by Linda Huth | Featured Contributor
The days I work from home are usually some of the best days. I am comfortable, working on my own time schedule, and am more productive (since I have fewer interruptions). I will even find myself working a little longer than normal since I’m not worried about fighting traffic on the way home.
It’s pretty common these days to see flex time or options to work from home. Just last year, 43% of employed Americans said they spent some time working remotely. This is great as it allows workers to be more productive and give them the flexibility they need with their families.
With the shift to working remotely, teams are having to collaborate differently. When you work out of your home you aren’t able to lean over to the person next to you to ask a question. You have to call, IM, or screen share. This type of collaboration is a different mindset and I’ve collected a few tips on how to collaborate effectively with a remote team.
Establish Communication Norms
One of the best things you can do for a remote team is to establish communication norms. As a manager or leader of the team, you need to also practice what you preach.
I recommend using IM for a quick response to urgent items, however, the phone can be even faster. Is the production system down? Then get on the phone. Have a question when writing up a document? An IM will suffice. Use email for things that aren’t urgent and that need official documentation (like collecting approvals for a document).
Another thing that I have found helpful is to establish team working times. This lets everyone know when to expect others to be available. If I know that Sarah only works 6 am to 3 pm I won’t schedule a meeting at 4 pm and expect her to attend. It can also be helpful to establish team hours where it is expected that everyone will be available.
It can also help keep teams aligned to schedule quick check-ins during projects. This helps everyone stay grounded and up to speed on what everyone else is working on. It also gives people a place to bring up any issues or roadblocks that they have encountered.
When you and your team members are working remotely communication is even more important. You don’t always have the visual cues that you would have if you were working together in an office.
This means that all written communication needs to be clear and concise. You need to include enough detail so that the person receiving the communication knows exactly what you want and when you want it.
Documentation is even more important for remote teams. Team norms, standards, best practices – these all need to be written down. Having this written down gives your team a baseline on how work should be done.
Build a Connection
It’s much harder to build a connection and camaraderie between team members when you aren’t able to meet face to face. Building a connection is crucial to making sure your team trusts each other and will allow them to become a more cohesive group.
This is why it’s important to use video conference whenever it is available. It allows the people on the phone to visually see the other groups. This allows for facial cues and body language to be communicated as well as what is verbally said. If possible, I also recommend trying to meet each other face to face at least once. This allows you to quickly build a connection and strengthen your working relationship.
You can also bring some fun and interaction to your meetings by using icebreakers and team building activities. These can be done remotely with a little creativity. This past month I helped organize a team building activity for my team (that is spread out among 4 different states). The activity involved dividing members in each location into different simulation groups. The groups were then given different rules on how they were to build a LEGO car. Each location had facilitators and a script. We kept the phone on speaker so everyone could hear each other and it was almost like we were all in the same room. The activity definitely increased morale and was something fun in place of a normal staff meeting.
Remote teams definitely have to collaborate differently than teams that work out of an office. Team norms, the way you communicate, and the connection you build can help you create a successful and efficient team.
Do you work remotely? How do you collaborate with your team?
Linda Huth is an IT and software development expert and the founder of www.sheclimbstheladder.com.
During the day you can find Linda leading development teams through the daily grind of the corporate world. By night she can be found sharing what she’s learned on her blog. She enjoys being a female leader in the corporate world and hopes to be a resource for others doing the same.
In her free time, Linda can be found at her local Crossfit gym or working on one of her many home remodeling projects.