The beginning of 2020 has brought a large change to the world. For the first time in modern history, the world voluntarily shut down in order to minimize the spread of a new virus. This movie like scenario, forced us to change the way we live and work – moving most teams out of offices and into their homes. While some have since returned, it looks like a new era of remote work has officially begun. And with it we must learn new ways of organizing and supporting remote teamwork.
Curious for more? Here are 7 practices to adopt and 3 things to avoid when facilitating an environment for remote teamwork.
What is Teamwork?
Teamwork is a collaborative effort by a group of people aiming to reach a certain goal or result. It involves communication, coordination, cooperation and interdependence between team members. Where each of these factors are equally important to reach the best result.
We are used to tactics and methods that help foster the teamwork environment in physical offices. However, when it comes to recreating the same effect for remote teams, few have the experience. And with the newfound appreciation for working remotely, this is something that cannot be overlooked.
Sure, you probably did just fine during quarantine, as most were working within previously formed and bonded teams. But as more and more new workforce joins the ranks remotely, there is a growing need of tactics for fostering the same teamwork spirit despite the distance.
Why Go Remote?
Remember, remote teamwork existed before COVID-19? Just it was not so massively supported. Mature companies enjoyed culture of flying for meetings and driving to offices every day, physical presence was considered a sign of dedication. However result focused and agile teams were increasing the share of remote work by adopting digital collaboration technologies. There are several reasons why both employees and employers are choosing to organize work remotely. First and foremost, it is driven by the need of better work-life balance from the employees. More and more people are looking for a way to do their jobs in a way that is flexible and works around their personal lives. Remote work is great as you are in charge of the how and when you perform.
According to the 2019 State of Remote Work Report, besides work-life balance, other work advantages for employees are:
From the employer side, remote work means better productivity and reduced spend on the office expenses. As teams work remotely there is no more need for so much office space as well as cost is reduced on such office staples like coffee and snacks.
Another big reason for why employees consider adding remote team members or remote teams is a larger pool of candidates. Allowing people to join in without coming to the office means being able to recruit in other countries and attracting a younger workforce. According to a Deloitte survey, 64% of millennials would like the option of working from home. Thus, companies that are focused on enabling remote work are far more likely to get younger talent.
Remote Teamwork – Best Practices
All these reasons are why companies and teams are turning remote and with that new previously non-existent challenges arise. One of which is – remote teamwork. Sure, with current technology you can add in a team member from anywhere in the world, but to make sure your team performs, there is need for a certain level of teamwork to be present.
How do you make sure that is done right? Focus on the basics – communication, coordination, cooperation and interdependence. All of which can be accomplished with these 7 tips.
1 – Communicate company values
To have a team that is working together they all must be on the same page. The very basis of this is communicating and instilling company values within all the employees. When working remotely it is extremely important to know how to act in uncertain situations as you may not always be able to get a response from management in time.
To make the right decisions and ones that are supported by the team, everyone must know what is the most important to the company. Is it customer first, quick response time or something else that should always be respected? Make sure your team knows these details and follows them in the decision-making process.
2 – Choose the right people
When talking about teamwork, choosing the right people is key. They must have the right skills, know how to work with others and be a good cultural fit. For remote teams there is one more aspect to consider – motivation.
Spending your workdays alone at home can become distracting and it requires a certain kind of motivation to keep going and performing. While not everyone will be a natural at first, this can be learned. Thus, look for people that are motivated to make it work or have experience in remote work and can share their best practices with others.
3 – Use tools to ease the process
Teamwork happens when everyone is accountable for what they do, and people coordinate their actions towards the same goal. Whether this is done in a local office or remotely, the right tools allow to bring transparency into the process and ease communication.
For remote teams especially some type of a collaboration platform is key. Here they can track item progress, share information and discuss issues. Choosing a tool like Teamhood means enabling remote teamwork with a powerful solution. All the project data is kept in one place, project status is always live, and it is easy to plan and assign work among the team.
4 – Introduce team members
Another common let down when we talk about facilitating remote teamwork is the fact that you don’t have a chance to get to know your colleagues. In an office environment you chat while making coffee, eat lunch together and discuss major events going on in the world. All this informal communication leads to knowing your co-workers on a more personal level. However, this is lost in remote teams.
To make sure your team knows each other, proactive steps must be taken. Some offer having a place like a forum where each of the team members introduce themselves and share fun facts about their personal lives. This way team newcomers can read through the information to get acquainted. Others organize online gaming tournaments, meet my pet conference calls and other informal online activities to foster communication.
Find a way that works for your team and get acquainted.
