael Rosenbaum, founder and CEO of Catalyst IT Services, a provider of Agile outsourcing services, to find out what it takes to branch out and maintain in this brave new world.

If you plan is to open a new location, step 1, according to Rosenbaum, is knowing when to make your move. "Before we even decided to open a second office, there was careful evaluation deciding whether or not a second location was worth the investment. For us, we waited to reach a tipping point that was a convergence of client need and increased geographical reputation," Rosenbaum says.

Related Article: Why Remote Offices Mean Better IT Teams

Keeping Your Culture From a Distance

Maintaining the company culture is a critical factor. "The biggest challenge and focus has been making sure that our Portland office is really an extension of our organization in Baltimore, and that it doesn't become its own entity," Rosenbaum says.

"If you've worked hard to refine and develop something excellent in one office, but you aren't able to replicate that in another location, you are creating a disparate geographical hub that can potentially generate an inconsistent and negative reputation in a remote market. That's really dangerous from a business perspective," he says

When Catalyst IT Services realized it needed to expand, it sent 20 employees from its original office to set up the new digs. Using employees from their original office ensured that the company mission and culture remained intact.

"The initial team comprised employees that represented our company culture exceptionally well, to make for the best foundation in our new location," Rosenbaum says. Once they had employees in house that were familiar with their systems, getting set up was a much easier task.

Rosenbaum also notes that many times when dealing with IT issues in a remote location, it's better to send an employee to the remote location to fix issues rather than doing it remotely. They could potentially find other issues that wouldn't have been found and more times than not, other less critical problems that might have fallen through the cracks get fixed as well.

"The team will generally always chime in with other things they need, but that they wouldn't normally bring up because, 'we wouldn't want to bother you.' It's just basic human nature that we don't want to inconvenience someone with a laundry list. By showing a willingness to support, in person, our remote office, we continue to build that camaraderie and company culture," says Rosenbaum.

If you're considering allowing employees to telecommute, understand that each business is different. Start small and work with the employees in your pilot program to figure out what tools are necessary to get the job done and how best to communicate.

Related Article: Remote Workers: Avoiding Double Trouble That Comes with Them

Don't Fail to Communicate

Developing a communication plan is paramount. If you've worked remotely before, chances are at some point you've felt isolated. All parts of the team have to work even harder to ensure this doesn't happen. Communication is a critical part of any business, and this becomes amplified when you add remote offices into the mix.

Set up a weekly or daily call, even though you think you won't need it. It isn't unusual for these to get canceled due to other priorities or tasks on occasion, and that's OK. However, setting aside this time will provide the time to talk about more than just the most urgent tasks and projects at hand. It's also an opportunity to brainstorm ideas, which can be difficult to do via instant message or emails. Video conferencing is another great way to keep your locations in tune.

That said, nothing is better than real face time, and Rosenbaum recommends meeting that way often. "Nothing can replace face-to-face interaction. Because of this, we've put heavy emphasis on enabling cross-country travel as often as is necessary between teams, says Rosenbaum.

The bottom-line is to know what works for you and turn to it often.

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