We are going through changing times in almost every sphere of our lives — and the workplace is no exception. While the remote working structure used to be primarily reserved for only a handful of professions, these days, more and more companies are choosing to stay open to hiring remote personnel.
However, both working remotely and managing a remote working team come with challenges of their own. From time management issues to miscommunication and time theft, there are lots of problems you may run into if you don’t have the right system in place.
In this article, we will share a few quick tips on how to collaborate effectively if your team is scattered geographically across the globe.
Get the Timing Right
Time management may be one of the most obvious challenges of working remotely. However, the first thing that you will probably need to look into is getting the timing right. As working hours may not be as clear-cut when working with a remote team, this may lead to misunderstandings, miscommunication, and productivity leaks.
With people working in different time zones and environments, organizing a remote working schedule definitely has lots of moving parts. Moreover, in addition to communicating, replying to messages and holding video chats, you and your team will also need “quiet time” to actually get things done. This is why it is generally recommended to have the following points ironed out first, before you start working with a geographically scattered team:
- The time zones your team will be working in and how they will be managed.
- The expected working hours for each team member and the overlapping working hours for those from different time zones.
- Meeting times, video chat schedule, expected response time to messages, etc.
- Vacation and travel time, weekends, personal time-off, lunch breaks, etc.
- Time when workers should not be disturbed.
Choose the Right Channel for the Right Message
There are various ways in which you can communicate remotely: email, messengers, project managing apps like Slack or Trello, etc. However, if you use all of them at the same time, things can get confusing. Every member of your team may end up being bombarded with messages from every medium. Thus, the best practice here would be to assign a specific channel for a specific type of message. For instance, you can leave direct messaging in Slack for urgent communication points that require immediate attention while emails or messages in Slack’s general channel can be left for messages that can wait until the next day or even longer.
Plus, your choice of communication channel may depend on the specifics of your industry, the project you are working on, and more. Here are some of the questions you may need to answer:
- What will be your team’s default mode of communication?
- What channel should you use for what type of messages?
- What means of communication will you use for urgent messages?
- What’s the expected response time for messages on different channels?
Find a Suitable Accountability Tool
Another challenge facing remote teams is time theft. Time theft is something that occurs when a worker receives pay for the hours that they haven’t really worked. Without the ability to actually see what your teammates are doing, it may be easy to lose track of the project, which, in turn, can fuel distrust between workers and project managers. Thus, it is important to decide what project supervision methods you will use. There are lots of time tracking apps available online that make this easier. If you use a time tracker with screenshots, you will even be able to see what your teammates are working on at any given time. You may also find it useful to have a reporting structure in place, assign leaders to any given project or simply check in with your teammates at the end of each working day. Make sure you cover the following points:
- What progress reporting tool/time tracking app will you use?
- Will you assign leaders to every project?
- How will you monitor productivity?
- How often will you check in on the progress of a project?
Allow for Some Quiet Time
When transitioning to working remotely, you may feel the need to constantly stay in touch with your team. However, this may end up being counter-productive. Quiet time is just as essential for effective remote working as communication. It is very important for your team to have the time to work on their assignments without being interrupted by messages and updates. It is generally recommended to assign blocks of quiet working time to every team member during which they can simply focus on their work without worrying about replying to emails or even staying online. Together with your team, answer the following questions:
- When is the best time for your team to work on assignments?
- When is the best time for checking in, exchanging updates, etc.?
- How much time per working day are team members allowed to be offline?
Create a Digital Space for Socializing
Last but not least, acknowledge that this setup is not all about work. In a traditional office, working is mixed in with social interactions. In a remote working arrangement, this may be a little harder to do — especially if all the apps and project management tools you use are geared for professional interactions. In this case, it may be a good idea to allocate some space and time where your teammates can exchange personal updates, chat, etc. While this may not seem essential at first, having a virtual space for social rituals and celebrations can help strengthen relationships and improve professional collaboration in the long-term. You could try creating a group or a forum for your team online, establishing a dedicated space for non-work chats in one of your project management tools, choosing a social network where all of you can interact outside of working hours and more.
While remote collaboration is often challenging, especially at the beginning, things get easier with time as you pick the right set of tools, time management practices, and supervision techniques. New technologies definitely provide a strong base for tackling remote working challenges, but the core of the solution lies in understanding the new communication principles and building the right structure for working in the digital age.