Using Remote Teams | Professional Academy

Written by Professional Academy Management and Leadership Tutor, Kathryn Knights

Working in an office presents many challenges, the most obvious one being constant interruptions. So, the idea of working remotely sounds ideal: checking your emails occasionally and being left undisturbed to complete your tasks. However, it’s not quite as simple as that. Remote working requires a different approach to face-to-face working if you’re going to make it a success. Here’s how to do it.

First and foremost, remote working doesn’t work for all teams and it doesn’t work for all people. For example, if you work on a production line in a factory you can’t work remotely. But for those people who can work remotely it can be an energising and highly productive environment to work in, as long as the infrastructure is in place.

Creating and building trust

Trust is important in any team, whether face-to-face or remote. Trust means having belief or confidence in someone but it takes time to build and can be lost overnight if someone doesn’t deliver on what they’ve promised.

Think about the last order you placed online. You trusted it would arrive on the day the company told you it would arrive. But maybe it turned up late, eroding some of the trust you had in the company.

Trust is easier to build when you’re face-to-face because you can use body language to back up your words and feelings. When we can’t see people it becomes harder to connect. However, that doesn’t mean that building trust in remote teams is impossible. You just have to approach it in a different way.

Writing a basic set of guidelines that capture your working ethos is a good place to start. You could include information on values and ways of working e.g. be honest, be open, fulfil promises, flag up challenges at the earliest opportunity.

Once the guidelines have been agreed the next challenge is for everyone to ‘live them out’. This is where the team leader should play their role in validating the guidelines through leading by example and fostering trust.  

Establishing what communication tools to use and when

Communication breakdowns are often cited by people as a reason why tasks don’t get completed on time and / or to the right standard. They also contribute to poor working relations.

Setting out some communication guidelines is a simple but effective way of keeping your remote team productive and happy.

Here’s what they might they look like:

  • Phones – use for emergencies i.e. where a response is needed immediately
  • Instant messenger – use for everyday straightforward communication i.e. where a response is needed from between 4-24 hours
  • Project planning / management software – use for managing the project workflow
  • Email – use for non time sensitive communication and sending calendar invites

Ideally try to use communication applications / software that are designed to talk to each other. Using ones designed by the same company or that use the same operating platform is a good idea.

Having a meeting strategy

Lots of teams book meetings with team members whenever they can find space in the calendar to do so. Working in this way means people can spend a lot of time either arranging or taking part in meetings.

The key to working smarter, especially when you’re in a remote team, is to have a meeting strategy.

Start by having a daily virtual huddle. This is a short meeting (20 minutes) for everyone to share what’s coming up over the next 24 hours. View them as a daily check-in and energiser.

Next, the team should agree on a suitable day to set aside for meetings each week. By doing so you’ll create a rhythm to the working week. Everyone can set their mind to meeting with people (either face-to-face or virtually) on one specific day, while the remaining days can be spent working independently.

Following this strategy will reduce the number of meeting invitations (as people will be more selective about setting up meetings in the first place) and reduce the time spent on calendar coordination.

The importance of thanking people

Working together is more than just ‘getting the job done’. It’s also about recognising and being thankful for everyone’s contribution.

We know recognition is a big motivator for people. Psychologist, Frederick Herzberg, shared his theory on motivation in the workplace back in the 1960s.

Through a series of interviews with people he identified that there were certain factors in the workplace that caused job satisfaction while a separate set of factors caused dissatisfaction, all of which act independently of each other. Herzberg named ‘recognition’ as one factor that caused job satisfaction.

There are a couple of ways to approach being thankful and recognising people’s efforts.

Firstly, get into the habit of telling people more frequently that you have been thankful for their contribution. A short email or mention on a phone call will suffice.

Secondly, if you are in a team leader position make sure you dedicate some time aside from the ‘business as usual’ activities for everyone to reflect on the great work you have achieved. If you can organise getting everyone together face-to-face it’s ideal. However, if your team is global and the logistics of getting together are impossible make sure you set up a virtual get together where achievements can be celebrated formally.

Final thought

With some planning up front there is no reason why a remote team can’t function effectively. In fact, with people’s minds focused on smart ways of working the huge benefit of remote working is that people switch into continuous improvement mode, thus increasing the likelihood that the team can become a high performing one in a relatively short period of time.

If you need further advice, get in touch via LinkedIn.

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