People who work in offices may be feeling a bit lonely these days. That’s because the number of people opting to work remotely is increasing. According to a report published by Flexjobs, 43% of workers in the United States work remotely at just part of the time. If your company outsources work to offshore companies, or simply has a global presence, you know that number increases significantly.
There are plenty of benefits to remote working. Businesses can source talent from all over the world. People who are able to work remotely are often more content and productive. There are even environmental benefits. Several companies including Dell and Xerox report a smaller carbon footprint thanks to telecommuting.
There are also undeniable challenges. When a business has a distributed workforce, how do they maintain the level of cooperation, collaboration, and communication they need? How do they contend with different cultures? Even time zones can be an issue.
Centralization and continuity are key to success. By having apps and other tools in common, remote teams can establish the cohesive relationships they need. Here, we’ll go over the importance of these, common concerns, and some tools to help.
Ensuring that communication contributes to success
MaryAnne Ilfrey is a large projects coordinator for TopWritersReview. She heads up teams of writers and editors distributed across the globe. She says, “At the start of every major product we emphasize the importance of regular communication. This has been key in our ability to successfully close out important projects for our clients smoothly and efficiently. Keeping everyone on the same page ensures fewer misunderstandings.”
Cultural understanding is important when projects involve workers from multiple places
Teams are now more culturally diverse than ever. Because remote work brings people together from all over the world, people working together on the same project may come from starkly different backgrounds. While ethnic, religious, and other forms of diversity are wonderful, success depends on Cultural literacy and understanding.
All of the above is true for people who work in offices together. With remote teams, it’s even more so. That’s why respect and understanding are so important. Cultural differences, without understanding, can lead to issues with communication and friction between team members.
Some managers admit, for example, that Americans tend to be a bit bold. They believe in being direct and putting conflicts out on the table to be worked through and solved. That can be a problem if they are working with people from a culture that values the concept of saving face, or that takes a more subtle approach to conflict.
There are several things that managers can do to help. The first is to encourage people to come to them with questions and concerns, then be able to address those concerns with knowledge and sensitivity. Another is to encourage friendly relationships among team members. Cultural misunderstandings happen, but when the people involved have an underlying trust and respect for one another.
Communicate more often than you think you need
- They’ll understand what I mean.
- I don’t need to get into a lot of detail.
- We can cover these points later if we need to.
There are plenty of excuses to delay or skip communicating with others. The problem with this is that with distributed teams, often working across time zones, communication is already a challenge. It’s always better to err on the side of communication overkill than not. Think of it like this, whatever it is you are working on, somebody in an entirely different region may have to pick that up and run with it.
Enabling teams to collaborate regardless of location
What is the biggest difficulty teams face when multiple people, in multiple locations must work cooperatively on the same parts of a project? When people work hard on something, they take ownership of that. When others make changes, they get territorial. Keeping change logs that focus on the benefits to the client and the project as a whole helps track changes.
Team building remotely
Team building can be a challenge when team members are scattered across the globe. There are no weekly happy hours. It’s virtually impossible to plan any sort of get together either. What teams can do is find ways to connect without meeting face to face. For example, you can have meetings twice each quarter via Skype that all of your associates and freelancers are invited to attend. It’s a bit of a get to know you session. Yes, it’s a bit corny at first, but once everyone loosens up a bit, it really turns into a positive thing.
Conclusion: tools to make remote teams more successful
Helping remote teams collaborate successfully is a real challenge. To succeed, you need great management, understanding, and people who are willing to work together. Fortunately, there are some tools that can help.
Slack is a communication app that makes it easy for remote team members to communicate with one another individually or in groups. This is a great alternative for keeping team members who don’t work in the same place engaged with one another.
Skype may not be the most exciting tool. However, it is effective and familiar, and in a remote work situation, that can be ideal. When a team needs to get together, video conferencing is often the best way to go. With Skype, most people understand how to use it. There’s no learning curve involved, so most users can just jump in.
Google Drive a simple and easy means for remote team members to access shared documents, make edits and suggestions, and to share their documents as well.
About the author:
Christopher Mercer is a blogger and freelancer. Web developer by day and writer by night, Chris enjoys the ever-changing world of web content. His in-depth articles have been featured in a variety of online publications. You can connect with Chris on LinkedIn.