Staying Connected with Remote and Distributed Teams

by | Business Tips, Productivity

Staying Connected with Remote and Distributed Teams
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During the pandemic, companies around the world got their first taste of managing a remote or distributed team and the challenges that came along with it. Coordinating different time zones, distributing an even workload, and working through virtual meetings have become common everyday obstacles.

As the world continues to recover from the pandemic, we must understand what the new normal for workplaces and team dynamics will look like today and in the future. Here are several ideas that can help your team work more efficiently and effectively even if you aren’t in the same room.

Managing a Remote or Distributed Team

Lack of in-person communication can severely hamper a company’s ability to hire, onboard, and collaborate with each other. But using the right tools and processes, it’s not impossible to regain a sense of human connection, even if the team is scattered geographically.

Choosing Your Communication Tools

The more remote a team is, the more they must rely on their tools to ensure communication is clear. Last year, Zoom became the de facto video conferencing app due to its accessibility and ease of use— unlike previous video conferencing software, users did not require an account or login code to join a call.

Slack has also become iconic enough to become part of everyday vocabulary. “Slack” me implies a quick message on the app, which is a kind of hybrid between the rich formatting of email and the immediacy of IM. With support for multiple channels, third-party integrations, and even voice and video chat, Slack has even replaced traditional email clients for some startups.

For those seeking to collaborate on a specific document, presentation, or spreadsheet, look no further than Google Drive. This suite makes it easy to edit documents together in real-time, which means you don’t have to keep sending files back and forth to make changes. Full cloud storage support also frees up hardware space, allowing you to store millions of files online.

Other apps can assist with various purposes— Bonsai allows freelancers to set up contracts quickly. Toggl or Mavenlink can allow teams to carefully track their time for billing. HelloSign or Docusign can help you get signatures from other people for your SOW or RFPs. Ensure that team resources are shared and properly understood. Some tools, such as CRM software, may require additional training before team members can feel comfortable.

Developing Your Communication Process

Tools are often not enough to get a team talking to each other— you have to have processes in place to ensure the tools are being effectively used. Be transparent about working hours and availability, perhaps through the use of a shared calendar. When it comes to meetings, everyone should know beforehand exactly how to join, at what time, and what the meeting is about.

The same goes for client communication. There should be a general understanding of how remote teams respond to clients, from the timing to the language used. Poor communication can portray a negative depiction of your company’s brand.

Recognizing Employees

One of the biggest challenges in maintaining a company culture remotely is the lack of recognition for a job well done. We tend to get so focused on the work at hand that it’s easy to leave little room for celebrating success, even though that’s when we need to celebrate the most.

Create a channel for celebrating success, both figuratively and literally. In Slack, you may have a specific thread dedicated to recognizing accomplishments from the team. Or you may choose to publicly shout out team members that have helped in difficult situations. Regardless, always ensure that everyone in the team gets their due recognition.

Remote Team Building Activities

Daily standups and weekly meetings – Every day at the same time, team members are encouraged to keep everyone updated on their current tasks, any obstacles ahead, and any help needed. These standups should last no more than 15 minutes but can vary depending on team size. Weekly meetings are longer and tend to involve more team members. Daily meetings will develop more cohesive and collaborative teams.

Conduct special events, even if held virtually, that show you care and value your team members. Some ideas include trivia night, happy hours, webinars, online games, and other bonding activities.

Start an ask me anything session. Inspired by the popular subreddit, this gives team members an opportunity to ask each other questions that don’t necessarily pertain to work. When done right, it can be a great way to get to know someone and even find shared interests.

Organize team retreats. Nothing beats going to a place somewhere with your team. The change of scenery can inspire more creativity and collaboration and will allow team members to see each other outside work in a casual, yet still professionally relevant environment.

Volunteer together. Find a cause that’s important to everyone in the team, and then organize an event that pulls everyone together to help towards that cause. It may be cleaning up a local park, packing supplies for families, or helping at a nearby shelter or soup kitchen. Philanthropy can be a great way to bring people together.

