7 Crucial Tips for Working with a Remote Team
2. Respect Time Zones and Work Schedules
It’s up to you to learn your colleagues’ time zones like the back of your hand. After all, you don’t want to have to ask them every single time you’re scheduling a meeting. Beyond knowing time zones, it’s worth talking about when your teammates like to work, especially those you collaborate most closely with. Remember, if you’re working on a remote team, there’s a good chance not everybody is working a traditional 9-to-5. By understanding when your colleagues are typically working (or not), you can avoid accidentally scheduling things during their off time. You’ll want to communicate your work preferences back to your colleagues as well so that you can ensure that you have the proper boundaries set up to enjoy a healthy work-life balance even when your colleagues can’t see exactly when you walk out the office door.
“It’s about respecting the preferred work schedule of others,” adds Berry. “Let people live their lives and don’t ask them to be working during inconvenient times.”
3. Be Prepared for Delays
Try as you might, time zones are a challenge, and you may find yourself stuck needing something from a teammate who’s offline.
Find ways to safeguard against this. As a team, this might mean keeping all work in open, shared folders using a collaboration tool that allows for shared notes—like Jira, Clubhouse, Trello, or Asana‚so that, even if you can’t chat with your colleague, you can dig through the work they’ve done to find your answer.
As an individual, make sure to be prepared for when this inevitably happens. “The best way we’ve found to overcome this is for people to always have a few items in their queue,” shares Berry. “If the primary thing they are working on gets blocked by a question, they can move on to the next task until they get the answer they need.”
4. Put Time Into Building Your Virtual Office
There are so many tools out there that make collaboration on a remote team easier, it’s worth investing time and money from the start to figure out which ones work best for your team so they can get to work without having to worry about technical difficulties.
What you’ll need depends on your company and team, but in general it’s good to look into a chat system that allows for one-on-one and group chats, a video and voice call system that can handle whatever size group you need, a shared project or task management tool, cloud-based shared storage for documents and files, and a collaboration tool for when you need to brainstorm together without a whiteboard.
Once you do this, you and your team can spend less time figuring out how to best work together and more time getting to the good stuff.
5. Make an Effort to Socialize
“One of the biggest mistakes I’ve encountered was that communication with your remote team was always work-only, while in person teams made more of an effort to connect and bond with their colleagues,” explains Velazquez Alpern. “Without a ‘water cooler’ to chat at, remote work can become very individual and task-driven,” agrees Kawaguchi.
Getting to know your teammates makes working with them easier—and way more fun! Plus, without a little socializing, remote work can start to feel very isolating.
“You can still place value and allow time in the day for team members to talk about non-work related things,” says Berry. You just have to be more intentional in doing this. It could range from something as big as hosting a retreat every year where everyone gets to gather in person to smaller day-to-day interactions, like having a more informal chat room where people can share jokes and life updates or hosting a weekly video “happy hour” where everyone can have a beer and socialize. “Even if it’s a Skype call instead of in person coffee you can still ask someone about their weekend and get to know them as a person,” adds Berry.
6. Manage as Thoughtfully as You Would an In Person Team
Whether you’re managing a remote team or just managing a project, take note: “The number one mistake I see is people simply handing remote workers a list of tasks without giving them the proper training, context, and background they need to be successful,” shares Berry. “Businesses generally understand that in person employees need training and management to succeed. They need to be motivated, to get answers to their questions, and to understand the company goals. For some reason, this often doesn’t get translated to remote workers, but successful remote team leaders understand this,” shares Berry. Hiring entrepreneurial self-starters for your remote team will help with this since you won’t be there for them all the time, but you’ll still want to put in time to manage your team.
Of course, you don’t want to micromanage—after all, one of the benefits of working remotely is extra autonomy and freedom—but you want to stay engaged with your team and make sure they know that lines of communication are open for everything from questions to feedback. Regular video check ins can be a great way to stay engaged with your reports (and, per the tip above, they don’t have to be all about work!).
7. Enjoy the Benefits
Last but not least, you shouldn’t feel like you have to chain yourself to your desk from 9-to-5 (unless that’s what works for you). You have a unique amount of flexibility, so take advantage of it to build your ideal work-life schedule! This may mean working in chunks of time around your kids’ schedules, starting later and working later because you’re a night owl, or, like me, taking a break in the middle of the day to go to the gym. For Olmstead, it’s all about “flow mode” with his work: “I’m a firm believer that one hour of focus time is worth as much 3-4 hours of fractured/interrupted time. Flow mode is almost impossible to achieve with regularity in a physical office—play to your strengths here as a remote employee!”
You also shouldn’t feel like you always have to be working from your usual location all the time. If you like to travel, travel! If you need to go see your family for a few weeks, do it! If you just want to work from a beach because that sounds amazing, by all means! Make sure your team knows if your work hours will be changing significantly, but otherwise enjoy the freedom. “I believe that changing your work environment leads to creativity,” shares Velazquez Alpern. “It is an opportunity to break up your routine, to see new things, to be inspired.”