There was once a time in the business world when companies and managers were limited when it came to hiring. They could recruit only those candidates who lived within commuting distance of their nearest office or were willing to relocate.
Thanks to new technologies like video conferencing and collaboration tools, remote work has grown rapidly in popularity throughout the last several years. It offers businesses a larger pool of talent from which to hire and allows talented employees to live and work anywhere without sacrificing job prospects.
Along with the growth of remote teams, plenty of challenges have sprung up. One of the biggest pitfalls? Collaborating effectively. It’s difficult to truly work together when separated by state lines and timezones. But with these 4 easy steps, you can radically improve your team’s ability to get the job done from anywhere.
Step 1: Keep Meetings Quick & Tactical
It’s no secret that meetings have fallen into ill-repute. They’ve been heralded as the death of productivity and the murderer of team morale. When your team works in the same office, that means one thing. Collaborating as a remote team leaves you with one simple reality: you’re going to have to have a few meetings. But fear not, they don’t have to be painful.
Just because you need meetings in order to get organized for collaboration doesn’t mean you need to have seven of them every day. When you set a new meeting, have a specific end-goal in mind. What do you need to get out of this meeting? Meetings without a clear *objective* easily get off-topic and become unproductive, and they may not even need to happen in the first place. If you can’t define that objective, cancel the meeting.
The biggest benefit to having a meeting at all is the face time. It’s easier and quicker to hash out details face-to-face than it is via long and bloated email chains. To reap the benefits of this, however, you and your team have to be ready to go from the moment you log in. Create a detailed agenda of what you’ll talk about in the meeting and ensure every attendee has a copy far in advance. Set the expectation that each team member is expected to come prepared to contribute their two cents in each meeting.
By the end of your meeting (ideally not that long after it starts), everyone should be able to walk away with clear, defined next steps. No team member should be in the dark about what’s expected of them and when it’s expected. It’s good practice to conclude each meeting with each attendee noting their own next steps, as they understand them.
Step 2: Prioritize Team Building
We’ve all had to work on teams we weren’t in love with. The condescending manager, the lazy coworker, the know-it-all – there are plenty of issues that arise when people have to work closely together.
The solution? Prioritize team bonding time and activities. It’s always easier to work with people we consider friends. We’re more understanding of their bad days, unafraid to push them when they need it, and are generally less stressed about collaborating.
No matter how distributed your team is, make time for face time. Not the iOS app – the real thing. Schedule in-person meetings and social gatherings as often as you can. Encourage team members who are near each other to meet up on their own and get to know one another.
It’s also important that team members bond on more than a work level. To that end, it’s okay to open up a meeting with friendly chatter or close it out with discussion of everyone’s weekend plans. Team members who can connect on a deeper level will naturally work better together and be more willing to go the extra mile for each other.
It’s also important that your team is filled out with compatible coworkers. If your company or team has a distinct culture, make a point to look for those characteristics when it’s time to hire a new team member.
Step 3: Compensate for Timezone Differences
While timezones aren’t a problem for every remote team, they usually become a hurdle for most. How can you schedule meetings that are convenient for everyone when one person is in California and the other in France? When you start adding in really dispersed timezones, it gets more and more difficult to collaborate.
The most important way to fight this is just to ensure everyone knows where the rest of the team is based. If someone in California repeatedly sets meetings for 10 am PST, team members in France might grow a little wearied – and vice versa. Eliminate the potential for seemingly rude meeting times by educating the whole team.
Once you know where everyone is in the world, make a big effort to schedule meetings, brainstorm sessions, and any other collaborative activities for a time that’s at least reasonable, if not convenient, for everyone who needs to attend.
Obviously this isn’t always possible, which brings us to the next point. When you hire, look for a minimum number of overlapping work hours – say 4 hours a day – and be upfront about them. Having the flexibility to work with talent all across the globe is huge for business, but on a day-to-day basis, you simply need some level of overlap. Be sure to be open and honest about this limitation when you list a job as “remote.”
Step 4: Get the Right Tools
The whole reason remote work is becoming so commonplace is because of the abundance of software and tools that are available. There are thousands of solutions to remote work’s biggest challenges – you just have to find the right one for your team. At a minimum, your team should agree on a tool to solve these three remote pain points:
When you’re in an office, it’s easy to walk over to someone’s desk and ask if they have a minute. Once you’re working from different continents, it gets a little harder. Being able to get quick discussions and decisions out of the way without having to book a conference room or send a million emails back and forth may not seem like a luxury when your whole team is in the same office. But you’ll definitely miss it once they aren’t.
To simulate this ‘pop-in’ type of communication and keep email inboxes from overflowing, find a tool for instant communication. Options like Slack, Microsoft Lync, and Skype allow your team to easily converse back and forth quickly and at any time of day.
Depending on your team, it’s important to ensure everyone is comfortable with the tool you choose. Once it’s secured, establish defined standards for how the team will use it to communicate. For example, the team will not send repeated Slack messages over and over until the other person answers.
File Sharing & Collaboration
Nothing gets in the way of effective collaboration quite like antique Word documents. If your team is remote (and even if they’re not), you want to ensure that everyone has the most up-to-date version of documents and that they can edit them at anytime. Being able to collaborate virtually, in real-time, on execution for proposals, articles, presentations, etc. is really the secret sauce of a successful remote team.
Use a solution like Google Docs, Dropbox, or Box.com where teammembers can work together on a document at the same time. They should be able to see changes in real-time and view the most updated version every time they pull up a file. That way, no one is working on outdated documents or doing the same work as someone else on the team.
Teams only work when everyone understands what they’re responsible for. Project and task management is important for every team, but there are extra layers of difficulty when you’re distributed.
Use a tool like Trello, Basecamp, or Asana to keep track of what projects are being worked on, who owns them, deadlines, and where they currently stand. Look for a solution that allows multiple people to work on the same project, adding in comments, attachments, and status updates as needed, and where everyone involved can check in on what’s happening and where a task stands.
Work Together Better
Working and collaborating with a remote team undoubtedly poses its own unique challenges. But remote work is growing because of the flexibility it allows both employees and companies to live and work anywhere in the world and hire for top talent despite the limitations of geography.
With the four steps outlined above, your remote team can learn to collaborate across the miles as if they were sitting in the same room.
What tips can you share for effective remote collaboration?