Building a high performance remote team

 In Teamwork online

Want to build a high performance team that is purely remote? That’s a great goal and there are lots of reasons to go after it – improved productivity, cost savings, access to talent, increased employee satisfaction to name just a few). On the other hand, distributed teams also face some big challenges. The biggest obstacle to effective remote teams is teamwork online.

You know that you can work remotely effectively, right? Well everyone else ‘knows’ that they can work well remotely too! The question is can you effectively work as a team online. Without the face-to-face interactions and structure that an office brings, how do you orchestrate effective teamwork online?

When I sold my last business, I decided that the next business I built would be purely online. Yes, that’s right – a fully remote team, right from the start. Don’t get me wrong, there were some things about having an office to go to that I loved – I had a great team and enjoyed seeing them each day – but there were also too many downsides.

Time spent (by me and all the team) commuting to and from the office is just dead time. No-one enjoys it and it just adds to the stress of life (not to mention the negative environmental impact). It also restricted my life choices. For instance, we wanted to move our family to another country to experience a new type of life, but that was impossible with an office full of people. (We’ve since moved to France and are basing ourselves here while working on various projects remotely.)

So what are the things to consider with teamwork online? How can you setup a remote team for success? Is it even possible to achieve high performance teamwork online?

Prepare for the challenges of teamwork online

Although there are plenty of benefits, working online does present some problems. These stem from people not being physically together in an office and basically all come down to communication and collaboration. For this reason, special attention needs to be given to the ways that we set ourselves up to communicate and collaborate with our online teams. We recently wrote about the common problems with teamwork online, with the main ones being;

  • No common vision
  • Lack of visibility
  • Team members not feeling valued
  • Frustrations with Communication
  • Not seeing end-results

Clearly, there are preventative steps that can be put in place to prevent or at least minimize all of these teamwork problems.

Remote teams need more structured management

When we think of online teams, it’s often the flexibility that is one of the main attractions. Yes, it’s nice to be able to work from our homes or other locations, choose our own hours, and employ people from around the world, but this flexibility mindset also gets us into trouble.

When managing remote teams, there’s a tendency for managers to provide less structure than they would for a locally based team. Less meetings, less formally communicated expectations, and less planned team building activities. And this is for our team members that are separated from one another, lacking the visual cues of body language and facial expressions, and are often have more cultural differences! Clearly, this approach makes no sense at all.

We recently outlined the keys to managing a high performance team as;

  • Having a clear vision for the team
  • Setting goals & KPI’s
  • Having transparent actions (or a system for “showing your work”)
  • Holding regular 1:1 meetings and team meetings
  • Taking steps to create a motivating team culture

These team management fundamentals hold true for any team but are especially important for teamwork online.

In addition, remote teams also benefit greatly from having a formal Team Agreement. This can include things like the hours you expect people to work, the expectations of response times, guidelines as to what to communicate by which channels, etc. It should be a working document that is updated as new practises evolve in your team.

Great teamwork online requires great technology

If your team members are working remotely, you need to arm them with the best technology setup possible. You’re saving money on rent, utilities and many other things – so some of these savings should fund the IT systems required. Trying to work effectively with slow internet, poor headphones, or a flaky laptop is no fun at all and zaps morale very quickly.

In addition to the hardware and infrastructure that needs to be in place for effective remote teamwork, there are also a suite of apps and tools needed for teamwork online. In general, these team collaboration tools can be classified as follows;

  • Chat tool (eg Slack, Yammer, etc) – although you don’t want to encourage chatting online all day!
  • File repository (eg Dropbox, Google Drive, etc)
  • Video / audio meeting tool (eg Skype, Zoom, etc)

Then, depending on what types of functions your business is performing you might need a;

  • Project management system (like Asana or Basecamp), OR a
  • Simple shared task tool (eg Trello, Pivotal, or Jira), OR a
  • Team productivity system for working-out-loud (like Actioned)

There are pros and cons associated with each tool but the best ones are the ones you and your team actually use.

It’s not that hard to build a great remote team

All management has challenges but amazing teamwork online is ultimately very achievable once a few basic considerations are put in place. For many organizations (and individuals), distributed teamwork requires a big shift in thinking, but once you find a rhythm to your team workflows and communications, you’ll see that you can build a motivated, high performing team online.

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