Productive remote teams work as teams, not as individual contributors toiling separately from home. Engaging remote teams presents a host of unique challenges. But with a bit of strategy and the use of technology, managers can transform groups of remote workers into cohesive units.
To do that, however, leaders must recognize that remote work culture doesn’t develop the same way in-office culture does. Without body language, break room chats, and desk drop-bys, remote teams must act deliberately to communicate and connect. More connected teams are more productive and make fewer mistakes, so managers should prioritize investing in developing a positive remote work culture.
With the spread of the coronavirus, teams that have never worked remotely find themselves in an unfamiliar environment. Leading productive remote teams is challenging enough without a pandemic to add to the pressure. Throw in workers unfamiliar with remote protocols — and a heap of stress — and many teams will struggle.
Follow these tips to keep remote workers engaged, productive, and focused as they work from home, both now and later:
Create Asynchronous Workflows
People who work remotely don’t always work in the same time zones. Even people in the same city have different demands on their time. During the pandemic, some workers may need time during the day to parent their children or get supplies. In calmer times, people still have to attend to family matters and deal with surprises during normal working hours.
Asynchronous workflows allow remote teams to collaborate quickly without losing information in between conversations. Use tools like G Suite and project management technologies to ensure everyone knows who’s working on what and what needs to be done next. Stress the importance of over-communication when leaving project notes, and make sure employees always update the status of their work. Changing a project from “Pending” to “In Progress” to “Complete” over the course of an hour may feel like overkill, but those details help other team members manage their own time better.
It’s easy to recognize people’s achievements in an office. If they want, managers can just talk loudly — “Did you guys see how Elizabeth crushed these designs?” — to distribute praise. People working remotely can easily feel forgotten if managers don’t go out of their way to recognize good work on digital channels.
Incorporate celebration into regular meetings and communications to make remote workers feel appreciated. Start meetings by recognizing the best work of the last day or week. Establish awards for people who complete the most tasks or go above and beyond to deliver exceptional results. Talk, talk, and talk some more about the brilliance of the team to encourage people to keep up the momentum.
Facilitate Communication During Downtime
People need downtime so they can perform at their best when it’s time to work. By facilitating non-serious communication, managers can help employees connect with one another and blow off steam in between projects.
Encourage employees to create casual Slack channels to talk about their pets, hobbies, and passions. Host weekly hangouts to give employees some unstructured face time with each other. If some people work remotely and others work in an office together, gather the office crew in a conference room with a camera. Those little connections may seem like luxuries, but team members must feel like part of a group if managers want them to band together during tough times.
In the rush to move to remote work during the pandemic, some companies have insisted that nothing will change except location. That’s not always the case, though. Certain types of projects lend themselves better to remote collaboration, while others require extra work when people don’t share physical space. Managers must acknowledge the unique challenges and advantages of remote arrangements and evaluate productivity accordingly.
Communicate with employees about the challenges they face working remotely and how they feel those challenges affect their work. Do they work faster or slower? Are certain types of projects easier to complete from home? Programmers may knock out JIRA tasks at twice the speed, while marketers may take longer to get the information they need to write case studies. Continually collect feedback, and evaluate metrics to establish goals that are achievable and fair for everyone.
Both all-remote companies and typically in-person businesses are scrambling to put together best practices during this crisis. Remote teams work better under leaders who understand the unique advantages and challenges of distributed workforces. Improve your communication to keep remote teams engaged with their work — and one another.