Teams and Teamwork remain catch phrases in our workplaces, and for good reason. There truly is strength in numbers, and when a group is pulling together in the same direction the journey to the goal is often quicker!
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A team housed together in the same physical space is easily seen as a strong, cohesive team. These are people who see each other in the day to day and can quickly share ideas and plans. More and more frequently, however, teams are geographically dispersed, with participants working in various sites, working from home, and working varying hours. These team members don't routinely see each other, speak to each other or work in the same environment, which makes consistent communication and shared goals and culture more challenging. Yet to maintain the strength of the team, the group needs the same level of teamwork and commitment toward goals as a traditional team. When you don't work in the same space, team context and culture are compromised. How do you lead a team that is spread out?
Context is the circumstances that form the setting for an event. Taken out of context, words, actions and motivations can be misinterpreted and misunderstood. Because people are geographically in different settings, context is naturally compromised. Working in remote teams eliminates the advantage of body language and facial expression. Comprehensive, clear communication is even more important.
Leaders of teams operating remotely must be constantly on the lookout for reduced productivity, cloudy communication, or any reluctance of team members to participate. These forces can brew beneath the surface and compromise the effectiveness and morale of the team effort. Special care must be taken on dispersed teams to fill in conditions and circumstances that are relevant to an event, facts, course of action, etc. It is better to over communicate!
Culture relates to morale and how people get along. Keeping a pulse on culture is difficult when teams are dispersed. When team members are isolated, it is easier to feel less involved and engaged in the day to day tasks, as well as lessening responsibility for the finished product. It's very important to hire self-motivated people to work remotely. Reinforce the team connectedness. Continually unite remote workers by collecting and sharing each member’s feedback and progress reports. Follow a very strong, regular communication strategy.
Use Technology. We have a plethora of tools to assist us with long distant communication. Video Conferencing, Skype, VoIP and other meeting platforms assist teams to stay connected. Use these tools regularly (daily, weekly) to keep the team united.
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Give Feedback. Remotely, people will need increased feedback to stay engaged. Be clear on your goals and communicate them often. Regularly reviewing and revamping goals will be critical to keep people on track.
Spread the Skill Around.
To truly perform well, teams need to rely on each other’s skill sets, the strengths that each bring to the table to benefit the team. Team members need a really clear idea of the projects remote workers are working on and what unique skills they contribute.
Promote ways to help team members collaborate remotely and support each other. Team trust grows when we rely on each other to achieve goals. If you get the sense people are achieving their goals separately, find ways to bridge skills and cooperation. Ensure that projects are being worked on collaboratively, not separately.
Be Sensitive to Barriers. Working in geographically different areas can cause language barriers, communication challenges, and time zone issues. Help your team be aware and sensitive to these barriers. Be the model.
Set up Informal Communication Channels. Engage technologies like internal chat rooms for team members to let off steam and share stories. Just like a physical break room or water cooler, this is an informal space where people can talk about what they are working on, annoyances, or good news they may have to share.