Support Remote Teams at Work

Support Remote Teams at Work
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Support Remote Teams at Work
Many companies were already experimenting with remote teams at work when the shelter-in-place order came about. There were good reasons to move in this direction even before Covid-19. Employees were located, if not around the globe, at different sites; many found the commute too time-consuming and stressful; technology had advanced to the point where meetings and discussions could be held virtually.

When the pandemic hit, unless you were part of an essential service, remote teams became a necessity. Working remotely was no longer a convenient experiment; it was the law.

Experience with the Experiment
The Harvard Business Review reported in March the results of a survey they conducted to learn about the challenges of remote teams at work. Only once leaders understand the negative side of working remotely, can they begin to address the key issues and emerge with remote teams at work that are as productive and cohesive as co-located teams.

The Downside to Remote Teams at Work
The biggest downside to working remotely from a team perspective is that interpersonal work relationships are harder to build and maintain:

  • 80% of respondents said they would have better relationships with teammates if they were communicating more frequently
  • 43% felt their relationships would be deeper if they had more face time with co-workers
  • 52% felt they were not being treated equally by their colleagues
  • 41% (10% more than on co-located teams) believed teammates were saying “bad things” behind their back

And there was an issue with productivity:

  • 84% stated that workplace concerns lasted longer (a few days or more) because they could not be addressed in a timely, direct fashion

The Benefits of Remote Work Models
Allowing workers to do their jobs remotely also has some obvious benefits.  According to Forbes, Global Workplace Analytics, and BCG, remote working models implemented correctly — a big if — can:

  • Increase productivity by up to 40%
  • Reduce employee turnover by up to 15%
  • Cut real estate and resource usage costs by more than 20%

The same report also anticipates that almost half of employees will continue to utilize a remote working model in the future and many others will will work in hybrid models that combine remote and onsite work. So it seems that remote teams will only continue to grow.

What Team Leaders Can Do to Support Remote Teams at Work
We know that high performing teams have a common focus and feel bonded to one another. They are unified in purpose and their relationships are built on trust and respect. When a team no longer has multiple opportunities to “bump into” each other or exchange ideas over a cup of coffee in the cafeteria, relationship building simply takes more effort.

  1. Provide the Right Technology
    If your virtual team struggles to get connected or wastes time making elements of the technology platform, it undermines team performance. Make sure your team is working on a common platform that has the necessary tools that promote virtual collaboration, and, most importantly, that they know how to use them.  Examples include:

Collaboration Tools like MS Teams, Slack and Huddle

Project Management Tools like MS Project, Basecamp, and Smartsheet

File Sharing Tools like Dropbox, SharePoint, and Google Drive

Meeting Tools like Zoom, WebEx, GoToMeeting, Skype, and Google Hangouts

Scheduling Tools like Calendly and Doodle

Social Networking Tools like Yammer, Chatter, and Jive

  1. Revisit Team Norms
    Work as a team to redefine any team norms that do not translate seamlessly from the office to working remotely. While all high performing teams need clear and agreed-upon goals, roles, processes, and interpersonal relationships, remote work teams need to invest extra effort to get virtual team meetings, collaboration, communications, and accountabilities right.

Meetings: Virtual team meetings require more preparation, higher levels of engagement, greater attention to ensuring that everyone has an equal chance to participate, and stronger follow-up.

Coordination: Team coordination is fundamentally more difficult when people are not co-located. Virtual teams must pay more attention to clarifying and simplifying the processes required to get work done.

 Remote teams communicate far less frequently and do not have the benefit of the in-person cues that convey so much important information. Virtual teams must put more rigor into how and when the team will communicate.

Accountabilities: It is common for virtual team members to feel disconnected from the normal rhythms of work life. Be disciplined in creating and enforcing rhythms of team meetings, progress reviews, and celebrations.

  1. Create New Virtual Team Rhythms and Expectations
    Once you have the right technology and have adjusted your team norms for the virtual environment, it is time to create a new virtual team rhythm and expectations. You want everyone to feel as comfortable contributing their thoughts remotely as they did in face-to-face meetings. This requires a conscious and additional effort to be friendly, polite, and inclusive.

    To avoid misunderstandings that sometimes occur in a hurriedly written email, agree as a team to assume a cooperative motivation. Then find an opportunity to talk further about what was intended by the comment but not clearly stated.

    Set up a system of regular and frequent one-one meetings with each team member so that you know how they and the team are doing. Consider setting aside one hour each day for virtual office hours to encourage the type informal conversations that often happen face-to-face to help people stay up to date on important decisions and information.

The Bottom Line
For now, many teams have no choice but to work remotely.  It is hard enough to work on live teams; virtual and remote teams add another layer of complexity.  Done right, leaders can sustain their culture and their employees by making a concerted effort to adjust to the new normal.

To learn more about how to better support remote teams at work, download 10 Tips to Overcome the Top Virtual Team Challenges


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