2020 has surprised us with the sudden switch to remote work. Yet as much as 30% of all workforce will be working remotely by the end of 2021. Most companies will soon or already allow their teams to work remotely. This shift will make it possible to reach the global talent pool, decrease various costs (think office space leasing) and enable the employees to live a life beyond the usual nine-to-five work schedule. Yet, knowing all that, we hardly know how to manage distributed teams.
We need to learn how to effectively collaborate when working from home or any other place. How do we do small talk online? How much time should we spend on non-essential communication? How to identify conflicts between team members? These and many more questions are haunting many managers now. See five concise tips on how to make more out of working remotely.
1. Establish clear Rules Of Engagement
Stuff that would normally be clarified in-person between colleagues sitting within one office has now moved online. We have to rewrite the rules of communication. Members of your team should know when and how to communicate with each other. All of them have multiple channels to use – e.g. email, Slack, SMS, project management software. How to make sense of it all? First of all you need to understand the difference between synchronous and asynchronous messaging. Synchronous communication occurs during a phone or video call, i.e. continuous, real-time conversation. Asynchronous is basically similar to messaging. That means all written communication forms, including all chats. Usually used for matters better handled in a written form.
Knowing the difference you should think about the division between aforementioned forms. As a rule of thumb all sessions including a spontaneous discussion/brainstorm are better handled using synchronous communication while the more detailed matters are better explained using carefully crafted sentences. Make sure that your team understands the difference between those forms and uses these channels efficiently. Otherwise you risk wasting your time on unnecessary meetings and endless email chains. However, know when to bend the rules. If something has started as a proper email, but rapidly escalated into multiple emails then it may be a good idea to discuss stuff during a call.
2. Explain the “why”
Every employee within the company has different access to information. When working remotely it is even harder to understand who knows exactly what. It is important to aligning your goals as both individuals and as a team. Distributed employees often do not understand why a certain decision was made on an upper level. The isolation of working at your home and a lack of non-verbal clues core to the online communication is further contributing to this effect. That is why it is extremely important to communicate often and clearly the overall direction in which you are heading as a team. It is better to overcommunicate than enable information to slip through. A team which doesn’t know where it is heading is deemed to fail in the long term.
3. Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment
People being put in a situation of isolation tend to stick to a routine as means for greater productivity and better mental health. Imagine what a day of a soldier or a ship crew member looks like. Their plan for the day is deeply rooted in performing particular tasks at a particular time. When working remotely there is a high chance that many of you are living in different time zones therefore sticking to a fixed schedule prevents you from creating chaos in everyone’s calendar. There is an added benefit of routine – it’s called the power of the habit. What you do often becomes easier and more natural for you to do.
Requiring video calls for every meeting works wonders for distributed teams. No exceptions. Video makes it possible to notice at least some non-verbal clues and it greatly increases engagement of the call participants. Additionally, it is worthy to require an agenda for every meeting. That means that at least the host is prepared and hopefully that all the other participants have prepared themselves as well. And yes, it applies to the daily standups as well.
What also has proved to greatly benefit the virtual meetings is the use of a timer which everyone can see. This way everyone knows how much time they have to provide their personal update or present their thoughts while you are making sure that the whole meeting will stay within its time slot. It is easy to lengthen the virtual meetings, but doing so is disrespectful to others as it shows no regard for their time. Use a simple solution like this to make more of every meeting: https://timeqube.online/
4. Focus on results
Make sure that your team understands what outcomes are expected of them. In point 2. we have covered the strategy, but here we mean tactics and how it aligns with strategy goals. Working far away from each other means that there will be less casual interactions and more formal, written ones. Do not let it get in the way of finishing individual tasks. Practice transparency about what you all are working on and provide detailed information on what exactly is expected of particular team members. Recognize the achievements of both the team and individuals. If possible, give exhaustive feedback during 1 on 1 video calls. Make sure that employees can reach you with any questions they might have and if you need to limit the time spent on those interactions provide clear slots or time of the day when you can be reached without disrupting your own work. Avoid bottlenecks, yet respect your own time.
We need discipline in our lives but remember that everyone has a slightly different experience when working from home. Someone has young kids, someone is helping his elders and someone feels completely isolated living alone. Understand these differences and incorporate them into your assessment of your team members’ work. Additionally, show flexibility should someone badly need to fix something personal within the usual working hours.
Since an in-person hangout session may be impossible or hard to organize, remember about leisure sessions from time to time. It can take the form of a virtual watercooler or playing some online game all together. Make sure that the time spent is comfortable with everyone and stimulate those times to avoid the “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” effect.
Try to understand your team and if possible help them in dealing with any obstacles they might be facing. Remember though that sometimes people simply want to talk out what is getting on their nerves without any expectation that you will help them fix the issue. Empathetically reaching out to a distressed employee will surely be remembered by them a long time. Ultimately, as Maya Angelou has said: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”.
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For more tips on leading a mindful business head to https://timeqube.com/articles/