In today’s world of global workplaces, we often find ourselves as part of wide spread teams. This includes people who telecommute (more than 16% of the US workforce now work remotely, at least part of the time1), as well as situations where a company has people located in geographically separate offices. It can be difficult to retain a sense of ‘team’ in these situations, as it can cause “… social and professional isolation, fewer opportunities for information sharing…”1. But there are few things you can do to help your remote workers with team building.
Communication is key to teamwork and team building. People can often feel isolated when they do not believe that they are kept in the loop. Formalizing your communication protocols will increase remote team effectiveness and meaningfulness.2
In general terms, it is important to differentiate between types of communications. Specifically, consider the difference between Consultation and Information. Consultation is when you are asking for answers or input from people. Information is simply letting someone know about a particular topic. Being consistent with your use of To: and CC: on emails can be one way to help your recipients differentiate between the two types of communications.
Encourage collaborative types of communication. Make use of tools like Slack, or instant messaging applications (like Skype) to allow group chats. These types of forums are great for letting everyone feel like they are involved in real time. I have often encouraged my teams to make use of group chats if they needed assistance with an issue. By posing their question to the whole team at once, they can all provide feedback without duplicating their ideas. And this allows them all to feel that they are helping to support a team mate, even if it is only with moral support. I find a lot of informal joking happens on these group chats, along with helpful information, which is a great way to build comradery.
Video conferences are a very useful tool for allowing team mates to express themselves and get to know each other better. They don’t have to be used for every meeting, but you should make use of these tools on a regular basis. I find that by letting the team see faces and work environments, they feel closer to their team mates. A little bit of relaxing chat, initiated by something in the background of a teammate’s environment, is great for building rapport, as long as it doesn’t get out of hand and interfere with the work that needs to be done.
Technology allows for collaboration in a number of ways, by letting your teammates share resources. Putting together a shared calendar, possibly via Outlook, can allow your team to feel that they are all contributing to the same cause. They can see what other team members have scheduled for the day. In one case, my team travelled often, so we used a shared calendar to see which office everyone was working out of that day. This was a great benefit when one of the team had an issue that required hands-on assistance within a specific office.
Check into collaboration tools like Slack. This gives control to the team to create various topics or rooms, to help them manage their communications. There are many other applications available, that allow the sharing of content, whiteboards, etc.
If your company has an Intranet (maybe using Sharepoint), ensure that your team makes use of the platform. Allow them to create a team site, that they can use to share documents, pictures, and more.
Managing Time Zones
If your team is spread across various time zones, encourage them all to make use of Time Zone options within Outlook, so that they can easily see work times of their team mates. Having someone book a meeting that falls within the lunch time of a colleague can be frustrating. Ensure that your folks take this into account, each and every time they request a meeting.
Having your team provide individual contributions to group calls is a great way to ensure that everyone is engaged. It can be very easy for introverted types to remain on mute most of the time and not contribute, especially if there are a number of extroverts on the team. At your weekly team meeting, set aside ten or fifteen minutes for a presentation from someone, rotating through the team. This could be a chance for them to present a short training session within their area of expertise, or a chance for them to update everyone on a recent ‘win’. Let them decide what they want to present, being prepared to offer up some suggestions if they are unsure what might be suitable.
While it is difficult to bring in a cake for your team when you are all spread across the country, there are other ways to celebrate a win or a special occasion. Try setting up a lunch meeting, and inform your team that they are to purchase lunch, at the company’s expense, to bring along and eat during the conference call. These types of meetings are not intended to be productive. Let the team chat with each other and relax for a bit.
Look for other ways to celebrate in small ways. Be sure to offer up a ‘Happy Birthday’ on a group call to each team member on their special day. Consider creating individual emoticons for each team member; something that celebrates something special about them. Be creative and have fun with it.
Be sure to check out KWT’s topic courses for more ideas on how to work successfully in a remote team.
Join KWT’s Community, where you can use remote features like chat, white board sessions, and screen shares.
1 American Psychological Association. “ The Future of Remote Work.” 1 October, 2019. <https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/10/cover-remote-work>
2 SpringerLink. ” Managing formalization to increase global team effectiveness and meaningfulness of work in multinational organizations.” 17 March, 2019. <https://link.springer.com/article/10.1057%2Fs41267-019-00226-8>