How to get the most from your remote team

When I worked at the United Nations, I could look up and talk to my colleague across the room from me. My boss could call me into his office with a whisper. We all worked in the same office, and communication was pretty easy. 

However, working with remote units is quite a bit different. I have a team of five people who work all over the United States and Asia! We’re in different time zones, work at different hours, and some of us have never met each other in person, but our little company is doing well. We’re a great team. 

There are a few things I’ve learned over the years that help make for a great remote team

Be human 

Just because someone is remote does not mean they don’t have feelings, desires, empathy, or want to be connected. While you can’t shake their hand or share a serendipitous laugh, you can still treat them like humans.  

You can remember someone’s birthday and send a card. You can send a text saying that you appreciate their work. These small gestures will go a long way. 

Have clear goals and expectations 

You should always have goals and expectations, but these are especially important when your team is remote.

For example, my video editor is based in Asia, and I’m in North America. We explicitly define important things like deadlines, video formats, and other critical elements. This constant communication helps keep us on the same page even though we’re in separate continents and wildly different time zones.   

Use video conferencing tools 

Of course, nothing is better than in-person communication, but the next best thing is a video call. A conference call is nice, but you can’t see people. Video conferencing enhances your overall communication because visual communication is so important.  

Video calls let you view laughter, a smile, as well as enjoy the emotional experience of talking to somebody. Also, when you see the person you’re speaking with, you can read expressions, see body language, and pick up on other cues. 

Use task management tools 

In our company, if it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist. We do our best to bring everything out of email and ensure each task is in a task management tool. We make sure each job has a detailed description and a clear deadline when assigned to a person. 

Being able to see what’s upcoming, when something is due, and who it’s assigned to is a way to ensure that things get done. This helps to make sure tasks aren’t forgotten and that deadlines are not missed. 

Real-time communication 

Depending on how you work, real-time communication—or “instant messaging”—could be useful as well. A variety of apps have IM built into them, and IM can work more efficiently than email. If you want to find out if someone got a package you sent, an IM can get you an immediate answer faster than an email.  

While IM is a powerful tool, it’s also essential to set standards and boundaries for communication. If an IM comes in at 2 AM, does it need to be answered immediately? Should someone even send an IM at that time?

Remember, tools are great, but your corporate culture must always set limits on how to use these tools. 

File collaboration 

Be sure that all team members know the location of all your files. If a team member in Kenya is asleep or with their family, why should that stop a team member in Austin, Texas, from working on the same project?

Ensure files are correctly named and in an agreed-upon file structure. Make certain you’re aware of editing changes to files and who can make those changes.  

If you’re still storing files on a local server in your office, you’re not maximizing the power of cloud computing. Use online file-sharing services for better security, uptime, and enhanced features. 

Client communication 

Although you’re remote, it’s crucial that your teams don’t appear disjointed to your clients. Be sure to communicate internally, so you’re able to communicate with your clients openly.  

Ascertain when to bcc and cc team members on emails, as necessary. A customer record management (CRM) system will give you insight into client communications and other elements of the client experience. 

Getting the most out of your remote team 

Remote teams are powerful. It’s necessary to have the tools and policies that can support and enable your remote workers to be as successful as they can be. Remember, technology is vital for your team’s success, but the policies and company culture that guide the use of that technology are even more imperative.

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