Working with remote teams
The requirement to move towards remote working, where it’s possible, presents particular challenges to building and managing an exceptional team. Here are a few thoughts to help with the situation many of us are finding ourselves in.
Setting the foundations
When people are working remotely from the main team location, it’s essential they are very clear on the team’s challenges, deliverables, the desired team culture and behavioural expectations.
The challenges, deliverables, goals and requirements of the team should be clearly described to the team members. Any queries regarding the team’s project or activities should be answered fully to avoid confusion and ensure they are fully understood.
If you can, involve the team members in the definition of the expectations around the standards and behaviours which will define the team’s culture when working remotely. The need for remote working will bring a different perspective about how they each contribute. They may have issues and problems which are unique to their personal situation. If it’s not possible to involve all team members in the definition, communicate the expectations to them and seek their input, feedback and agreement.
Effective on-going communication with remote team members will positively influence the team’s activities and its productivity. Technology offers a common workspace for team members where they can connect, collaborate, share and find the information regarding the work to be done.
Tools and technologies (such as Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Dropbox and SharePoint) have made communication and collaboration much easier. These provide opportunities to enhance the interactions between the remote team members and their leaders. However, a key consideration when sharing information and documents should be security and data protection.
Strong relationships are critical to building exceptional teams. But how do you maintain relationships between team members who work remotely?
Video conferencing technology can really help to maintain and build relationships. Try to use video calls in the same way that you would if you were meeting face-to-face. Give people time to speak in turn, ask them questions and listen to their answers.
Team leaders should take time for casual conversations and small talk with their team members, instead of diving straight in and discussing a project’s requirements or tasks. If they’re prepared to, encourage team members to share information about things outside the working environment as well as work-related aspects.
Encourage team members to continue to use video conference facilities with each other whenever they can. This will help to build and maintain relationships more effectively than phone calls.
Meetings involving remote team members need to be well planned and managed. Online meetings or conference calls using methods such as Skype, Zoom or Google Hangouts should be scheduled to discuss the team’s progress and to work through any problems faced by team members. Identify overlapping working hours and arrange meetings at a time when as many members as possible will be available.
Use this checklist to plan your virtual meetings and make them effective and efficient.
• What regular meetings do we really need?
• What’s the purpose of each meeting?
• What’s should the frequency of each meeting be?
• What’s the length of each meeting?
• Who really needs to participate in each meeting?
• Who should chair each meeting?
• How should each meeting be structured?
• What should the agenda be?
• How will actions be captured and shared?
• Who will capture and issue the action notes for each meeting?
• What are our groundrules for participating in virtual meetings?
A particular problem in meetings with remote attendees is if some people are located together for the meeting and they start to have side conversations between themselves. Participants who are linked in via video or audio conference call become excluded as they can’t hear what is being discussed and they become disengaged.
It’s also much easier for participants to be distracted when taking part in virtual meetings. This is particularly true for audio conference calls when members aren’t visible to the other attendees. Therefore, set clear expectations of behaviours for the online meetings to ensure all participants can contribute effectively.
Planning and monitoring work
As the leader of a team with remote members, it can be a challenge to plan, monitor and control the work of people who aren’t co-located with you.
A starting point is to make sure that you set up regular individual and full team contact sessions. Set up weekly communication calls, by video or phone, so that all team members know there is a planned opportunity to speak. Make it clear that you are also available in between these planned calls if they need to contact you for any reason at all.
When you ask a remote team member to do a specific task, make sure they are totally clear on what they have to deliver. Check their understanding of the expectations placed on them and give them time to ask questions. Discuss their progress on the regular communication calls but don’t micromanage them. Trust them to deliver.
In order to manage time and availability across the full team, use a shared calendar. Keep track of regular meetings and team member time off. This will help to avoid last minute disruptions due to team members being unexpectedly unavailable.
Set up a regular full team communication meeting at an appropriate frequency. Use this time to review team member tasks, responsibilities and progress at a higher level and to communicate any business updates. Allow members to raise issues and concerns at the meeting, but also encourage communication between team members between the planned meetings.
Styles and preferences
We all have our own preferred styles and ways of working. These will vary and there is no right or wrong, good or bad, style – just difference.
These different preferences mean that some team members will be very comfortable working in a remote environment and will need little input. However, some members will be much less comfortable and will need much more regular contact.
It’s important that you know your team members’ and your colleagues’ preferences. Ask people what they want in terms of contact and support. Encourage your team members to set up virtual social time together such as coffee breaks and lunchtime catch ups. Pay attention to each other’s well-being and look out for each other.
If you’d like any help with how you could work more effectively in a remote team environment either as a team member or leader, get in touch with me for a chat. Remotely of course.
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