It doesn’t matter whether you're a vast corporation with offices and departments scattered around the globe or a small business with some employees that occasionally work out of the office or remotely. You will still have to grapple with the challenge of making remote teams work as effectively or efficiently as people working all in the same place.
We've gathered up some advice and key points from people and companies who work with remote employees and know how to make the best of it and make it work.
Why is working in remote teams more challenging than “normal” teams?
Atlassian has worded the main reason why remote teams are more complicated than regular ones pretty perfectly - "Teams thrive on shared culture and values, and for culture to grow organically, the team needs regular contact with one another to feel connected and to establish trust and effective relationships. Regular communication is critical in keeping the team growing, and face-to-face communication is critical in moving the team through the forming stages of team development." With remote teams, there is less regular communication and therefore creating trust and useful working relationships is harder.
Inc pulls attention to the paradox with remote teams: individuals often claim to be more productive when they’re away from the distractions of the office, but when experts measure team output they often find that co-located groups accomplish more.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University claim to have found that “close proximity improves productivity in all cases.” This means that working in a team where members are not constantly around each other is proven to be more challenging than in a "normal", co-located team.
MindTools in their recent article recommended making sure you choose the right team players. It goes on to say that you need to ensure that they are self motivated, good communicators, results driven as well as being open and honest. With geographically dispersed teams it is also very important to define your team purpose and back it up with a strong communication strategy.
The article goes on to recommend always being aware of team dynamics and managing the relationships between staff members. Giving feedback and rewarding performance is important but you have to ensure feedback is fair and that rewards are equal for all.
Pros and cons of working remotely
Wrike, a leading work management and collaboration software provider, asked people representing companies of all sizes, from solopreneurs to Fortune 500 corporations, how they feel about virtual collaboration and the different aspects of it. Here are the main hindrances for collaboration within distributed teams that their survey revealed:
Wrike also states that according to the survey results there was a general consensus among workers of all organizational levels when they shared their thoughts about the cons of virtual work - lack of direct communication is something that team members, managers, executives and business owners equally suffer from. However, if employees and employers alike find a way to overcome this and other challenges, there are also benefits to remote work. Here are the pros of working in remote teams that the responders mentioned most:
A curious thing to notice with the results is that while time savings turned out to be the No. 1 benefit for team members, managers and executives, what business owners value the most about remote collaboration is boosted productivity.
How do you make sure your remote teams are happy and working effectively?
Here are four main tips we've found that dominate the topic of remote team organization:
1.Getting the right Team
MindTools in their recent article recommended suggested your main priority would be to make sure you choose the right team players. It goes on to say that you need to ensure that they are self motivated, good communicators, results driven as well as being open and honest. The article goes on to recommend always being aware of team dynamics and managing the relationships between staff members. Giving feedback and rewarding performance is important but you have to ensure feedback is fair and that rewards are equal for all.
2.Making directions and goals clear is a common theme in article about remote working
Mindtools also discussed how important it is with geographically dispersed teams to define your team purpose and back it up with a strong communication strategy Business Coaching Insights knows what's up with information flow problems: "Your communication skills need to be very good to make the process of managing remote employees work effectively. Stay in contact with them regularly and also be very clear with your instructions. We’ve seen some business owners get frustrated when things don’t get done the way they want or when they want. Closer examination often reveals that the problem starts with a confused brief at the very start. It’s always important to give very clear instructions but especially so with remote employees." Business Vibes also states that being unclear can cost you more than just general confusion. "When you have your employees working in the same office as you, then even if they didn't understand exactly what you meant, it's easy for them to quickly ask you a question and clear things up in person - this is not the case with remote workers. Failure to give clear instructions will only waste time as in most cases, misunderstandings will lead to lengthy email exchanges between both parties. This wastes valuable time that could be better utilised for other tasks." We are all very busy these days so wasting time instead of saving time can be incredibly counter productive
2. Use technology to your advantage
"When a team works virtually, it loses the power of shared physical space and the communication that naturally flows from it - instead, technology becomes that shared space. In using a number of different tools, virtual teams mimic the variation in physical space in offices in order to facilitate their various relationships and interactions. The takeaway for owners looking to run remote is to experiment and implement a variety tools that suit your team’s needs to find what combination works best, and make sure you get input from your team on what they think is helpful or not." (Inc.com)The PARiM team now has three locations - the main one is situated in London, the development office in Tartu, Estonia and satellite development in Edinburgh. This 2000 km distance means that we have to often rely on a variety of technological tools to run our everyday communication and business.
Here are some of our favourite advanced tools for everyday communication:
- Skype for everyday chats, video calls and meetings;
- Trello for keeping track of your projects and to do lists;
- Intercom IO for keeping in touch with your clients and sharing feedback and information between your customer service and sales and marketing team;
- GoToMeeting for video conferences;
- MailChimp for easy bulk email sending
- To Do List allows us to manage and communicate our tasks
There are loads of tools out there to help you run your communication when you don't have all of your co-workers conveniently around you at all times - all you need to do is find them and try them!
3. Arrange team get togethers and face-to-face time as much as possible
And lastly, but definitely not any less important - one of our favourite geek blogs, Travis CI , stated something that we at PARiM also strongly believe in: "Even working remotely, communicating with people face to face beats all other means of communication. When something needs to be discussed, smaller teams form and discuss things in a small circle. Just seeing faces can have a big impact on team happiness. With a remote team, you need to invest a lot more to make your team happy, to give them room to bond when they don't see each other in person for weeks or months, to give them a good laugh every now and then."
All in all, we've established that working with remote teams can be a bit more challenging than usual, but it doesn't have to be difficult or hopeless - all you need to do is determine the weak points in your team's working process and keep in mind the special methods of keeping everything a-okay even when your team isn't quite the traditional one!