Modern technology has given us many ways to collaborate with co-workers in other locations, but it’s important to keep in mind some best practices for ensuring that everyone on the team is successful in their jobs and morale remains high. When you’re building and running a remote team, it’s crucial to set clear expectations up front and keep an eye on everyone’s mood, as negative situations can escalate much faster than in an in-office setting.
If you’re unsure about turning part or all of your team into a remote one, consider that remote employees can often be more efficient and productive, and more likely to stay with the company. Additionally, remote work is part of the trend amongst younger workers towards adopting the “digital nomad” lifestyle.
These tips are useful whether everyone on your team is working from home around the world, they’re based in different company locations, or they work from home on a part-time or full-time basis and collaborate with people who are in the office.
1. Make sure everyone on the team has a clear working schedule and the same expectations
All team members should have their working hours posted publicly, so colleagues know when they’re “on the clock,” so to speak. If you have a hybrid environment where some people are remote and others aren’t, this will help alleviate pressure on the remote employees to feel like they always have to be available.
In a hybrid setup, it also helps to have the same expectations for remote employees that you have for the in-office folks. If people working elsewhere feel the need to constantly be visible to prove that they’re working, such as by always commenting on instant message (IM) chats, they might feel like they’re not given the same status as their in-office colleagues. Setting universal expectations for remote and in-office employees helps show that you trust them to do their jobs even though they have less tangible oversight.
For example, if people in the office usually leave for lunch, remote employees should be able to do the same, or at least set their status to “away” during that time period, even if they’re at their computers.
It’s also a good idea to schedule daily syncs with remote people, as well as weekly feedback sessions where you can dive deeper into anything that needs a course correction. Those are best handled via video conference, so you and your employee can note each other’s body language and tone of voice and better understand the spirit in which comments are made.
2. Instant messaging can replace in-person or video-conferencing chats, but keep some etiquette in mind
Create IM groups divided by team, project, and other criteria to minimize the number of irrelevant messages. When in doubt, it doesn’t hurt to cast a wider net and let the feedback dictate if the conversation should move to a smaller group. Additionally, emojis can come in handy during online chats with co-workers in other locations, since phrases like “Are you done with that task yet?” can come across as brash when there is no additional context to the message.
If your IM client sends your message when you press Enter (or Return), it likely also allows you to hold down the Shift key while doing so to start a new line. This trick lets you structure messages into short, easily digestible paragraphs. If you think you’ll need to do so more than a few times, your request may be too complex for IM, in which case you might want to set up a phone call or video conference.
Keep time zones in mind when sending IMs and emails – no one wants to be awoken by a ping on their phone in the middle of the night. It’s better to set a reminder, such as by emailing yourself a note, or using the scheduling feature in your email client, than risk irritating a co-worker with something that could wait until tomorrow. If you’re on the receiving end of a late-night message, a gentle reminder of your working hours the next day usually helps modify the behavior.
Finally, it’s important to have a little fun when you can. Every message doesn’t have to be work-related – there’s nothing wrong with sharing a few personal pictures or chatting about your vacation plans, as you’d likely do when talking to co-workers in person!
3. Use the right tool for the right purpose at the right time
Having a wide variety of apps at your disposal can make it difficult to know which one to use for a specific message, especially when a conversation could easily happen in person if you were working with someone in the same office. When you’re in the same space as someone else, it’s a lot easier to read the cues and know whether it’s a good time to approach them.
Generally speaking, instant messages usually aren’t the place for non-time-sensitive comments, which are better delivered over email or in a project management tool like Trello or Wrike. If it’s a project or task update, you’re probably better off using a management tool so the information doesn’t get lost, which can easily happen with email.
It’s also a good idea to invest in project management software, a file sharing app, and other business tools. Cloud-based collaboration software like Google Docs is also crucial, since it gives everyone access to the same version of every document and it lessens the chance that someone will end up with an out-of-date copy.
4. Don’t let problems fester and make sure everyone knows what’s going on at the company
It’s very easy for miscommunication among remote team members to lead to misunderstandings that cause hurt feelings and resentment. Even a video conference can create such problems, especially if the discussion is tense and a remote employee don’t know what their in-office colleagues say to each other in person after the meeting ends. IM sessions are usually the worst channel for difficult conversations, since text is typically stripped of emotional nuance and emojis aren’t the best substitute window into how somebody feels.
If you feel like problems are beginning to build, tackle them immediately with a video conference. Litmus, which has a worldwide workforce, has a rule that could come in handy here: “Unless every person is in the same room, hold all meetings over video conference.” They have that guideline so that everyone is on the same footing and people who are in the same room can’t have side discussions that could lead to more misunderstandings.
When conducting a regularly scheduled meeting, it’s a good idea to allocate some time for team and company updates. It’s easy for remote employees to miss information that often gets shared informally in the office, such as a new co-worker’s start date, a personal announcement, or a change at the company.
5. Get everyone together in person as often as possible
Budgets are always tight, but it’s important to bring the team together at least once a year, even if the event has to happen at the home office, rather than an offsite location. Doing so gives team members the chance to chat in person and bond in various ways, which will strengthen their long-distance connections when the event is over.
Employing these 5 tips will allow you to foster positive morale across your remote team– something that is no easy feat!