“Remote” can be tricky to get right, even if only because we’ve done it the other way for a long time and that’s how our companies, and minds, are used to operating. In my experience as a remote worker, and from what I gather chatting to other remote workers, there are certain factors that are present in all high-performing remote teams. Here are what I see as the most prevalent ones.
You want to get it right
Having people work remotely has a big impact on how a business functions. It changes many dynamics across how people operate. This means that everyone, from team members to the CEO, must have bought in to the idea. It’s not something you can just tell other people to go do and leave it alone – leadership must be part of the change. It also probably won’t work if you decide to just try it out with that one contractor in one of your teams, because your teams need to be built around this way of working.
Tools are important
When people are working away from each other, the tools you use become more important as you rely on them much more for things like communication than when everyone is co-located. Having a great way to share documents is less important when you can just peek over your colleague’s shoulder. When that is not a possibility, you better have a more efficient way of sharing documents than sending Word files around by email.
Everyone is on equal standing
When some of your team is co-located and others are remote, it is imperative that the remote folks don’t feel like second-rate employees, and that they are not left out of communication about things (even day-to-day small talk). The goal here is to avoid what is known as “out-of-band communication” – communication that is not carried out through the channels that everyone has access to. This ties in, once again, to picking the right tools so that communication happens effortlessly around those. Same goes for meetings. Make sure your team members have the support they need to participate effectively. Give everyone good headsets, for instance, or offer to pay the cost for them to get whatever is the best internet connectivity available at their location so they can hear, and be heard by, everyone clearly.
Over-communicating is good
There are all sorts of visual cues that go on when you can see other people that are just not there for remote teams. This means over-communicating online is probably healthy. Tell your team you’re leaving to grab a cup of coffee. Tell them you’re back. But of course, choose the right tool for this – you’re naturally not going to send a mass email telling the company about your afternoon snack plans, but doing so on a “virtual watercooler” such as a Slack channel might be appropriate. The same applies, to actual work. Let people know you’ve started your task, and let people know you’ve finished it. Again, the right tools for each kind of communication is critical, and good tools should even automate some of this.
Trust your team
This is, of course, desirable for any team, but it is crucial for remote teams. You have to just know that people will get work done, that people will be focused, and will be able to sort out problems out of their own initiative. This does not mean just leaving them to their luck, but it does mean you need to trust them that the right things will happen.