Benefits of a Remote Workforce

Greater collaboration – working with people around the country and around the world can be eye-opening and creatively fulfilling. You get to hear different viewpoints and experiences, all of which serve to make stronger products and services— just make sure you cultivate an environment of open and honest communication.

Greater engagement – As people have more time to focus on their wellness and work-life balance, a remote lifestyle can have a significant impact on an employee’s sense of belonging and dedication to their work. The result is lower employee turnover and a higher level of loyalty.

Greater productivity – Remote work opens up new opportunities. Employees don’t have to be stuck in traffic or working a rigid 9-5. Instead, they have flexibility in deciding when and where they can work.

Challenges of Remote Work

No supervision – No one will be hovering over you to ensure you stay productive! Remote work means being accountable for your own deliverables and deadlines. This can be detrimental to people who are less autonomous or require a little more guidance.

Social isolation – Remote work can feel lonely if you aren’t surrounded by people you care about. Be sure to have check-ins with your team regarding how they are doing mentally. This is also where team activities can play a major role in increasing engagement.

Lack of resources – Depending on where you are, you may lack basic office equipment: things like printers, fax machines, conference tables, or postboxes. For some industries and types of work, these pieces of equipment are essential to completing projects.

Remote Work Tools

Project Management

Proofhuba useful, all-in-one project management app for workflows, discussions, Gantt charts, calendars, documents, and other important pieces of information. The interface is colorful and intuitive, ensuring your team stays on track no matter what project you are working on. Netflix, Google, NASA, Nike, and Pinterest are just a few of their clients.

Basecamp – Another popular project management tool designed to keep you productive and organized. Teams can organize projects through message boards, to-do lists, schedules, documents, group chat, and automatic check-ins. There are also apps for iOS and Android, Mac, and PC.

Instagantt – Some teams like to view projects as Gantt charts, which show the timeline, task types, and dependencies that are often overlooked when making a project. Instagantt makes that process easy with beautiful-looking charts. If you use Asana, Instagantt syncs seamlessly.

HR Tools

Lattice – Think project management meets HR, and you get a people management platform. Utilized by Reddit, Slack, Asana, and many more, Lattice allows companies to better understand their employees and their overall engagement, through performance reviews, goal setting, feedback, updates, and more. The result is a more inspiring and human way of working together.

Officevibe – Learn about the important things that your employees don’t always want to talk about— everything from collaboration problems to workplace harassment. Officevibe’s platform makes it easy to take surveys or leave feedback anonymously, protecting employees as well as the company.

Kudos – Recognition for a professional achievement can only do wonders for the individual as well as the company. So take the time to shout out employees and reward them for performing an exceptional job. That’s the idea behind kudos, a way to praise employees as part of your overall program, motivating them to do even better the next time.

Business Communications

Nextiva – Whether you communicate by phone, text, video, email, or IM, Nextiva brings it all together in one location. This isn’t just for teams, but for customers as well. That means you only ever need one app to do all your communications and customer outreach.

Whereby – Want to have video conversations but always have privacy in mind? Whereby is your solution. No app or download needed, just a single URL and you can start chatting via video. All your communications are encrypted and browser-based, and you can even have branded rooms hosting up to 50 people. A seriously competitive alternative to Zoom.

Coworking or Virtual Office Solutions

Even if you are working remotely, sometimes you need a physical place to meet up, or just somewhere besides your apartment or house to finish up work. Other times, you may just need a physical presence and professional equipment to help support a home office, for example, a recognizable address to receive your mail and documents, or a place for high quality printing and scanning.

Sometimes just changing a single tool or updating the team process can have profound effects on the company as a whole. If you want to ensure your distributed team can perform successfully, make sure they have everything they need to collaborate and get work done. 2020 showed us that remote teams can absolutely work, even thrive, as long as the right tools and processes are available to empower them.

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