5 – Meet on video
Coming back to communication aspect of remote teamwork it is important to understand that no matter how well your team knows each other, there is no better way of sharing information and communicating than face to face. While this is not possible for remote teams, the best alternative should be chosen for important meetings. That is video calls.
Verbal and visual communication is always more accurate and faster than any e-mail or message. There is little space left for interpretation and this ensures the right decisions are made. So, make sure the important meetings are done via video calls where everyone can participate.
6 – Create team goals
We are all used to working towards personal goals. This affects our compensation, benefits and other aspects of the job. However, the importance of team goals rises quite significantly when we talk about remote teamwork. To make sure the team members work together and enhance each other’s performance, they should be focused on team, not personal goals.
This may seem strange at first, especially if you are used to creating personal goals for everyone. But setting team goals fosters the environment of collaboration and this is exactly what remote teams need to succeed. Knowing you are part of a larger goal motivates team members to work together and look for the best ways of collaborating.
7 – Celebrate
Lastly, nothing bonds a team like a good celebration. While you may not be able to organize parties and trips, it is still important to acknowledge big milestones. It boosts morale and raises the motivation to achieve even more. At the same time showing the team what everyone is contributing to the end goal.
Whether it is a reached goal, new product launch or a large sale, no accomplishment should be overlooked. Celebrate it in your video meetings and send a personal congratulations like a gift card for the team members to feel appreciated.
Remote Teamwork – What to Avoid
What you will choose from the list above is up to you, but there are certainly some things you should avoid within your remote teams. As this will be counterproductive to the process and will end up costing you. Here are 3 things you should avoid.
1 – Asking to work at a certain time
One of the biggest advantages of joining a remote team is the ability create your own schedule. Some will still be working 9-5, others will do their work in the evenings or may even power through the working week within 2-3 days. When we talk about remote teamwork, all of this must be respected.
If the work your team is doing requires some sort of collaboration, ask for all the team members to be available at certain times once or twice per week. This will allow them to collaborate and ask questions, while each working style can still be adapted and respected. Micromanaging your team will surely not help but bring frustration instead. So respect your team and trust them to do the job they were hired for.
2 – Saving on technology and tools
Introducing remote teams to your company does come with some nice savings – you need less office space and usually do not provide coffee or snacks. However, this should not be catalyst for you to start saving in other places. Especially when we talk about the technology and tools required to do the job.
You should make sure everyone on the remote team has everything they need to perform. Starting from technology and ending up with software. Providing team members with what they need will ensure there are no issues in performance and the result can be delivered as planned.
3 – Leaving your team members
One of the largest issues for remote work is loneliness. In a regular office setting you are surrounded by people that tell stories, share information and chat during the coffee breaks. This allows you to rest your brain for a bit and get a nice distraction during lunch. Working remotely however, this is not the case.
Most remote workers spend their days alone by the computer. And while this works for some, others really do crave for some chit chat. To foster a better environment for remote teamwork, you should address this issue. Organize fun meetings to introduce your pets, kids, plants, talk about your hobbies and create channels for discussing news or random information you find online. Fostering work unrelated conversations will create better bonds within your team and allow for them to feel like a part of something.
Remote teamwork tools
Creating a successful remote team can be daunting, especially if you are doing this for the first time. However, employing the tips above and the right tools will set you up quite nicely. When choosing collaboration tools for your remote team, you should first review the process and see what is a must. This way, you will know what to look for.
Usually there are 4 key requirements remote teams need to fill:
Keep the information in one place
Discuss issues and track progress
Easily reach and communicate with each other
In this case, a project management tool like Teamhood can be a great choice. It allows teams to represent their processes in a Kanban board. Making it easy to follow what is happening in the team, relay the required process steps and onboard new team members. The visual representation of the process is also great for tracking progress and discussing any issues or bottlenecks that happen within the team.
Teamhood tasks are highly detailed with descriptions, sub-tasks, attachments, due dates, task dependencies and even time tracking. While they ease communication with task assignments and comments that are visible for the whole team. All project information is kept in one place and easily accessible no matter the location.
With the growing popularity of remote teams, finding a way to foster remote teamwork is becoming more important. No matter if we are talking about a team that has been together for some time or a group of newcomers to get the best out of them, we should get them acquainted, on the same page, and working towards a common goal. Adding in fun activities and informal events helps with bonding and providing the right tools ensures the best results.
Passionate content marketer looking to bring better solutions to the project management space.
2020 - Present Marketing specialist at Teamhood.
2014 - 2020 Marketing manager for Eylean.