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The best teams are happy, motivated, and productive. They get there by being connected, consistent, and using clear internal communication. Yet how do we ensure our teams are working cohesively with the unique challenges that remote, modern work environments present? We’ve touched on the importance of autonomy in the workplace and the value of knowing the other teams in your organization. Let’s dive into a challenging dynamic that our team encounters on a daily basis: building a company with two international, remote teams. At first glance this element poses immense difficulties, but ultimately it has infused our company with diversity and strength.
Working with remote teams poses unique challenges – there’s no getting around that. Team SnapEngage is separated by half the globe (with offices in Boulder, CO, USA and Berlin, Germany), in addition to employees often working remotely in other locations while visiting clients. Over the last eight years, we’ve learned how to ensure your co-workers across the pond don’t stray out of mind even though they may be out of sight.
One of the biggest challenges with remote teams is the distance between team members, both literally and metaphorically. How can you grow together as a team when you’re not regularly bumping into each other in the coffee lounge, resolving arguments through nerf gun fights, or sharing that amazing baklava your colleague brought back from his last vacation in Greece? Uniting remote teams is a difficult nut to crack, but it’s easier than you might think.
Not everyone is made for remote work, so before you begin hiring for a remote position you will need to consider the skill set this type of environment demands. Some attributes to look for include: self-motivation and drive, ability to execute on an idea, ability to prioritize a busy workload, stellar communication skills, and above all, reliability.
Remote teams often face the challenge of meeting the same goals at the same time despite being spread around the country or the world. Even more crucial, the challenge of having a particular team lagging behind due to a lack of supervision (or perhaps just working in different timezones) should be considered. There are many potential speed bumps that can and will arise along the way. Hiring employees with significant work experience also brings desirable benefits. In addition to the more obvious advantage of professional experience, you can also expect more experienced team members to possess stronger levels of personal maturity.
The takeaway: Take some extra steps to ensure your employees are self-sufficient, motivated, and organized. Natural leaders and great communicators will be tremendous assets to a team that travels or has remote teams to interface with.
Remote teams have greater potential for misunderstandings and conflict. The chances for this increase if teams are multicultural and spread across multiple timezones. Yikes! Don’t fret, differences should be celebrated! The rich diversity of your team is part of what makes it successful. Different cultural backgrounds often lead to different workstyles and this is a great opportunity to learn from and about each other. Spend time exploring the differences in how your colleagues approach their work. Eventually remote employees will likely have some type of interaction with everyone on the team, and perhaps even have the chance to meet them in person! Use this to your advantage to share, grow, and keep your office environment from becoming monotonous.
Now that we know diversity is an asset, how do you go about building rapport with your remote colleagues? A good starting point is to make time for small talk. At first you might find yourself simply talking about what needs to get done so you can jump off that call with your coworker or end that internal chat as soon as possible to put those ideas to work (and if you’re on a tight deadline, this is exactly what you should do).
However, if that’s all you do every time, you’re missing out on a critical opportunity to connect with your team. A good way to start is to set aside 10-15 minutes every day to video chat with someone in your company. Rotate through the entire crew to make sure you get to know all of them. Even just a little bit. Try to find some common ground in hobbies or things you’re passionate about to connect with one another and build trust.
The takeaway: It’s easy to let cultural differences outside of work become a challenge in the workplace. Flip the script to use your team’s diversity as a mechanism for cultivating understanding across your entire organization regardless of background or location.
Remote work has a tendency to be less structured than on-site work, which means that employers need to provide crystal clear expectations. Be precise about timelines, goals, tasks, working hours, level of availability, and so on. Schedule regular check-ins to make sure your team members are aware of the expectations (and on track to meet those expectations).
These clear standards should be followed regardless of culture or location. For example, if strict timekeeping is important to one team then it should be important to all teams. Consistency is also important, even if one part of the company is based in a different culture and follows different social norms (i.e.: one team may be more conservative where another team may be more boisterous in their day to day interactions). Be uniform in your expectations regardless.
Once guidelines are in place, pay close attention to what is happening within your teams. This is how you will know what is effective and what needs to be revamped. Keep proper track of completed work, be fair, consistent, and hold people accountable. Ask for regular feedback from all involved and listen for clues to demonstrate that company requirements are clear to all team members.
The takeaway: Regardless of team culture or location, ensure everyone is on the same page through clear and consistent metrics for measuring performance.
While it may be challenging at times, it’s true that often the hardest things we do provide the best rewards. Stick with it. For remote teams that are spread out across the world, video calls and meetings have a huge impact. Remember that all teams experience ups and downs and how those peaks and valleys are handled will determine the ultimate success of your organization.
Use video conference tools like Skype, Hangouts or Zoom for your daily stand-up, weekly company checkins, 1-on-1 meetings, etc. to get as much facetime as possible. Team Chat (SnapEngage’s internal communication tool) is another critical tool to keep your team on the same page and share some fun on the side. What’s a better way to express your feelings than with an emoticon or gif? Also, remember to be there for your teammates near and far, and don’t be afraid to speak up if you see someone that needs help.
The takeaway: When done right, managing a remote team is deeply rewarding. With clear expectations, persistent communication, and a little help from technology we’re able to unite remote teams successfully (and so can you!).