The traditional office may not be a thing of the past quite yet, but many organizations are using remote teams to leverage a wider pool of talent. These virtual teams make it possible to bring together people with specific skill sets regardless of where they’re located. New technology platforms are also making remote work easier than ever before while reducing overhead costs and providing greater flexibility for employees. The trend toward virtual work has continued to accelerate in recent years, with some analysts predicting that 50 percent of the US workforce will be remote by 2020.Working in remote teams, however, presents a number of unique challenges. Today’s organizations are understandably putting a lot of thought into how to manage teams remotely. Remote employees must have certain qualities and skills to excel at working from a distance. Organizing a remote team without accounting for these factors will make it difficult for them to function effectively. Here are a few remote teams best practices that can put team members on a path toward sustainable success.
How to Work Successfully in Remote Teams
Communicate Early and Often
Few things are more vital to remote team success than establishing clear communication standards. Since team members are usually geographically distributed and rarely in the same place, they rely on various communication channels to collaborate and share information. With technology like video conferencing, instant chat software, and workplace productivity platforms, it’s possible for team members to reach out at any time to discuss important tasks or resolve pressing issues. Frequent communication allows information to flow freely to all team members and makes it easier to collaborate.
But these technologies are only as effective as the people using them. If team members don’t make it clear to others when they are available or which channels to use to contact them, miscommunication problems create challenges for the team. With so many tools available, it’s also very easy for people to become overwhelmed. Many remote employees find it difficult to be productive when they’re being inundated by endless emails and message alert notifications. Team members need to set appropriate boundaries that help them to stay productive.
Know Your Role (and Everyone Else’s)
Accountability and trust are critical to the success of any remote team. Every member needs to understand their role and responsibilities within the team in order to deliver on expectations. Successful teams do a good job establishing clear roles from the onset and regularly evaluate how well team members are delivering on key commitments. Since remote teams often involve collaborative projects in which multiple members are responsible for different aspects of the work, it’s important for people to follow through on their contributions. When team members don’t have a firm understanding of their responsibilities, it’s very difficult to hold them accountable.
Having an awareness of the role each team member plays can also help to reduce confusion and uncertainty, which is especially important when it comes to large or complex projects. Knowing who has the resources or information to resolve an issue in the heat of the moment can avoid unnecessary delays and minimize inefficiencies. It also makes collaboration easier, with every team member understanding how their respective contributions fit into a larger picture.
Cooperation and collaboration should be an implied expectation in every team, but team members will have difficulty working together effectively without first establishing trust between one another. In order to build trust, they must first build relationships. This can be difficult in remote teams, where members may never meet in-person and could be separated by time zones or even language barriers. Taking the time to get to know people may seem like an additional burden, but a team without trust will struggle to be effective. Teams with high levels of trust routinely outperform their low-trust counterparts. In a virtual team, credibility is incredibly important; people need to have the confidence that other team members will hold themselves accountable for their work.
While task-based trust can be built over time by following through on commitments, building strong work relationships can speed that process along. Better relationships lead to better communication, a sense of camaraderie, and more productive collaboration. Taking the time to engage with other team members before or after virtual meetings and scheduling online cultural events can both help people get to know each other better and begin forming relationships that encourage trust and make it easier to resolve conflict productively.
Virtual employees spend a lot of their time working autonomously. While team leaders may check in with them regularly, they are very often left to set their own priorities and work at their own pace. The most successful remote teams are comprised of people who are self-starters, capable of identifying priorities and managing their workload accordingly. Although many virtual teams have systems and processes in place that standardize some aspects of their work, team members must be able to hold themselves accountable and find the best way to accomplish the tasks before them.
This independence puts additional pressure on team members to think beyond the scope of their work and consider how it impacts the rest of the team. Keeping specific team goals in mind can help them to remain focused and engaged in their tasks. It can be easy to lose sight of why a task is important without the frequent reminders that a traditional, in-office workplace often provides. Effective remote employees find ways to stay focused on key team goals and continuously take steps toward achieving them, even in the absence of direction from team leaders.
With remote teams becoming more common than ever, organizations need to put more thought into how they organize and support these teams. In addition to identifying people who are best suited to remote work, they should also consider how they will provide the resources and guidance team members need to succeed. By emphasizing remote teams best practices like good communication habits and establishing the standards for accountability, companies can build successful virtual teams with the versatility to meet a variety of challenges.