Fostering Remote Team Communication

Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something. Plato

Know your people

Each of us likes to think we are different than others. As a leader it helps to get to know each of our teammates. Understanding what motivates people can give us insight into how they think and what they want out of work and life.

Team strengths and weaknesses

Each team has strengths and weaknesses that we need to understand. Remote groups are no different. I am sure it is no shock that some technical people struggle with communication. Leaders need to coach and work with team members to help them with these deficits.

I recently worked with a developer who was not good with front-end tools. He tried to work through some front-end user stories, but he struggled. Once I realized this, we were able to shift the dev to tasks that better suited him.

Knowing our team’s strengths is important. We can’t simply treat people as interchangeable. We have to realize where individuals function best and then work hard to put them there.

Rapport

My mother knows how to build quick rapport. Whenever she meets someone, she tries to find something in common with her new friend. Seeking common ground allows her to establish a meaningful foundation for the relationship. Then, each time she interacts with that person, she has something meaningful to ask about: Instead of a simple, “How are you?”, she’s able to ask, “How is your pottery class going?” or “How is your son liking his new school?” This is why people love my mother — because she is empathetic and cultivates rapport.

Working on a remote team, it’s important to know what’s going on, both in their work and their personal lives. We spend 40+ hours a week with our coworkers — it’s helpful if we know, like, and understand them as people.

Try to cultivate rapport with remote team members by making efforts to include them in social, as well as work conversations. If you’re organizing team building events, find create ways to include remote employees.

Don’t let a geographical barrier become professional one! Cultivate rapport, and you’ll reap the personal and professional rewards of strong team morale.

Transparency

Creating a healthy culture is hard enough for companies where everyone is co-located. For remote teams, it can be even more challenging. Obviously, one key ingredient to a good culture is making communication as easy as possible. But in addition to keeping communication channels open, we must be transparent with our team. Transparency builds trust, which in turn fosters the freedom to explore new ideas and accept failure as team members figure out new solutions.

Transparency builds trust, which in turn fosters the freedom to explore new ideas and accept failure as team members figure out new solutions.

Process

Create a process that works with all remote team members.  Make sure they feel involved. Start by having the team members craft the process to enlist buy-in. When we give input on the creation of something we feel ownership. Also as you bring in new team members review the process with them.

Open

One of my best managers I have worked for did a great job of keeping us informed about what was going on. He had staff meetings and would share things with us. We felt like there was never any issues of being kept in the dark.

Other managers, I have had did not share this openness. When there is a lack of information we tend to fill that in with gossip and concern. Keep the team informed and they can focus on their work.

Visualize work

A few years ago, I was working at a Startup Weekend. We were trying to understand all we needed to do to launch our application. A group member started putting up note cards on the wall. This was the first Kanban board I had seen.

We started with simple steps, like To Do, Doing, and Done. It was really incredible to see how quickly Kanban helped us start prioritizing, delegating, and getting work done.

Kanban boards help teams and their managers stay aligned around priorities, goals, and project objectives. Kanban helps remote employees communicate what they’re working on to their team, manager, and stakeholders.

Pulse of the team

As teams transition to work remotely or add remote team members, they can struggle to communicate as a whole group. To keep remote team members engaged, have tools in place that enable frequent check-ins throughout the day.

I recently was in a communication workshop where we discussed preferred mediums for conversations. For some, that may be email, online chat, or something with video, like Skype. Whatever the preference, get tools in place to streamline communication no matter where your employees work.

Slack

Slack, the ubiquitous team-messaging application, integrates with other tools such as Dropbox, GitHub, bug trackers, and Trello. As a result, it’s gained popularity especially in the developer arena.

Join.me

When it comes to sharing your screen for meetings and working with people in different offices, Join.me is my favorite. I’ve used a few different screen share and video applications, but I really appreciate how easy Join.me makes it easy to swap the presenter role and add new people to your meeting. I have had issues with connectivity problems occasionally, but the Skype interface just looks outdated after using Join.me.

Quip

To share and document things like your organization’s values, history, and conduct guidelines, you could probably use some wiki software. Quip is a knowledge organizer that aids in collaboration, similar to a wiki with more features. For example, it makes it easy to organize training documents and get new employees up to speed fast, no matter where they’re at.

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